Sunday, May 5, 2019

Victor PEDRO drops hot new Single

Hip-hop is having a really incredible year, and independent rappers like Nigeria’s Victor PEDRO are the reason why. In PEDRO’s new single “Call Me, I Miss Ya!,” he sets his sound apart from everyone else on the eastern side of the Atlantic by incorporating elements from American R&B as well as Jamaican mento, ska, and melodic rap, yielding one of the most diverse sonic profiles of anyone in the underground today. “Call Me, I Miss Ya!” isn’t his most multilayered material ever to see international release, but it can be said that it’s perhaps his most emotive and direct by a landslide. 

 Hybrid tonality is the name of the hip-hop game in 2019, and no one seems to know that better than Victor PEDRO does. As previously stated, his sound is an amalgamation of a lot of worldly influences, and even though it might be hard to cohesively structure a song that includes every stitch of the patchwork comprising his style, he makes it look remarkably easy here. There’s a touch of R&B in his vocal, a little reggae in his bass, and a cosmopolitan rap groove holding all of the intricate pieces together like a superglue that was designed to last forever. PEDRO is still pretty much the new kid on the block for American and British rap aficionados, but he’s grown so much since his debut hit the airwaves all the way back in 2013 (which, for those of you who are as bad with time as I am, was an astounding six years ago now). An exercise in maturity in the style of “Call Me, I Miss Ya!” simply would not have been possible during his initial campaign in the early/mid-2010’s, and I think that most anyone who is familiar with his early work would be inclined to agree with me. 

 The bass isn’t nearly as loud and boisterous as the percussion is in this single, but it doesn’t hurt the harmony in this dirge in the least. In addition to being a killer songwriter and master arranger, PEDRO proves himself a worthwhile harmonist in “Call Me, I Miss Ya!” by cultivating one of the smoothest melodic duets of the spring with his bassline in the track. It’s something that I heard Seattle’s Ronnue do earlier this year in his remix of “Something About U,” but other than him, I don’t know that there’s anyone else with the depth of vocal talent to pull off something as elaborate in tone as this charming example is. I don’t think we need to argue about this one; Victor PEDRO is an artist that R&B, rap and pop fans alike need to be following right now, and he’s giving audiences around the globe something to get turned on by in his most recent studio cut. 

“Call Me, I Miss Ya!” is emotional but sure of itself in the most important of ways, and in today’s cold and calculated pop culture, it’s a rather unique track to come across. I definitely can’t wait to hear more from PEDRO in the future, as he’s yet to disappoint me with his music so far.


Melissa Pratt

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Respectables release The Power of Rock n Roll


I went into this album not knowing what to expect really. I wasn’t familiar with this band, despite their lengthy history, and only recognized names like Waddy Watchel and producer Bernard Fowler from their association with The Rolling Stones. In all honesty, the title made me giggle just a little. However, I was wrong to harbor any suspicions. This isn’t some hackneyed rock and roll cliché; instead, this album, even at its most down and dirty moments, is a celebration. 

The Respectables may travel some well trod paths, but they always opt for traveling in their own unique way. The celebratory side of their music is what I like best; there’s nothing ironic or kidding about their approach, they go after rock and roll, blues, and even a smattering of country music with wholehearted vigor and make it work each time out. That joyfulness in their performances seldom hits the same stride it does on the opening song, the title cut, and the video for the song totally reflects that. It has some strong guitar work thrown in for good measure from guest player Waddy Watchel, a respected veteran who’s played with Bob Dylan and Warren Zevon among others, but what really makes this song a fun hearing is that joy you hear in their music making. It’s unrestrained, yet artful. Watchel appears on “That Girl” as well, though his presence isn’t as strong as we heard in the first song, but it nonetheless enriches an already fine tune and the second track’s chorus is definitely just as delectable as what we heard with the opening number. 

“Give Some” riffs away with the heaviest guitar work on the album, but the band never crunches for the sake of crunching; it’s a melodic guitar riff that hooks into your brain and pulls you along for the ride. The vocals are every bit as melodic despite the more rugged feel, overall, from the arrangement and it just brings another strand into the musical thread of this album. It’s a welcome addition. I love when they latch onto the bluesy vibe sustaining the whole of “Wheel in My Hand” and it’s another of the band’s songs that uses movement and cars, in particular, as a metaphor of sorts for describing the songwriting point of view. There’s a bit of a storytelling side coming out here, never overemphasized, and the conversational style of the lyrics and vocals helps it stand out even a little more than the album’s other fine tunes. “As Good as Love Gets” takes a decidedly unexpected turn as the band brings in a full string arranged courtesy of Jeff Bova to compliment an already exceptionally fine song. Despite the surprise, it doesn’t ever feel untrue to the band’s spirit. 

The second to last and final songs, “18 Wheeler” and “Highway 20” respectively, are great tunes to feature near the end of the release as they move in a more country direction, never anything like modern “country”, and sound equally true to the band’s character. Instead, you get a sense of the band slowing things down a little as the conclusion draws near, and it’s reflective of the thought they’ve put into the album’s construction and track listing. The Power of Rock ‘n’ Roll, risking cliché, has something for everyone and anyone who hears it will undoubtedly agree


Missy Hogan

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina - Little King and the Salamander


The second studio release from New York City based The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina, Little King and the Salamander, is what I dub a “hybrid” song collection. The mix of demos, unreleased material, and “b-sides” has a retrospective quality as it clearly looks back on the burst of creativity producing the band’s previous studio release Act 3, but the fourteen song release likewise stands on its own rather than coming off as a musical curiosity. Led by guitarist, singer, and songwriter Ryan Shivdasani, the same eclectic imagination powering the aforementioned Act 3 is evident here as well. I’m quite taken with this collection, perhaps even a little more so than Act 3 as Little King and the Salamander somehow captures the initial burst of creation in a much more intimate manner than even its illustrious predecessor. 

It is impossible to ignore the uplift of album opener “Hey Everybody”. It is an instrumental track, for the most part, and builds from Shivdasani’s funkafied electric guitar lines, evocative echo, and swinging drums that hook listeners in from the outset. The rambunctious celebratory feel of the song and Shivdasani’s scat-style vocals add much. There are a number of understated dynamic shifts in the trajectory of “What Fools We Can Be” underlying the emotional gravitas of the song, but it is ultimately Shivdasani’s melodic yet emotive vocal that brings palpable humanity to the song. The touches of acoustic guitar throughout and the careful manipulations of pacing make the arrangement all the more interesting. “The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina” has an unusual vibe, but nonetheless remains accessible. It has a strong jazz influence bubbling to the surface of the song, especially the guitar, but the sound is skewed in a much more individualistic direction rather than pursuing purist ends. The lyrics are closer to performed poetry than traditional pop song words and, despite the flood of imagery, achieve impressive coherency. It is evidence, if more is needed, for how well rounded Shivdasani’s talents are. There’s a 3am dark night of the soul feel to the track 

“White Light and Lullabies”, an elegiac sense of burning candles at both ends that grabbed my attention quick. Shivdasani’s restrained near shuffle arrangement for the cut and its accompanying echo are among the keys to the song’s success, but the fatalism of its lyrical content plays a critical part as well. The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina presents “Particle Craze”, a highlight on Act 3, in an earlier and leaner form on this release, but the song retains its power to enchant even in this comparatively spartan form. It is fascinating to hear how Shivdasani’s vision for the song is essentially complete, even in a rough early draft, and the additions distinguishing its Act 3 counterpart now seem more like crowning touches more than ever before. “Jeepers Creepers” is an outlier, a far different expression of Shivdasani’s songwriting acumen than any of the tracks discussed in this review. It does share some superficial similarities with the earlier “The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina” thanks to the sheer delight in wordplay Shivdasani exhibits and the jazz influence casting a shadow over the musical performance. 

The jazz overtones of this song, however, are far more free form and spontaneous than anything we heard during “The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina”. Another flavor in the band’s mix rises to the surface with the acoustic track “Slip Away”. It is another track that emerged in different form on the Act 3 release and, like “Particle Craze”, illustrates how Shivdasani’s designs for the song are essentially complete even in an earlier take on the track. Despite its “hybrid” qualities mentioned earlier in this review, multiple listens to Little King and the Salamander reinforce the unique hallmarks of a release that has archival strengths, yes, but that does stand as an independent release rather than marking time until Shivdasani amasses a backlog of new songs for the band’s next studio release. The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina are an unique band in the modern music world, mainstream or indie, and their penchant for invoking retro and modern elements in the same musical breath sets them far apart from business as usual. 


Brian Childress

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Makes My Blood Dance are dishing out the mighty melodies


Mainstream metal has, admittedly, given us some hit and miss results this season, but deep within the American underground, Makes My Blood Dance are dishing out the mighty melodies that fans have been demanding since the start of the year. In their rookie single “Beaming Right Up,” Makes My Blood Dance exploit a danceable beat with a visceral riff-rocking aesthetic that is soaked in distortion and compressed to sustain a harmonic for as long as audiologically possible. With a powerful groove inspired by first gen NWOBHM meshed with the lyrical bite of the modern progressive era, “Beaming Right Up” is one metal single that no one is going to want to miss this April.

There’s an old school tonality in the guitars here, but make no mistake about it – there’s nothing about this song that would lead me to using words like “throwback” to describe its content. There are the bells and whistles of an 80’s glam metal unit left intact in the chorus, but they’re melded with a crude, punkish segue into the refrain that opens up so much room in the master mix for the bassline to fill with colorful texture. It’s not avant-garde, but “Beaming Right Up” has a provocative stylization that doesn’t fit in with the current atypical metal model at all (in a good way).

I don’t see any need to hide the obvious here – Makes My Blood Dance are as cinematic a heavy band as they come, and honestly, I get the impression that they’re very proud of that aspect of their sound. The lyrics, the production value, the arrangement of the strings; everything here is about celebrating the gluttony of rock n’ roll at its most unrestrained, but instead of coming across like an arrogant group of party boys, this band sounds very deliberate in their use of the concept and, dare I say it, intellectual in their compositional style. That’s a rare find in this genre – or for that matter, anywhere in contemporary western pop.

Not a lot of bands in Makes My Blood Dance’s scene are working with the level of melodicism mixed with raw physicality that they are in “Beaming Right Up,” but that isn’t the only reason why I think that their music is so memorable for more casual metal fans like myself. There’s a diverse group of influences in play here, and while the metallic fireworks are the centerpiece, they’re bolstered by the club beats that drive the rhythm of the song. The band calls it “disco/metal;” but I think it’s a lot more inventive than such pedestrian terminology could account for.

You don’t have to be a hardcore heavy metal buff to end up headbanging to Makes My Blood Dance’s thriller of a debut, “Beaming Right Up,” but for those who live and die by the genre’s most enthralling artists, this is a single that will haunt your dreams long after hearing it for the first time. They show off some serious charisma in this track and back it up with a skillful handling of complicated riffs and blistering beats, and after finding myself hooked on the song’s signature grooves, I plan on keeping a close eye on their upcoming releases as well.


Scottie Carlito

Monday, March 25, 2019

Francine Honey - To Be Continued LP


You can hear some of the former civil servant in Francine Honey’s latest collection To Be Continued… coming through in her intense interest in our humanity and the suggestion of community overarching much of her material. Many of the album’s eleven songs are lit internally by the implication Honey is sharing her personal experiences with us, how they changed her, and inviting us to glean what we might in hearing them. This willingness to shed shields so others might know our secret hearts is often one of the defining elements of great art. Francine Honey is a more than capable entertainer, but there are numerous moments on To Be Continued… revealing her as much more than a mere “song and dance woman”. Those moments come in songs clearly reaching beyond the purview of popular song and attempting to make a lasting statement of what she has seen, how it made her feel, and how it transformed her.

“Snowflakes in My Eyelashes” is one of the earliest examples of that artistry at work. Essentially a poem set to music, the imagery is pinpoint and never clichéd, though Honey skillfully invokes a set of familiar emotions. The slow build of the arrangement never weighs down the song – the sparse placement of instrumentation gives Honey plenty of space to weave her vocal magic. Her clear attentiveness to every line helps make her stand out in the modern music world, few show such across the board discipline, but Honey makes each line matter in a way that makes the stakes seem higher than they might otherwise. “Stay” is an expert weave of country weeper with some rock guitar tossed in for good measure. The guitar work largely restricts itself to biting or emotional fills dropped in throughout the song’s duration, but there are a couple of occasions where the six string rips out some piercing lead work that punctuates the tune. Piano, a mainstay instrument on To Be Continued…, leaves a melodic mark on the song as well.

You can’t say the title song is any one thing. It has aspects of a folk song and packs a ton of narrative into less than five minutes, but the light touches of horn haunting the backdrop of its mix and moody piano contributions place it in another realm entirely. In the end, “To Be Continued” is a superbly written song with a satisfying literary bent, yet never pretentious or stilted. Honey uncovers the meaning of her reflections and listeners are invited to witness her discoveries but, ultimately, you will relate for your own past and the seeming promises of years long gone by. “Honey” changes things up with a rolling blues rife with specific details that make it burn even hotter for listeners. It’s a real pleasure to hear how Honey leans into the chorus vocal and achieves everything she wants without ever coming off hamfisted. There’s some real subtlety in the songwriting for attentive listeners.

“Shacked-Up Sweetie” is a package deal, including both the recording and an accompanying music video, but the song stands on its own as a first piece slice of country rock with a blues flourish. The arrangement keeps “its head down” for the most part, charging ahead in a straight forward fashion, and the piano underpinning the rhythm guitar gives it some extra bounce. Lead guitar flashes to life at all the right points and Honey wisely underplays the vocal a little rather than attacking it in a bucket of blood blues queen style. Make no mistake, however, the video more than serves its purpose – it gives the song a visual story to link with the recording and stands on its own, as well, as an appealing promotional clip for the album.

Rebecca Beasley 

Monday, March 18, 2019

Stephanie Rose Sprout (EP) and Luxury (Single)

“Sprout” the title song for Stephanie Rose’s second studio release, gets her sophomore effort off to a rousing start while going places many of her peers wouldn’t dare follow. She’s definitely reaching for an old school vibe during the song’s first half, but she’s venturing elsewhere soon enough by incorporating brass into the song’s arrangement. What might sound, on initial impression, as being woefully out of place on a country album actually works as an astonishing stab towards a new sound for the genre. Longtime fans of the form will recall that, as far back as Western Swing music and Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”, horns can make a difference in a style not often known for that sound. “Rusted Love” is much more business as usual, in some ways, but Rose is equal to revitalizing this style as well – her take on classic country flavored AOR rock has a physical, involving sound and the song’s arrangement coupled with her lyrics has an almost cinematic air.

“Sprout” bristles and bounds with life. It’s a nice feature of Rose’s music that, even when she’s singing about very adult topics, her vocals and music alike are embracing life and an upbeat swing throughout. There is one notable exception to this and even that approaches the same aesthetic, albeit from a different angle. It’s hard to consistently pull off a marriage of serious material with such vibrant musicality, but the best can do and even the understated musical touches in this song, like organ, end up only enhancing its soulfulness.

“Rusted Love” is another great lyric with an accompanying great arrangement. Rose, on this one, goes a much different way than the EP opener but nonetheless keeps close to her roots – the same spirit inhabiting the first song gives this one life as well. She is more than capable of making her voice work within a rock influenced arrangement, but Rose doesn’t go too far – the connections to her country background still shine through.

She shines in a much different way with the track “Luxury” and it raises an already excellent EP up several notches alone. Piano and violin are the critical musical pieces making this arrangement fly and they find a more than worthy performance partner in Rose’s best vocal on Sprout. Her voice encompasses worlds. There is passion, heartache, enormous empathy, and even a sense of victory glowing throughout her vocal and it lights the song up with inspired life.

“Old Soul” has a fat bass pulse at its center that gives the song an irrepressible heartbeat and the rhythm section, as a whole, provides Rose with the platform she needs for one of Sprout’s most likable vocals. The lyrics have a lot of charm as well, especially some well chosen rhymes, but there’s self-knowledge and wisdom underlying the song as well.

“Same Old Same Old” concludes Stephanie Rose’s second EP release in a restrained, thoughtful way, but it isn’t difficult to hear the playfulness in this performance. She makes great use of harmonica in this song without ever steering the track into any specific musical camp and it’s tailored to just the right length without a single identifiable wasted word or note. It’s well nigh impossible to dislike this release. Stephanie Rose may be at the start of her career, but she writes and performs like someone born to follow this path and you’ll find yourself happy to make the trip with her


Rebecca Beasley

Friday, January 25, 2019

Chris Ruben Band - Stomach Coil


The production of the Chris Ruben Band’s new single “Stomach Coil” helps an already great song stand out even more. The upstate New York based act has made their mark on the Big Apple live music scene in short order and their debut EP, Fortune Favors the Bold, announced their arrival as more than just talented players – the band boasts first class songwriting as well. Their latest single “Stomach Coil” shows off their continuing evolution as songwriters with a fully realized effort that checks off all the boxes – Ruben’s guitar playing veers from the understated to unabashed fire while the rhythm section of bassist Brendan Allan and drummer Russ Benjamin provide the track with a fluid, yet precise, foundation everything else builds from. It’s a relatively brief song, running over just three minutes long, but listeners will never feel cheated.

Ruben’s vocals may be the most underrated part of the band’s package. He has the ability to unwind light, melodic lyrical passages while still being able to bring emotional grit to the song’s stormier passages. He’s an attentive vocalist – it’s very satisfying to hear how his voice responds to the song’s various upswings and downturns of intensity, yet it all comes together in a coherent way. He, likewise, brings just the right amount of velocity to his vocal – the raucous parts get his full throated passion while the aforementioned lighter sections show his deft touch. His guitar work is tuned to the same wavelength and there’s a logical progression to how the guitar transforms in character throughout the course of the track.

He’s accompanied by a stellar band. The aforementioned rhythm section of Allan and Benjamin pop from the first but show off the same discernment we hear from Ruben’s own guitar work. Benjamin, in particular, steers the song through its rock/funk sections into the slower and more melodic parts without ever losing the thread. It is completely grounded in a live sound providing an interesting contrast with the light sound manipulations stretching and coloring Ruben’s guitar sound, but these post production effects are felt with his vocal as well. These effects, however, never dilute or obscure the instrumental or vocal impact of the band.

“Stomach Coil” represents the next logical and compelling step into the future for The Chris Ruben Band’s songwriting. It’s a well constructed and thought out track with something for everyone and doesn’t sport any identifiable influences – Ruben and his band mates avoid imitation and self indulgence alike while still delivering a recognizable slice of rock/funk that lingers in your memory long after the final note fades. If we can consider this song a harbinger of the band’s future work, the Chris Ruben Band continues proving that fortune does, indeed, favor the bold. “Stomach Coil” is a cracking musical trip that carries you away from the first and you’ll wish there was more by the time the song concludes. You can definitely hear the band’s live chops burning through, but the band is far more than just a stage act.


Scottie Carlito