Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Jay Elle releases 5 song Ease Up EP


“My eyes were bigger than my heart / She knew that right from the start” sings a pained Jay Elle in his song “Sickly Sweet,” from the new record Ease Up, and though his words are dripping with discordant emotion, his focus is unmistakably strong and centered. As endearing as it is insightful, Elle’s Ease Up EP and its six songs – “Sickly Sweet” included” – are a collective statement piece conceived with the purpose of relaxing us while also provoking deeper thought about the world, and as anyone who knows this man’s work is already well aware, it’s as slick a sonic collection as you’ll get your hands on right now. 


Though it can be said for “Sickly Sweet,” not all of the songs on Ease Up are constructed around Elle’s lyrical wit and wisdom exclusively; actually, “By the Blade,” the title track and “Take a Holiday” are very guitar-oriented, and “Never Dreamed (I Could Be the One)” is, essentially, a synth pop song adapted for the needs of a folk-rock singer/songwriter. There’s a lot of layers to this record, and even though it contains but six compositions, it has the robust feel of a full-length album and then some. The master mix here does a lot to help define the mood in the music, but I wouldn’t say that it’s a required element in any given Jay Elle performance. Contrarily, soundboard wizard Brent Kolatalo is bringing all of the color in his vocal to the surface rather than inserting new, artificial textures in spots where Elle might have had shortcomings in the past. 

Their studio chemistry is off the charts, but there’s no examples that I could point to in this tracklist where Elle sounds overly-aided or effectively propped-up by his highly respected mixer, whose credits prior to Ease Up include work with heavyweights Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande. “Needs Fixing” is easily one of the most efficiently produced songs that I’ve listened to in the folk genre all year, and in my opinion, it more than justifies getting a copy of Ease Up all by itself. It’s the perfect segue from the country rhythm of “Take a Holiday” into the adult alternative swing of “By the Blade,” but even if it had been pushed up to the start of the record, it would still be one of the most jarringly-arranged and melodically rousing compositions that Elle has attached his moniker to here or on any other recording he’s cut thus far. 


Folk-rock fans aren’t likely to find another extended play out at the moment that is quite like Jay Elle’s Ease Up, and for better or worse, its experimental faceting and multi-interpretive narratives make it one of the more unique records out this season. I can only speak for myself, but I was utterly swept away by the first half of this EP and immersed in the emotional core of the second when I sat down with it this week, and judging from the response that all six of its tracks have been getting lately, I’m definitely not the only critic with these strong sentiments. 

 Scottie Carlito

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Terry Robb releases new Single


The finesse and soul of Terry Robb’s “How a Free Man Feels” is apparent from the first. He doesn’t make any hamfisted efforts to ground his latest single, taken from the new album Confessin’ My Dues, in melodramatic production trickery but, instead, opts for a polished and professional tone that never sacrifices authenticity. It’s a solo performance featuring nothing more than Robb’s voice, lyrics, and his distinctive fingerpicking guitar style – but it doesn’t need any more than that. Robb, with these spartan elements, accomplishes more than many full bands working a similar style even approach. It’s the latest pinnacle in a four decade long musical career that has seen Robb perform and tour with some of the biggest marquee names in the music world and illustrates how passion and talent can deepen rather than fade with the passage of time. 


His voice isn’t the gravel-laden blues yowl of Delta originators or their electrified Chicago offspring, but it is more than well equipped to demand your attention. He has a low-key soulfulness to his singing that helps listeners suspend disbelief and brings them into his world with ease. I like his phrasing a great deal – he makes the climatic line of the traditional three line blues verses mean a great deal without overemphasizing their primacy in the composition and the feeling he puts into his vocal makes the track all the more satisfying for listeners. The writing never overreaches. The song is written from a first person perspective, as most great blues songs are, and Robb creates a convincing voice for the listener without relying on a host of well worn tropes to win the audience’s confidence. 

There is no wasted motion – Robb never uses two or three words when one will do and the same focus defining the song’s music extends to this area of composition as well. Robb’s acoustic guitar playing is the critical piece of the puzzle and drives the song forward. He sets a mid-tempo pace with his fretwork and finger picking that fixes its attention on musicality rather than drawing from a bag of tricks in lieu of genuine substance. He shifts from one passage to the next with the surefooted skill of a long serving musician and, yet, the song has the spontaneity of a first take. It sounds like Robb walked into a recording studio with his guitar, sat down, told the producer to start recording, and cut this song in a single take. 


The video reinforces that impression. It consists of nothing more than Robb positioned in front of an old fashioned looking microphone and the assorted close ups of his face tossed in for good measure underlines how much he gives of himself to the performance. There are no arresting visuals thrown in to spice up the clip – it has the same focus he brings to the song and makes the listening experience even more rewarding. Terry Robb has scored again with this single and it promises that his latest album release Confessin’ My Dues will find its place among the finest recordings of his musical career. 

 Scottie Carlito

“Goodie Two Shoes” is a hot new single from Sayed Sabrina


Goodie Two Shoes” is a hot new single getting attention for its video, from Sayed Sabrina’s album release, Thou Art That, with Bobby Watson (Rufus, Michael Jackson), Sarah Morrow (Dr. John, Ray Charles), Gary Herbig (Elvis, Tower of Power), Carlos De La Paz (Cid, Mandrels) and others. These fantastic players and a voice most can only dream of having, all makes for a winning combo for all lovers of the Blues, Funk, Soul, Jazz and Rock music. That’s a lot to pack into one single, but it’s all to be both heard and seen for the better of what’s out there in the Blues community. 


 The Blues is not exactly all-of what Sayed Sabrina is about, as she goes back to the early L.A. Punk scene and can go anywhere her voice takes here. “Goodie Two Shoes” comes recommended as the play on words and positive message that it is. You can stay in your negative world or you can go out and change your look and change your life in the process and Sabrina’s pushing that dual message and not letting go. It works wonders in every way, once you have heard the song and start getting into the studio performance in the video. Considering herself less of a Blues artist per say, she is self-described as a singer that looks to feel the music, and that gets away from the title of Blues artist by way of feel, but still using inflections of traditional blues in a more modern way. 

This is tricky but nevertheless important to get the right message across, meaning business here but also take the time to treat yourself and you won’t be disappointed all the time. That’s only some of what this song means to me, others may vary but it’s in there no matter how you slice it. Not being sure of which players in her band play on which tracks, I can’t credit exactly who’s playing on “Goodie Two Shoes,” but if you watch the video and know their faces, you get a candid view of them jamming around and it doesn’t seem to matter, at the end of the day it is the work of Sayed Sabrina that put this on the map, so she deserves title but she only works with killer players. They’re in position to make it all magical thanks to her. 


If you look around you’ll find some more great songs by Sayed Sabrina to seal the deal for “Goodie Two Shoes” but in an industry that reminds you that you’re only as good as your last record, be sure and get the best of both her worlds and pick up this new single, you’ll dig it if new music matters to you or not. It has all the classic and modern appeal it takes to get in front of the masses where it belongs. And the video is getting a lot of views so don’t hesitate to invest the time, it’s a blend of seriousness and playfulness that doesn’t disappoint on any level. 

Scottie Carlito

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Gillum Bros deliver powerful Single


Breakups are never easy and saying something new about the end of a romantic relationship through the medium of popular song is no small achievement. Songs celebrating or bemoaning the loss of love, cars, lust, and having a good time are staples of the rock music and popular song in general, so it is notable when a young act can address any of those subjects with their own idiosyncratic turns of phrase and a fresh perspective. The Gillum Bros originally hail from a longtime hotbed for rock bands, the Motor City of Detroit, and they definitely include some nods to those musical elements in their latest single “Sticky Note”, but other factors play a part as well. There is the hint of balladry in the track, a strong singer/songwriter influence, and even a theatrical bent all coming together in one of the best singles I’ve heard in recent memory.


The theatrical elements are manifold. Vocalist Ryan Gillum brings his fine lyrics further to life thanks to his emotive phrasing, but there’s never any sense of him pushing too hard on the words and melody. Instead, he seems to be coaxing his emotions to the surface of the song as if one verbal misstep might drag him full on into bitterness and recrimination. Glimmers of those feelings do shine through however and take the form of brief flashes of rough hewn humor in the face of heartache. Another way the theatrical component manifests itself is visually. 

The music video for “Sticky Note” positions Ryan Gillum as the central figure in its small cast and he does an excellent job of physically embodying the song’s emotions without ever overstating himself. It is a quality shared by Keith Gillum and the beautiful woman playing his now ex-girlfriend. The video toys a little with listener’s preconceptions about the rivalry between brothers defining so many similar acts in popular music history but, once again, it is understated rather than belabored. Directed by Will DaRosa, the video for “Sticky Note” has a smattering of the same humor we hear in the lyrics and a stunning visual sense guaranteed to hold viewer’s attention. 


 Keith Gillum’s musical involvement with the track rounds everything off. He is a superb musician with arranging talents that leave nothing to chance and cleave any inklings of dross from the composition. His arrangement begins the track on a downcast note with its dark piano lines and he soon fleshes it out in full with the inclusion of spot drumming, organ, acoustic guitar running under the song’s surface, and swaths of electric guitar punctuating the song as a whole. I am quite taken by this track. The Gillum Bros are adept at melding their distinctive songwriting voices with time-honored traditions yet make them sound fresh – as if they are the first performers to turn their hands to a song about a broken relationship. The personality and skill shining through every moment of this song makes it one of the more compelling and satisfying listening experiences I’ve enjoyed in 2019.

Scottie Carlito

The NaveBlues’ “Pale Blue Dot”


If you’re keen on the history of space travel, you’re probably already familiar with the legend of Voyager 1, the probe that carried a gold record with specific instructions on how alien life could find and contact earth’s inhabitants. In the music video for The NaveBlues’ “Pale Blue Dot,” the experimental rock band create their own narrative as to what happened after the aforementioned journey into the unknown – and in the process introduce us to their slickest set of beats yet. It isn’t often said, but space fanatics and lovers of good music alike would be hard-pressed to find another document quite like this one in 2019. 


 Right from the onset of this track, the string parts in “Pale Blue Dot” are vibrantly aggressive but not necessarily assaultive in their adrenaline-laced stomp. The music video’s wary wanderer, The NaveBlues’ own NavĂ© Pundik, runs in near-synchronicity with the opening salvo of swing, creating a cadence that is as hypnotic as the stinging blue light he pursues through the dense forestry serving as a backdrop. Much like the harmonious sway of the guitars, there’s nothing overindulgent about the construction of the video, and more importantly, the means in which the band went about joining its story to that of the music. The vocal component in this song has a little more oomph than it actually needed, but I can definitely understand why The NaveBlues mixed “Pale Blue Dot” the way that they did. 

In giving the lyrical delivery an extra boost of scooped EQ, the monstrous harmonies created by instrumental elements never become so intense that we feel suffocated by the muscularity of the band’s play. Some serious time and energy went into perfecting every inch of this single’s development, and while it might be a bit too complex for some listeners, others (myself included) will probably enjoy it for the sonic symphony that it is. Aside from the single’s profound musical attributes, the video for “Pale Blue Dot” is a remarkable effort in its own right. I’ve seen a lot of really inventive music videos this August, but there haven’t been very many that have caught my attention like this one has – it presents viewers with an understated sense of humor and an anti-pop visual experience, both of which have been missing from a lot of the buzz-making rock music to emerge from the left side of the dial this summer. This is, in all actuality, a rare instance of a video actually trumping the song that inspired it. 


The NaveBlues are at the top of their game in this latest experimental treasure, and though they’re still operating with an outside the mainstream-style sound, they’ve definitely made a lot of progress in making their music as potent as it can possibly be. 2019 has been a crossroads of sorts for a lot of seasoned bands like this one, but from the looks of “Pale Blue Dot,” this is a group that we can count on hearing a lot more of in the next decade. Their story isn’t even close to being over, and this track and its video are evidence of their continued evolution as a unit. 

Scottie Carlito

Thursday, August 29, 2019

"God Bless You & Protect You” is a single with ideal modulation


“God Bless You & Protect You” is a single with ideal modulation – the folk duo Owls and Lions, comprised of vocalist/violinist Nicole DeLoi and vocalist/guitarist Jay Della Valle respectively, know what the track demands to be successful and never push it into disarray or heavy-handed dramatics. It begins on an intimate note with Valle’s acoustic guitar providing a melodic musical platform for DeLoi’s voice, but Valle soon joins her on vocals and brings an immediate sense of completion to the performance that endures for the entire track. They make excellent musical partners and seem to share the sort of telepathic connection the best tandems share and their emotive talents seamlessly dovetail into each other without fail. It is an excellent introduction to their latest EP release There’s a Light. 


 The song draws its guiding impulse from the wildly popular NBC drama This Is Us without ever making direct reference to the show or its characters. The lyrics are staged as a dialogue of sorts between a father and his daughter and take a freewheeling chronological view – present and past connection is celebrated rather than focusing on a specific moment in time. Owls and Lions produced a video, as well, for the song featuring Valle, an actor and filmmaker as well, in the role of the father while DeLoi’s daughter plays his child. There is a wealth of visual imagery contained in the video reinforcing the song’s virtues. Valle works under different musical paradigms away from Owls and Lions, but his chops as a bonafide folk guitarist are without question when you hear “God Bless You & Protect You”. 

There’s a near lyricism to his acoustic guitar playing and he shows great restraint and tastefulness with his electric guitar contributions. Drummer Kevin Walters is the final piece of the musical puzzle; he has an assertive style that never overwhelms the track’s sensitivities. It is muscular while still sounding finessed. The structure of the song serves listener’s needs. Moving from a low-key opening into a near striding mid-tempo pace highlights the song’s lean dynamic energy and builds in an intelligent manner towards choruses with a rousing uplift. Even these moments, however notable, are tempered – the obvious experience and skill both DeLoi and Valle bring to the song makes for a captivating yet stylish listen. It is difficult, if not impossible, to dislike this song – I certainly cannot. 


Though I have yet to hear the remaining four tracks on There’s a Light, I am confident based on “God Bless You & Protect You” alone they are promoting a real winner with this release. Owls and Lions offer something you hear less and less of in the modern musical world – an unaffected and honest artistic experience free from even a whiff of pandering and, instead, reflecting a human impulse to communicate with audiences in a clear yet artful way. There is no fat on this song, no self-indulgence. Owls and Lions’ “God Bless You & Protect You” is a moving and deceptively simple song that I love without reservation. 

 Scottie Carlito

“Alone” by Kodiak


If hard rock is a dead genre, let’s be grateful no one ever told Kodiak or producer/rock legend Carmine Appice. Appice mans the production booth for the New Jersey band’s debut release and they’ve kicked off its initial promotional work by releasing two impressive singles capable of whetting even the most jaded appetites. The newest single “Alone”, like the first, is released with a video as well. It has more than a little artistry working in its favor thanks to its creative use of animation and color alongside traditional footage and communicates the customary sense of unity and shared vision any new band feels trying to realize their ambitions for stardom. They say hard rock bands have a rough way to go nowadays with the commercial ascent of modern country and rap music, but the landscape is more hospitable to such acts in 2019 than years past. Bands like Kodiak and Greta Van Fleet are reminding a new generation of the guitar’s potential and how sweeping hard rock anthems with memorable hooks can unite audiences and leave them feeling physically invigorated. 


Moreover, it doesn’t need to be facile. “Alone” definitely has a commercial edge any attentive listener will note soon enough, but it has an adult point of view rather than just regurgitating well worn subjects like women, cars, and the fleeting joys of youth. They play and sound far more mature than their years. Another indication of that is their nonchalant refusal to indulge flashiness in a meaningful degree. There is some flair to this performance, for sure, but they apply those moments with artful restraint. The lead vocals are wide open and brimming with energy and emotion. Charismatic front men are every bit as much the bread and butter of this style as first class musicianship, particularly on guitar, and Kodiak checks that box in a big way. You never sense the musicians or vocals are out to prove something, per se, but they both exhibit boundless confidence in themselves and the material that helps make listeners believe every second of the performance. The chorus and subsequent refrains are the musical highlight of the track for me. Everything comes together in those moments and the band knows exactly how to make the most of those climatic moments without ever obscuring the value heard elsewhere in the track. Their transitions between verses and choruses alike show surefooted skill and an understanding of hard rock dynamics that many bands never consistently master. It is all the more impressive when you consider the band has been together less than two years at this point. 


 Kodiak are more than just potential; their two debut singles point towards promise fulfilled. The debut album will further flesh out the scope of their accomplishment when it lands, but I am confident enough in their talents to say, without question, the sky is the limit for this New Jersey based four piece band. They have the necessary ingredients for a long and substantive career rather than sounding like a flash in the pan. I’m eager to hear the debut album in full and you will be as well. 

 Scottie Carlito