Sunday, October 15, 2017

Dynamos - Shake, Rattle, & Roll

Dynamos - Shake, Rattle, & Roll 


The 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 The 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. The 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

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Souleye – Wildman

Souleye – Wildman 

Souleye has traveled a long since his school days as a star athlete and his life today, with fatherhood and marriage to one of the world’s most popular singers of the last quarter century- Alanis Morissette, has informed the unique message he pushes with his songs in a way few artists in any genre can claim. He has invited an assortment of featured artists, other vocalists, to work alongside him on Wildman and their appearances are invariably steered to the right songs where their influence ratchets up the intensity and overall quality several notches. Wildman owes its musical virtues to a broad based understanding of electronica and other common elements heard in EDM, but the substance filling each of Souleye’s songs is undeniable. Labels be damned – Souleye’s Wildman is one of the most compelling releases from any genre of music this year and will likely stand as one of his seminal works from this point forward. 
It kicks off with a memorably energetic start thanks to the song “Dream Come True” and surges along thanks to the steady percussion driving it forward. Souleye’s voice takes on a lot of different shapes during this performance. The different sounds are, naturally, thanks to some post production touches and thankfully never go overboard. “Classic” dispenses with such moves, for the most part, and definitely puts more of the onus on a consistent groove to carry the outing. It has a couple of guest singers with the inclusion of Chachillie and Chantal Kreviazuk’s voices in the song. Lynx adds a lot as well during the title-song “Wildman” without ever really taking up too much of the running time. Moments like this bring unexpected bluesy and soulful notes to songs that don’t always announce their melodic virtues to the listener. There’s a lot going on musically in these songs however for the committed listener will to unpack their riches. 
“Miles Away” has many of the same musical strengths setting the best songs on Wildman apart from the rest while still manifesting a surprisingly cinematic side that makes this one of the more emotional impactful songs on the album. There’s a strong soulful edge to the song “Fountain of Youth” but there’s an interesting amount of attitude here noticeably different than what we hear in earlier songs. Much of that difference is attributable to the influence of Wade Morissette on  the song’s development. It’s noticeably different from the song “Snow Angel”. Alanis Morissette’s contributions to this song are relatively limited but she brings a different character to the song than it would otherwise possess. Wildman will entertain hardcore hip hop fans who value intelligent material and casual fans as well thanks to Souleye’s broad based talent and commitment to writing and recording top shelf albums. This will likely end up being remembered as one of his absolute best and brightest moments thanks to its mix of the spiritual, intellectual, and physical quite unlike anyone else working today.  

Montey Zike

Ashley J – Unbreakable

Ashley J – Unbreakable

In a time where industry seems to get tougher and tougher as time goes by, uniqueness, well, that’s something very tricky. Usually I would go saying that being original would draw much attention to you, but unfortunately that’s partially true as there has been many creatively unique bands and artists that have found themselves drowned in the sea of talent inside and outside the industry. Sometimes they happen to be very unique that they fall into the niche hole. So I think the key for success would have to be originality but also be relatable. Have your own voice, but also be able for others to connect with you.
“Unbreakable” by songstress Ashley J has all the right elements to conquer the hearts of many. It’s infectious and has Disney pop centric melodies that are made for young listeners, which at the end of the day are the ones that consume more music. The powerful message in the song is very much needed in this times of despair and hopelessness. Be yourself. Don’t let others to define who you are. You might find yourself in very dark corners, but there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.
On a negative note, for me the song sounds way too familiar. As I mentioned on the first paragraph, they key to make it through is not only be very lucky but also have your own identity. There can be a very limited amount of artists that sounds like a highly popular one, ya know? There can only be too many Britney Spears, or Bridgit Mendler, etc. And even those artists have found the way to eventually redefine themselves. So hopefully, sooner than later, Ashley J would find her way to be herself. To take some risks, have some fun playing with other styles and blending them together.
Overall, there’s the determination, the potential and of course, the talent to make it through. This single serves as a great introduction for a, fingers crossed, emerging star. Hopefully she embraces her own message and finds the needed strength to take some risks in the future and keep chopping her skills. Luckily she will encounter with a production team that may help her push her boundaries as well, not saying this one doesn’t... but ya know what I mean.
Rating 8/10
RJ Frometa

Electric Illusion - Dizzy Box Nine

Electric Illusion - Dizzy Box Nine 

The debut CD – Electric Illusion from Dizzy Box Nine, featuring the single “Good” is a pop album to keep an ear to as it unfolds with some of the best songs I’ve heard in years. This CD reminds you of everything that was good about pop music, with songs that hold their own with the best. There are so many influences here, that you can’t quite seem to nail them all down, but it doesn't matter because you’re too busy enjoying the unique style of Dizzy Box Nine.

You can call it what you want, but whatever you call it, there’s much to call on this CD. Electric Illusion has just about everything going for it except for a million dollar-mass campaign behind it. But that’s ok, Dizzy Box Nine seems to like to do things their own way, and it’s only a matter of time before more listeners get exposed to this group. Word of mouth can be a powerful factor in breaking bands into the mainstream, and there is definitely that type of potential with this band. What you get here is the real thing—fast-paced, melodic songs that leave you wanting to hit the repeat button a few times. It’s all upbeat pop and rock with soulful, positive, and relevant lyrics. The kind songs you used to be able to count on from pop bands of the past.

The band seems to center around the skills and vision of Randy Ludwig, who plays most of the instruments on this record. Lawrence Dunlap is also featured on drums on several of the songs. The guitar playing of Randy Ludwig is top notch and it’s cool how he fits so many different guitar parts into each track, and still ends up finishing these songs within about 3 minutes or so. Randy’s vocals are a perfect fit for these types of pop tunes. And the supporting vocals add richness to the music that is favorable.   
There are several standout songs on this record, from the face-paced charmer “Oh Yeah!” to the hypnotic melodies of “When I Look At You” and “Good”, there’s a lot to offer music fans of all genres. I can see these guys opening up for a band like Train, but I can also see them opening up for Tom Petty or Blink 182. That’s just how it goes. These songs just kind of work.

There are some twists with songs like “Fantasy,” “Rosie” and “Crazy Superstar” with their more esoteric lyrics and storylines. And it all becomes complete with the laughter of “Punk Rock Girl” with its zany attitude, and even bigger bombs like “Samantha” which is a perfect ending to this record. Dizzy Box Nine may not be mainstream yet, but that doesn’t seem to prevent them from making memorable, melodic songs that seem to instantly hook you with the first listen.  

Saturday, September 16, 2017

John Brownlow - The Summertime

John Brownlow - The Summertime
In my past few years writing reviews for a wide range of bands and artists, I have had the pleasure to meet and enjoy some really great and touching records by some phenomenal bands - on the other side of the spectrum I have encountered some plain down, simple and boring as hell materials. So say I was a bit worried for the next record, is to really say the least. 29 songs?! "Boy", I was praying, "I hope this would be fun ride".
Luckily for me, The Summertime by John Brownlow is an inspiring and great record that brings back some great memories for me and many of the audience that will likely listen to this record. The album echoes the sound of great iconic and pretty much staple names from the Britpop era (where Brownlow can be considered quite an underdog veteran) like Oasis, Blur and other older names as Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, The Clash, etc. However, calling Brownlow a rock musician wouldn't be correct, and this album shows he's one of those rare acts that aren't afraid of jumping into different wagons and the way, the ease how he does this is pretty remarkable. He goes from Powerpop (Burn Hollywood Burn) to Bossanova (Asteroids), old school Rock and Roll (Government Work) and Punk (Bullet To The Head) is very impressive. There's really something for everybody who's up to open their musical minds and explore a wide range of sounds. The production value also helps showcasing the greatest potential of everyone involved, especially Brownlow dynamic vocals, in a time where nothing hears or sounds real but rather way too perfect, the rawness in the tone and often missing notes instead of working against him it does serves on his advantage.
There isn't too much of a criticism for the record, perhaps the number of tracks might cause some listeners to not give it a shot. In a time where we are always in a hurry and would like to listen a bizzillion different songs in zero time, this big number seems like it wasn't a good idea, especially when you are a relative new artist trying to make it into the industry and get yourself heard.
In the end, John Brownlow's The Summertime is a fantastic journey through the mind of an artist that has compiled all of his influences into one magnum opus.
Rate: 8.5/10
by RJ Frometa  

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Barbara Jo Kammer - One Song at a Time

Barbara Jo Kammer - One Song at a Time 

There’s a lot of personal meaning in this collection and, certainly, anyone who has experienced the punishing lifestyle that defines the life of an addict will find much here to relate to. It isn’t the whole story about Barbara Jo Kammer’s solo debut, One Song at a Time, however. The vibrant musical tapestry she weaves with her collaborators makes this an entertaining listen from the first and that spark never dims over the course of the album’s ten songs. She maintains a level of energy ably matched by her band mates and they respond with on point performances that help these tunes reach their fullest potential. It’s all presented against the backdrop of a superbly rendered production job that doesn’t sound like the product of an independent operation whatsoever, but rather top flight professional and with a keen ear turned towards balancing her voice against the instruments. 
“I Can See Clearly” is an ideal example of what Kammer is capable of covering other artists. She recasts this iconic pop tune as a high-stepping bluegrass tilt and the definition the individual players achieve is quite impressive. Their unerring accuracy reveals itself in every minute of this tune and it results in one of the album’s most complete performances. “Choices” joins its company, as well, in that regard while coming from an entirely different place musically. This is a song pulled directly from the classic country tradition and its decidedly adult lyric about struggling with alcoholism is surely one that affected Kammer profoundly the first time she heard it. She delivers a wrenching performance here that goes beyond just hitting her marks and has a transformative quality all listeners will respond to in some way. “Hard Promises to Keep” is another deep nod to country music tradition as it sets itself up as a classic ballad and duet between Kammer and the fine vocalist Greg Blake. Blake’s lower register smoothness has its own emotive quality, but it’s different enough from Kammer’s that the juxtaposition of their voices takes on a compelling aura.   

“In a Cabin on the Mountain by the Pine” is written by Robert Backlund, a friend of Kammer’s, and this well honed invocation of rural life and its peaceful qualities comes across quite nicely thanks to the wealth of specific detail and Kammer’s expert reading of the song. “The Winning Side” embraces a more modern country vibe without surrendering any of the traditional instrumentation that gives the album such a vintage sound and Kammer’s singing for this particular performance ranks among her best outings on a great album. She wraps One Song at a Time up with an equally involving performance of the Jimmie Rodgers classic “Mule Skinner Blues” and, while it was written for a male voice, Kammer doesn’t let that get in her way of owning the song completely and making it sound like the tune was written with her in mind all along. This is one of the best traditional releases of 2017 and we can only hope that Kammer follows it up with an equally powerful sophomore effort or something even better. 


Scott Wigley

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Sighs – Wait On Another Day


The Sighs – Wait On Another Day  

The Review: Massachusetts bred The Sighs has one of those sounds that’s familiar but yet you can’t quite put your finger on him. The closest I could place it would a cross between The Beach Boys and The Beatles without the rock n’ roll bombast.  

The Sighs are finally back with their highly anticipated third album, Wait On Another Day which really took a decade or so to come to fruition. The result is a rich musical stew, with ingredients from righteous power pop rock to heavy riffs and everything in between.  

The CD starts off with “It's Real” an explosive opener painted with gloomy vocal harmonies, threatening lead guitars and likewise menacing drum and bass lines. Track 2 “Words of Love” follows through nicely, moving from the angsty roars from the first single with captivating guitar lines and psychedelic undertones. The first 4 tracks really show how well these cats can really play outside the a-typical Pop embellishment of today, bringing some of that magic that made this genre so amazing back in the days. Speaking of nostalgia, "Summertime Roses" smells like Oasis everywhere, bringing those layers that made Brit Pop so great. Slowly but surely you are introduced to inviting baritone voice via more great music. As you may realize by now, this is really an album that enjoys diving into different eras of Rock music. From time to time, the record also shows great depth on the writing, they aren't exactly very meaningful but catchy in the way other classics used to be by sounding familiar, commercial but never manufactured. You feel there's a life, a soul behind those lyrics. As I listened to these songs over and over again, I noticed how fluid all of the arrangements really were. The whole CD moves from one moment to the next, one transition /track to the next. And despite the lack of ‘jolting moments’ to catch you off guard, all of all the tracks manage to grab your attention with its often gentle, lighthearted style that changes when you less expected. 

Most good pop songs have what I call a “sweet” higher tonal registry within the melody. While LaRoche never hits those big notes, the vocal work never feels odd. Though I would have loved the band take some risks. It sometimes feels like they were playing it too safe.  

“Wait On Another Day” by The Sighs rounds out an exceptional 11 Track CD presentation delivered by a talented group of musicians and songwriters who has definitely honed their craft over the years.


Jamie Russell 

Bunny Sigler – Angel Eyes

Bunny Sigler – Angel Eyes 

Bunny Sigler dates back a long time as a producer and recording artist, from the Philly soul variety of R&B to all this time later crossing over to jazz with the release of Young At Heart. The first single is “Angel Eyes” which covers the Ella Fitzgerald song. His name should ring bells because he’s been working with artists like Curtis Mayfield and others since he started. This album combines R&B with jazz and the single is wisely chosen to show how well he pulls it off. There is no question the answer is yes. And that says everything about his effort to remake something with integrity. This isn’t something to turn your nose up at, it’s the real deal, so if you’re expecting a run of the mill rendition, think again. The video should be seen to further entice readers of what a beautiful version it is. The audio stands more important but sometimes a promo goes the distance too, with some great scenery to keep it interesting. But don’t let it distract you from the bigger picture. This is best experienced on headphones, so watching the video with them is recommended. Otherwise make sure to give it a listen without looking. You can hear the smoke with or without seeing it.

If you like his work this will come as no surprise, and it can turn anyone onto Bunny Sigler as well. You get everything with no added ingredients to muck it up. A male version she would be proud of, and that’s part of the magic of this whole experiment. I am a huge lover of songs with the mention of menu items, so I have always liked the track but he seriously takes it to another level. Not to say that is above the queen of jazz, but certainly no slouch himself, even if he is new to straightforward jazz. It sounds like he’s been doing it all his life though, so it’s in his blood already. 
The coolest part about his voice is the low register parts, it’s truly gifted how he goes just about everywhere on the map as well. The vocal performance itself is something to marvel at alone, and that should be the case when taking on someone so strong. Sometimes you want to go even higher or lower because the memory of the song is so powerful you overdue it on a cover, but he never overdoes it. When a song is mesmerizingly hypnotic in the first place it has a laid-back vibe that can take being in the mood to get used to. But not this, it’s on from his first breath. It never loses interest from there.

What more can you say about such a classy song and classy singer. It should be heard far and wide, and the album should get airplay if the rest of it is as extraordinary as this. Lovers of both jazz and R&B music can relate better than most, so the album should satisfy his fans and this single should whet plenty of appetites and lift every spirt that hears it. This is where two worldly legends meet, one of them alive or not. If it doesn’t pump your blood for more, the LP won’t be for you. But if-not you’ll get everything out of it that you put into listening. His grand signature is written all over it with jubilance. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017



Employing guest musicians working alongside them like no less than Grass Harp’s iconic guitarist Phil Keaggy, multi-instrumentalist Ragnar Rosinkranz and artist John Walquist ten song debut collection as Weatherboy ranks among the most compelling debuts in a commercial genre over the last five years. Let’s be honest however – despite the melody, glossy surfaces, and vocal beauty exhibited here, there’s very little that you’ll hear on Top 40 radio. Weatherboy has musical muscle to bring to bear as well as a sense of personal mission not campaigning for any cause but that of communicating their inner most thoughts to the audience in all its forms. The lyrics are an underrated part of the overall package – they are rather personal in nature and, thus, retain a little obscurity, but they communicate through image in such an impactful way they enhance their musical landscapes. Everything here is framed for maximum effect. 
When you hear the vocals boasting about the good thing they’ve found in the opener song “Got a Good Thing”, it doesn’t come off as ham-fisted or insincere and listeners experience a similar effect with the second song “Great Great Life”. These two opening songs practically demand to be taken as a tandem and, having done so, they make a marvelous impact thanks to how well and unpredictably they weave brass, guitar, and rhythm section playing into a fluid and hard-hitting whole. “Riding on the Wind” is cut from a different cloth. Weatherboy temper their more pronounced pop inclinations in favor of something much more atmospheric and understated in comparison to earlier performances. The variety of colors at their disposal doesn’t sound readily exhaustible/ :Some more cynical listeners might be immediately suspicious of a song entitled “Good Morning LA”, but the duo’s aim is true as they pour out with a good natured song dedicated to the City of Angels. There’s more than a little melancholy coming out of this track belied by a friendly, good natured vocal. “Bennett” has a number of impressive musical ideas and some truly gut-wrenching and inspired vocal passages on an album brimming with such moments. 
“Eva” is nearly pure unadulterated folk given only a slight pop spin thanks to the vocal and its evocative modern production. It seems outright simple compared to “All Your Fault”, a raw yet expertly dispatched meditation on competing emotions that the duo gets over quite nicely with some memorable contributions from Phil Keaggy. It sets up the album’s final tracks in a decisive way. “Home Fire” and “Full Bloom” are, largely, low key affairs, but the latter tune is particularly effective as a closer and the marriage of piano and voice alone stands in sharp and remarkable contrast with the album’s earlier performances. Weatherboy is a remarkable project by any standard, but the fact they are coming out of the gates with such quality and intelligence to burn suggests they may have remarkably brilliant dawns ahead of them as a partnership. This is an exceptional debut.  

Wayne Toole

Monday, August 28, 2017

Sam Baker – Land of Doubts

Sam Baker – Land of Doubts

Following a European tour behind his new album, Land Of Doubt, Sam Baker is turning his attention to creative projects in 2017: Opening his first-ever exhibition as a visual artist, staging an original play and filming a documentary. As you may know, Sam has limited hearing after being on a bus that exploded during a 1986 terrorist attack in Peru, but he’s from Texas, now living in Austin. There’s a lot more bio to cover on him but the album has 15 songs and they’re all worth talking about on one level or another. This is his 5th album since launching his music career, and he’s now expanding his reach by writing a play called Broken Fingers, filming a documentary and staging an art exhibition (Dream Of The Snow Geese) in Santa Fe, NM. And this album which serves as a companion to 2013’s Say Grace, starts off with “Summer Wind” and it quickly passes with some nifty guitar parts into “Some Kind Of Blue” which kicks up into high gear in the songwriting department.

A serious war number with everything he’s got behind it to really pull off a top shelf song, and that is honestly what it is, nothing more to really explain except to recommend headphones. You won’t be sorry you listened, especially if you like a narrative approach to the army about Charlie fighting Charlie. It goes through all the gnarly mud to be held in the trenches. You’ll have to just hear the rest for yourself. The instrumental “The Silvered Moon” is up next and it’s a quick set up for what comes next in the form of “Margaret” which gets tagged the token love song. And this is where it gets a little soft but bounces back after you get through it.

“Love Is Patient” is an otherworldly thing worth waiting for, so anything could come before it and not have any worries. This is my favorite song by Sam Baker, and I wouldn’t have looked past this album if it were not for this amazing opus. Nothing on the album is composed quite like it, in fact nothing out there I’ve heard lately sounds so majestic and real. It’s a fake world of a little of everything, and music is no exception. It’s a breath of fresh air to hear something from so far out in left field. I’m glad I heard it and kept looking-into his work. It should hold up in my playlist for a long time coming. The track already feels like it has that much resonation quality.

“Leave” is almost a complete 180 in contrast, but not a complete loss as a song to enjoy after that. It just never quite picks up until it threatens to at the end, but he makes his message perfectly clear in the lyrics. “Pastures Fit For Thoroughbreds” and “Song Of Sunrise Birds” are two more instrumentals, the former being the longer and more enjoyable sounding of the two, and a lot more interesting as well. This isn’t your grand-daddy’s jazz, but it isn’t exactly modern either. It falls somewhere in between the two. And “Peace Out” gets the last word in edgewise, which is by far one of the most modern moments on what is an amazing collection of modern folk songs. 


Randy Jones

bd Gottfried

bd Gottfried 

“Something You Weren’t” begins a show that if didn’t have a few turns could be the product of a progressive rock play of sorts. But I’m no expert on this artist, so, call it what you want but it has a storytelling feel about it. There is a looseness to some of it that veers off the beaten path sometimes, and that is why it goes both ways as an album. You’d have to know him enough to know these things, but anyone can get either impression just by listening to it. There is no question he is a crafty songwriter and excellent musician and singer. But the opening track doesn’t encapsulate everything he’s capable of. The second track “Crosshairs” doesn’t either, but it’s a bit more progressive and even has a more aggressive energy to it. And while not being new on the block, that is where it gets testy for any veteran solo artist. He’s done some heavy studio session work in his career, and a lot of his own albums, and while his maturity shows, his spirit remains youthful in this song, with a wise lyrical effort to round it off. This has both a modern and a retro sound and you can pin point where it might be coming from or not. I found it to be one of the more interesting tracks, whether-or not it holds any accessible interest. “Blame It On The Money” is somehow better in both departments, but perhaps a little on the mainstream side for this album. If there are a lot of familiar rings on this album, this has one of them wrapped around it. The problem is I can’t remember where I heard it, but that won’t be his problem. It works on that strength alone for me, but there are better instances to give on tracks like the following “Frequencies” which tones it down a lot. It could be the sleeper track of the album, as it bubbles along nicely enough for jazz to mark a turning point. It’s good enough to call it at least that vital of a point. 
“Eye Of Time” is my favorite, but that could change with time, as several of these tracks are growers. But the drums pick up here on what is-actually more like a ballad, than a rocker of any kind. That’s why the drums play such a great role on it and make it worth the whole price of admission. I also recommend “Breakaway” as my second pick, and I find it likely the most accessible track too. “Incarnation” doesn’t float my boat as well, but it helps pull off yet another big moment in the finale which is “SOS with an IOU.” It takes the album out more like it should’ve come in. And that can’t be bad. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

John Elderkin and ¡Moonbeams No Mas!

John Elderkin and ¡Moonbeams No Mas! - The Fall and Rise of John Elderkin and ¡Moonbeams No Mas! 

You won’t hear another release like this in 2017. John Elderkin has surrounded himself with a cadre of top shelf of North Carolina indie musicians, a virtual all-star roster of regional talent, in order to pull off this sprawling seventeen song collection entitled The Fall and Rise of John Elderkin and ¡Moonbeams No Mas! and they are more than capable of aiding him in realizing his wild ambitions. This is a tribute of sorts and testament to the effect David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust exerted over Elderkin’s imagination, but it is also a monumental riff on that classic album that finds Elderkin re-envisioning its impact on him with a distinctive individual artistic point of view that moves this far away from mere imitation. It’s a collection rich with characterizations, a love for the musician’s life coupled with some jaundiced humor at its pratfalls, and undeniably intelligent from first note to last. 
The first full song on the album, “We Waited Five Years”, is one of the album’s direct references to Ziggy Stardust and embodies the aforementioned wont of Elderkin’s songwriting to mix pathos with dashes of smirking humor. A truly singular voice comes from this recording – it bears some marks of modern influences, but everything is so seamlessly transmuted through Elderkin’s personality that it renders such observations mute or meaningless. “Song for David Bowie” might prompt some listeners to believe it’s another in a long line of heavy handed, but well meant, tributes to the Thin White Duke, but this song takes on a much larger scope beyond merely paying Bowie his due and patiently unfolds into something quite memorable. It confines itself to acoustic guitar and vocals for much of its duration before expanding in the second half to include electric guitars and forceful, slightly uptempo drumming. “Gather Your Strength” has some gritty electric guitar and a steady march tempo with Elderkin’s relatively sweet, clean vocals offsetting the dissonance from the instruments.  
“Don’t Look Straight Into the Sun” is, arguably, the most guitar heavy song on the album and features some particularly blazing axe work in the second half. It has an ambitious scope that finds Elderkin and his collaborators moving through an assortment of textures and tempos as well as including more of the evocative lyrical content that contributes to this being such a memorable release. “Get Back in the Van” is a band on the road song quite unlike you’ve likely heard before and has one of the best opening lines of any track on the album. Elderkin’s vocal gets over the storytelling aspects of the song in a gripping way that ensures even listeners who have never been in a band will relate to its sentiments. There are two instrumentals, “Teletar” and “A Trip to the Moon”, that set up the album’s climatic number “Give Me Your Hands”. It’s a surprisingly low-fi conclusion to a grandiose album and has the same hazy, dream-like ambiance defining many of the other tracks. It ends the release on a satisfying note and ties everything in quite nicely. This is, as the review began, a truly unique release unlike anything else you’ve heard in recent history and well worth your time and money.  

Joshua Stryde 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Suntrodden III – a Mood-Pop Experience

Suntrodden III – a Mood-Pop Experience  

Suntrodden III, the latest EP from Atlanta, Georgia based musician and songwriter Erik Stephansson, is a delightful experimental journey through mood and sensation using the vehicle of lo-fi recording and minimalistic composition. The collection opens with “There’s a Place,” which is a melodic and optimistic song, with a bit of a somber edge, reminiscent of some early R.E.M. tracks crossed with deep cuts from the latter years of the Monkees. The layering of instrumental movement and lyrical musing mesh beautifully to create a song that captures the very essence of a bittersweet attempt to exist encompassed with another person. It’s a truly beautiful tune that is inspiring while still being a bit sad.        

The next track in this collection, “Pure,” is musically reminiscent of Radiohead’s commercially successful, critically acclaimed, and some might argue, cornerstone hit, “Creep.” However, Stephansson takes a very similar series of notes and arrangement and drains it of all bile-self-loathing, and pain, instead infusing it with an infectious joy, which is guaranteed to bring a smile to any listener’s face. Where, “Creep,” is a declaration of degradation, “Pure,” seeks a brighter answer to similar existential doubt and fear. This is possibly the most radio-friendly tune in the entire collection, but still manages to communicate some interesting ideas above and beyond the basic pop formulae, despite its eminently familiar feel.          

“Moonflower,” the next track in this collection, takes a more somber turn. Though retaining the smooth and relentlessly airy melodic nature of the earlier tracks, “Moonflower,” seems to be the first track in the collection that dwells in the darker end of the emotional spectrum. The opening half of the song dwells in the darkness, relying on a deep piano melody to drive the song forward through a murky and reflective place. The vocal quality of this song remains in a more upbeat, poppy sort of register, but lyrically the song owns its reflective nature, making for a beautiful juxtaposition of sound and meaning. After the breakdown, the song evolves into a repeated, anthemic declaration.         

Track four, “Never Again,” brings the collection back to an upbeat place, and definitely owns a clear Beatles/Monkees trip-pop feel.  Musically, it is easily the most complex track thus far, but retains a memorable melody that will stay with you and keep your head bobbing.          

The final track, “The End (Haunt Me)” is an emotional and musical tour de force, revisiting the various instrumental, emotional, and lyrical destinations previously touched on in the album. Through the entirety of this track, Stephansson displays his unique prowess in acting as an emotional tour guide, bringing the listener on a brief, but enjoyable musical journey reminiscent of some of Lou Reed’s finest work.  

All told, Suntrodden III is a deft display of songwriting prowess from Erik Stephansson. The use of lo-fi recording techniques, extant, real-world instrumentation, and a limited number of takes per performance show through in the final product as a raw, emotional piece of art. The effort was well worth it, and the care taken in the crafting of this EP is clear in the final result. I give Suntrodden III an enthusiastic 8 out of 10 stars, and highly recommend it!  

Travis Legge