Sunday, November 19, 2017

FXRRVST - May XXVI



FXRRVST - May XXVI 


The powerful dramatics of Toronto’s FXRRVST come across effortlessly on each of their debut’s nine songs. May XXVI in a way that will likely prove surprising to many listeners. Matching up the atmospherics of guitar fueled alternative rock with a strongly melodic character unlike anything else currently on the scene. They are just as convincing presenting the lyrical side of their character as they are guitar muscle and their abundance of both qualities is well defined by a production mix that seems to coalesce organically rather than as the result of time consuming effort and thought. The intimacy of these performances is a significant part of their appeal. Many of the tracks prominently feature acoustic guitar and it invariably provides a sturdy spine for Matthew Fuentes’ electric guitar excursions. There’s some flashes of extra instruments, some unexpected, a few nods to ambient textures, and a willingness to slightly subvert listeners’ expectations about melody.
 
There’s a classic singer/songwriter feel surrounding the opener “Road to Nowhere” spiked with a brisk pace and some unusual rhythms for this kind of material. While there is definitely a sense of the familiar with this song, Forrest and Fuentes bring a fresh quality to the style with this song’s character and Fuentes’ lead guitar has some fiery moments alternating with brief lyrical runs. “Picture Frames” highlights Forrest’s talent for an emotionally affecting lyric. There’s little question that her words pick up added force thanks to the superior phrasing she puts to work in this song and others, but the writing stands on its own as well. “Drown Me” might not be the most uplifting lyrical fare, but coupled with the closest thing on May XXVI to a straight ahead rocker, the rather dark sentiments make for a punchy tune, especially on the chorus. “Tidal Wave” is cut from similar commercially minded cloth, but it sports its appeal without ever pandering to listeners. It’s little wonder that Forrest and Fuentes chose this number to be their first single as it is both representative of the album’s deceptive ambition while also presenting their accessible musical character in the best possible light. 
 
There’s a slightly elegiac quality to the song “Lovely” and the slow wind of both the music and Forrest’s vocal accentuates that vibe, but the following song “Safe House” takes on a much less whimsical tone and, instead, impresses listeners with a restrained, deeply melancholy acoustic guitar line whose repetition will definitely stick with listeners. There’s a basically equal mix of the duo’s folksy, singer/songwriter side and their rock inclinations on the album’s last cut “Roofs”, but they sweeten the pot further with an air of daring quite unlike anything else earlier on the release. This is a restless song, musically, and Forrest’s singing seems genuinely inspired by its creative energy. It ends May XXVI on the best possible note and poises this remarkably satisfying tandem for further future success. FXRRVST (pronounced forest) might seem initially unusual based on their band name alone, but even a cursory examination of their talents points to uniqueness of a whole other order. 


Montey Zike

Friday, November 3, 2017

Phil Varca and the SlamJammers



Phil Varca and the SlamJammers 


Phil Varca and the SlamJammers are aces in a blues genre that’s built largely around the talents of its respective singers and guitar players. That’s no different with Phil Varca and his band mates – Varca is ably supported by Tom Porter on bass and Russell Stone on drums. It’s the latest and longest standing iteration of a band that’s been gigging and recording since 1989 – they’ve established themselves as one of the fiercest and most soulful practitioners of this classic form working today. There’s never any overly reverential treatment of blues from these musicians. The pedigree of performers they’ve opened or shared stages with like Buddy Guy, Joe Bonamassa, and Robin Trower illustrates their own direction as a hard-hitting unit keyed around Varca’s dramatic guitar and vocal style surging with passion that’s all their own. Their new singles “Don’t Push Me” and “Cash” embody all the best qualities of their music and point the way towards an even brighter future for this veteran trio. 
 
The years of recordings and live performances come across in their new music – few studio recordings could claim to harbor the same visceral live feel that you hear on the band’s new songs. “Cash” and “Don’t Push Me” are cut from a distinctly different cloth, both in pace and feel, but remain close enough together that they sound very much part and parcel of the same band. “Cash” has a more straight-forward, average bent, particularly in subject matter, and is a much busier musical piece than the second song. Despite the busier nature of the recording, Varca and his band mates never overwhelm the listener and there’s a laser-focus to the arrangement that maximizes its impact. Varca’s vocal brings its customary gritty realism to the singing, but he also bites deep into the song’s inherent lasciviousness without ever laying it on too thick. 
 
There’s a jagged knife edge thrust to the mid-tempo blues rock of “Don’t Push Me” that musters more energy and power than the earlier song ever quite manages. This isn’t intended as a slight to “Cash” – it’s a great song, but “Don’t Push Me” is even more powerful and has a muscular force generated by both the drumming and guitar alike that makes this a crisp, hard-hitting musical experience. Varca’s vocal is more than up to the challenge and builds great drama on top of the foundation provided by bassist Tom Porter and drummer Russell Stone and, all the better, he gets over the indignation of the lyric without ever straining for effect. It’s an impressive combination from this longstanding musical unit. Phil Varca and the SlamJammers have scored again with “Cash” and “Don’t Push Me” and shows no signs of slowing down almost three decades into their career. The ride is still streaking along at this point, so if you’ve never heard the band before, there’s still time to take a trip on their musical roller coaster.  


Shannon Cowden

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Flatt Lonesome - Silence in These Walls


Flatt Lonesome - Silence in These Walls 
 

The unique beauty of Silence in These Walls, the fourth album from critically lauded six piece band Flatt Lonesome, isn’t solely explicable thanks to their mastery of the classic country/bluegrass style. It’s their talent for placing a meaningful piece of themselves in these time tested forms and transform them into something uniquely their own that makes the twelve songs on Silence in These Walls stand up and be noticed. The band’s songwriting axis revolves around the twin creative forces of Paul Harrigill and Kelsi Robertson-Harrigill. Both make enormous vocal contributions to the album, but it’s Robertson-Harrigill who really makes her presence felt with a handful of tour de force vocal moments that show a truly great singer gets by every bit as much on how they sing, when they don’t sing, and how they tailor their approach to the music of each song.
 
Much of Silence in These Walls has a serious bent. The wont of modern performers and writers in this style is that they approach the genre quite literally – the extent of their artistic vision encompasses dire or despair narratives and precious little else. “All My Life” certainly qualifies as serious but the weighty listen is mitigated by the lush musicality of Kelsi Robertson-Harrigill’s voice and the support she receives from the band’s other backing singers, particularly Charli Robertson. It is a much more solidly bluegrass tune than much of what comes later, but there’s a mix of influences that make this a potent brew. “Build Me a Bridge” is some truly clever songwriting that the band gets off crisply and with great feeling. They bring together a combustible blend of country and blues to make this acoustic fare pop in unexpected ways. “I’m Not Afraid to Be Alone” is the album’s best ballad and a resolute statement of purpose against the vagaries of love. It’s far and away Charli Robertson’s most convincing vocals. 
 
The tempo is much more controlled, deliberate, on “Draw Me Near” and this inspirational tune penned by Robertson-Harrigill finds a fantastic interpreter in Buddy Robertson’s singing. He shows the same emotive skill and patient attention to detail on this ballad that Charli Robertson shows on in the aforementioned track and it makes for one of the finest moments on Silence in These Walls. Their penchant for giving time on their releases to inspirational or spiritually minded songs presents listeners with another satisfying side of their musical character. “Where Do You Go?” is a track the band draws from a 1970 Glen Campbell release and one cannot help but idly wonder if, with his recent death, the selection isn’t intended as some sort of tribute. Regardless, it is another peak on a release that provides a lot of rewarding moments. The last third of the album includes a couple of more upbeat numbers and a cover song for the finale. The first two songs are playful relationship oriented cuts, the first full of some optimistic yearning and the second an outright love song. 
 
 “Happy ‘Til He Comes” brings out the toying side of Flatt Lonesome’s musical character while “Falling” embodies a romantic side that’s certain to pick listeners up out of any malaise. “You’re The Reason” has been a hit in previous versions and could prove to be one again. It’s one of the few outright commercial moments on Silence in These Walls that could play on country radio and they’ve done it while remaining true to their musical vision. It’s a remarkably confident and detailed approach to making music that fills this album. Flatt Lonesome, with this release, can lay firm claim on being one of the best roots music associated acts working today.


Montey Zike

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Trevor Drury – Trip To The Water

 
Trevor Drury – Trip To The Water 


The current single by Trevor Drury – Trip To The Water, comes out of his deep well of music that he’s been at ever since he began taking lessons and soon became thoroughly obsessed with the art. He later went on to study vocal performance at San Diego State University. And that’s just the music side of life for this artist, as he also became an international model in the-midst of forging a career at his first passion.

His influences range from Elvis to Radio head, but he can be compared to any of his peers if you’re up on today’s flavors of the form. He stacks up well with everyone helping him produce a great single.

Something classy this way comes, with Drury getting as good as it gets on this amazing story of sorts, with a realistic feel that won’t stop once you turn it off, because it stays in your head, so why keep it there for all it’s worth. You don’t hear this unless you’re looking for it, and that’s just putting it mildly with ballads you either love or loathe. But I don’t want to give away the pace, I’ll just say that is comes in the shape of more than one speed. It’s safe to say that if you don’t do well with ballads, you can also look into his other songs like “Childhood Friend” and Water In The CafĂ©” – speaking of “water.”

At first it doesn’t demand your attention so much, but then it gets interesting once he gets past the first few chords and lets a verse by. The pause it goes through doesn’t entice, but then everything comes alive and you’re hooked. It’s a cerebral treat once you’re under the entire spell he weaves. I wasn’t sure myself where he was going to go, and that reveals enough about it to hopefully entice before hearing it, so readers don’t give up before they more than likely become enormously impressed. That’s where it gets incredibly cool and I leave it up to recommendation.

 
He’s is never boring or sappy, but his voice does go through a few changes that throw you off, but he wins you back over if you don’t give up and turn this precious tune off. You can weed out what you don’t like about it and there will be enough left to please you ten times over. Let’s put it that way. It’s hard to deny from the first note to the last and plays like an anthem for the state of the nation, but that’s just one way to look at it. The theme has nothing to do with politics, it’s about the human condition and where to find peace and tranquility, which is where the water ultimately comes in.

It’s not hard to connect the dots yourself, because that’s what the single is about doing, one way or another. The way it plays out is just through his trip to where he draws the light from. You can apply it to wherever you believe the source comes, and that’s the best thing you can do with any piece of good music.

Trevor Drury has his aim in the right direction, following the right path to his own destiny, and he’s taking people with him. But it’s also not his only path, and that’s a testament of what he has to offer the world in more than one industry, which he’s proving can go hand in hand.


Jeff Turner

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Romeo Dance Cheetah - Magnificent Man

 
Romeo Dance Cheetah - Magnificent Man 


Missouri born songwriter and vocalist Romeo Dance Cheetah is a singular performer in a day and age when carbon copies rule the roost The comedic sensibility he puts forward on many of Magnificent Man’s tunes is quite different from anything you’ll hear in modern performers and has an individualistic streak that runs a mile wide. Cheetah brings a visual sense to his lyrics and music alike that’s also manifested in his busy YouTube channel that’s used as a platform for his short music and sketch comedy films. There’s nothing going on in modern music today that blends the same tendencies in comedy with occasional dashes of seriousness and a heart that shines through under every context. Magnificent Man features a lot of rock music, circa 1988-1994, but there’s more here and the sensibility that goes into making these songs what they are has a surprising, perhaps, amount of nuance.
 
Magnificent Man’s title song provides the song’s opening curtain number and it gets things off to a heavy start. It’s a song that couldn’t possibly sound bigger and Cheetah’s ambition, cloaked in a clown’s mask, is quite clear. It’s a mistake to not take him a little seriously because he is doing more than just entertaining audiences; songs like this are making the case that a musical form thought shallow and dated can be made to live again in a modern context. There’s no doubt, however, that the lyrics for this opener are unexpectedly careening, weird fun. “35 Year Olds Dancin’” is a little more conventional so far as songs spoofing a subject go and it has some hard pushing guitars that give the words and vocal a lot of extra impetus. “Party Poopin” might have a sophomoric title, but it’s actually another intelligently constructed tribute of sorts to eighties AOR and arena rock with its echoing drums pounding out a simple tempo that the vocal and accompanying instruments fill out with a rough edge. “The Air Guitar Song” is cut from similar cloth and has an even sharper sense of humor that really captures the silliness sometimes present in its subject matter.
 
“Gone with the Wind” could have been a heavy handed failure in the hands of a lesser band, but Cheetah makes this heavily plotted out performance work despite its obvious turns. The sheer force of his personality really aids in this. “Laser Beam Makeup” has some pretty goofy lyrics that his delivery also redeems – the straight tone of voice he takes seems to normalize it some and allows listeners the distance to laugh. The final song “Live the Dream” has a much stronger pop sound than any of the aforementioned tracks and the decision to abandon the rock posturing defining much of the album gives it a different slant at its ending. Romeo Dance Cheetah’s Magnificent Man shows the promise of a performer who’s graced national television programs, entertaining scores via YouTube, and his promise seems boundless at this point.  


Montey Zike

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Dynamos - Shake, Rattle, & Roll


Dynamos - Shake, Rattle, & Roll 


Dynamos emerged from the Southern California area with one of the boldest blasts of modern rock in recent memory with the release of their EP Cold Comfort and are now following its success up with the single “Shake, Rattle, & Roll”. Vocalist Nadia Elmistikawy, the beneficiary of vocal training from a very young age and an extensive musical education through her youth, gives the band a physically stunning and vocally superb presence who inhabits the band’s songwriting like a possessed presence. There’s no question, ever, that she’s involved with every word and she’s thankfully supported by musicians who bring just as much commitment to bear. “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” might draw its title from rock’s ancient history, but there’s nothing staid or retro about their presentation. Instead, Dynamos come out of their corner swinging and “Shake, Rattle, & Roll” is just the knockout punch fans of modern rock are looking for to remind them the guitar slingers and bluesy singers of the world aren’t an extinct species quite yet.  
 
The vibrant life coursing through the veins of the song is connected to the true and righteous spirit of rock and roll. It comes through so clear. The drumming and bass playing is simply on point and doesn’t settle for rote patterns – instead, both the bass and drums are exploring from the first and laying a steady, yet fluid, base for everything else this song has to offer. Jacob Mayeda and Carlos Barrea’s guitar work is a good fit for the rhythm section because they present a consistent sound that dovetails nicely into the bottom end and play with the same accomplished, yet rambunctious, sense of skill. The song is written to an ideal length and Dynamos emerge from this performance, musically, as a band loathe to waste the time or test the listener’s patience in the name of self indulgence. Instead, they come across as focused and intense as any five star rock band we’ve ever heard. 
 
Nadia Elmistikawy’s vocals and lyrics alike are the song’s crowning achievement. The singing, especially, does a bracing job of bringing rock and outright blues together while the lustful wail in Elmistikawy’s voice contrasts nicely with her more nuanced moments when we get a real sense of the “speaker” behind this lyric. It might reference old time rock and roll using this title, but it’s clear that “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” is, at its heart, totally their own and expresses its theme with boisterous rock and roll bite. Dynamos experienced a lot of much deserved success with their initial EP offering and, if this tune reflects the overall quality of their current songwriting, listeners can be sure that the next album or EP from this crew will expand on the promise heard in the aforementioned EP and set them up for further and bigger success down the road. They are a powerful outfit and there’s only way for them to go from here – up, up, up.  


Dale Butcher
 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Stranger Friends


Stranger Friends  

Two award-winning Nashville songwriters have teamed up to form the masterful new band, Stranger Friends. With a musical style that combines the harmony of the Everly Brothers and the grit of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Stranger Friends will release their self-titled, self-written EP on October 20. Band members Jamie Floyd and John Martin met through a mutual friend in 2010. To their surprise, songs came naturally, as though these strangers had been friends all along. And their vocal blend was instantly, undeniably special. Since that time, they have followed their musical instincts.

Those activities have all led to great things, such as, recording the 12-song soundtrack for a Burt Reynolds movie, “Dog Ears,” before recording this five-track EP to be released this month, before said movie in 2018.

That’s pretty- big for this hard-working duo, but seven years is a long time to develop and when you stay at it you get such results and they are living proof. The EP kicks off with “Country Song” to put it all into proper order from the word go. And I give this opener all the green light it deserves, as it stand-apart from the others the way any good opener should, and remains the right choice once all five songs are over.

They follow in good country style tradition with “Secret Garden” and it too is one of the top placements on the EP. This is such a good song you’ll wonder how it’s the same players on it, as it advances in the instrumental department without skipping a beat. The folk essence can’t be dismissed on this track, with its usual acoustic charms. This plays out like a walk through any garden in any lavish or humble estate. It’s probably the best all-round track of the five, to my recollection after several listens. But it depends on your cup of garden juice, so to speak, and that can be said about any track on Stranger Friends.

 
“I Ain’t Dead” takes you to another place and time with a ballad that blows most attempts as such down to the ground here. This embodies everything that country is about in one fell swoop. The only thing it never does is swing into anything with a beat. It’s not that kind of son, so no harm there. No need to swing when you can sway, because it does however allow that as it goes from slow moving, to loud and back again. There is no repeating the refrain they go into on this, but perhaps there is no need because some things are better left as is.

I’m not completely sure that’s the gospel on this, but the track itself carries a gospel feel, so put them together and maybe it’s the right call.

But you also get the more-quiet sounds of “November & June” to go with it, and you won’t be eating the same meal with every track. This follows a less serious approach to their music, but provides a feather-light touch at the right time on the EP. You’ll want it after the latter, and you’ll get everything you’ve been patient for by listening to it all and finding the closing track “Don’t Get Back Up” to compete with every note you’ve already heard.

Brion Stephen