Thursday, August 8, 2019

Ronnue is taking us back to the golden age of hip-hop

A thick, bumpy bassline menacingly flexes its muscular tone. In its wake, a sizzling synth comes scorching through the center of the track, paving the way for Ronnue to drop a monstrously melodic lead vocal in “17 Days (The Hood Mix),” one of the most haunting and harmonious songs found on his latest album, Introduction 2 Retro-Funk. Ronnue is taking us back to the golden age of hip-hop here and ironically sounding more progressive than many of his experimental peers have recently. Introduction 2 Retro-Funk is an unstoppably addictive offering, and compositions like “17 Days (The Hood Mix)” are the reason why. Ronnue’s lyrical attack has never been stronger than it is in tracks like “Something About U (The Retro-Funk Mix),” “I’m a Lesbian,” “Why,” “If We Stayed 2gether” and “Give in 2 Me,” not to mention his technique is noticeably more efficient than it was in past outings. He’s using the full depth of his vocal in these songs, but more importantly than that, he’s developed a really unique flow that sets his verses apart from most anyone else in or out of his scene at the moment. There’s no question who is at the mic when he sings, and that’s half the battle in becoming an icon nowadays.

This mix is boastfully unsophisticated from beginning to end. It’s downright guttural in some spots – namely “I’m a Lesbian,” “In Love” and the ferocious funk of “You Tried Me (The Man’s Anthem)” – and it makes all of the music that we hear in this record feel and sound so much more authentic, hard-edged and fresh as a result. Ronnue was brilliant to stay away from a traditional pop sound on Introduction 2 Retro-Funk; he’s getting a ton of positive press for his decision, and I can see it having a big impact on his local scene moving forward. The lead singles here, “Something About U (The Retro-Funk Mix)” and “Be Your Freak,” were definitely well-chosen from this tracklist, and I think that they hold just as much appeal to the college radio crowd as they would the occasional R&B fan curious about the new and exciting sounds coming out of the Seattle underground this summer. It’s been a rough decade for indie rappers and experimental funk artists like Ronnue, but if he can move the needle a little more towards his scene’s direction, finding a home on the mainstream side of the business won’t be very difficult at all.

Introduction 2 Retro-Funk is one of the strongest candidates for album of the year that a west coast urban pop songwriter has submitted in the last decade, and even if you’re not up to date on the Northwest beat that produced Ronnue in the first place, you should take some time to give this record a listen this August. Ronnue is making some bold moves on his latest album, striving to make something different from what his contemporaries are, and most of all, giving the summer the added dose of funk that it has been in need of since the end of last June.

Garth Thomas

The music of RONNUE has been heard all over the world due to the radio plugging services offered by Musik and Film Records. Learn more -

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Ooberfuse releases “Call My Name” remixes

Through the thick, surface-level grooves and melodies that we find in the first sixty-seconds of ooberfuse’s “Call My Name – Push The Frequency Festival Mix,” we see specks of a bass tone that will slowly grow into a suffocating, unmatched force in this remix, which is only one of five found on ooberfuse’s new Call My Name EP. Trying to escape the clutches of this subtly surreal harmony and it’s uncompromisingly strong bassline prove futile in the next couple of minutes that follow, and as we look deeper into Call My Name, we discover this isn’t the only bit of sonic sorcery that the record contains. 

 Emotions are raw in “Call My Name – Hal St John Radio Edit,” and they all start with singer Cherrie Anderson, whose heart is on her sleeve as she lays into the first verse with a soft, Cocteau Twins-like ethereality. Her vocal is pleasant and pondering, which makes the whimsical swing of the percussion even more thought-provoking than it already would have been. It doesn’t surprise me that St John nailed this track as well as he did – after all, “Call My Name” is a direct product of the compositional chemistry he has with Anderson when they’re making music together under the ooberfuse moniker. “Call My Name - The Noise,” as well as “Call My Name – Paul Kennedy Radio Edit,” seem like ridiculously cautious efforts in their own right when compared to St John’s edit and the Festival mix, but deliberately so.

Everything – from the percussion to the very crunch that the bassline makes in the Kennedy edit – has a very specific part to play in creating as moody a narrative as producers can in these two mixes, and while they’re not the easiest to digest of this tracklist, it makes total sense that they would be included here just the same. The music video for “Call My Name,” featuring Paul Kennedy’s treatment of the song, is really good, clean electropop fun, and personally I think that it isn’t so all-encompassing that ooberfuse couldn’t make four additional videos for the other remixes as well. Each one of these tracks is so unique and different from the others that they sit next to on the EP, and as much as the generic look of the Kennedy video will probably jive with audiences from one side of the globe to the next, I think that it doesn’t necessarily represent the full artistic capabilities that ooberfuse are becoming known for with their studio work. 

Though it’s fair to say that the Call My Name EP was conceived with the serious European club-pop fan in mind, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t appeal just as much to Americans and other electronic-crossover buffs around the world this summer. Ooberfuse have been peeling back one layer after another in their incredibly melodic sound for over five years now, and I think that with the release of this new record, they’re showing us their most cultured style of play thus far. I hope to hear more before the year is out, and with all the buzz they’re getting this season, I think I’m going to get my wish. 

 Matthew Rowe

Monday, August 5, 2019

Project Grand Slam releases PGS7

Outfitted with beats that are as big and boisterous as they come, a string section burning hotter than the Chicago fire, lead vocals that could make even the hardest hearts of stone melt in an instant, sax vibrancy of the most divine quality, basslines that move mountains at the right volume and a percussive thrust guaranteed to get your speakers moving as much as your hips will, Project Grand Slam’s PGS7 is, simply put, a juggernaut of an album. 

 In the Robert Miller-founded jazz fusion project’s latest full-length release, we find an exotic rhythm in songs like “Funk Latino” and “No One’s Fool,” foreboding harmonies that tell us more about these musicians than words ever could in “Take Me” and “I Don’t Know Why,” as well as scathing lyrical commentary in “Get Out!” and the brutally honest “Tree of Life,” but despite the incredible diversity of its tracklist, PGS7 is unquestionably one of the most cohesive LPs to join the Project Grand Slam discography. Miller and his collaborators are more in tune with each other than ever before here, and it’s listeners who reap all the rewards of their studious labor in this unparalleled LP. There’s really no simple way to classify a lot of the music that we hear in this record, but not because of any compositional fragmentation – quite the opposite, actually. If anything, Project Grand Slam are amalgamating so many different styles, textures and tones in these tracks that they simply defy the very concept of genre altogether. There’s as much rock n’ roll in songs like “Get Out!” and the riff-centric “I Don’t Know Why” as there is R&B in “Redemption Road,” funk in “Python” and midcentury jazz in “The ‘In’ Crowd.”

 What holds everything together in this piece is Miller’s dexterous leadership of the group, which finds the perfect voice to convey its message in vocalist Ziarra Washington, a singer who has become one of my very favorites in recent years. Following the release of 2017’s The PGS Experience, it became next to impossible for critics to dismiss the credibility of this group, but in the wake of what they’ve cultivated in PGS7, I think that it would be appropriate to start referring to Project Grand Slam as a top tier indie unit, regardless of genre classification. 

I’ve been listening to Robert Miller’s work for a few years now, and this is undeniably one of the tightest records that he’s ever attached his name to. In terms of physicality, it goes unmatched among the output that we’ve heard from Project Grand Slam’s contemporaries both in and outside of the underground this summer, and while I’m fairly certain that this won’t be the last time that the band’s music makes its way into the headlines on the international level, something tells me that this is going to become one of their most beloved releases. PGS7 has the look and feel of an anthology album, and even though it comes in at a full-bodied fifty minutes in total running time, its tracklist is one that I’m sure most jazz and experimental rock fans will find to be listenable time and time again. 

Janelle Washburn 

The music of PROJECT GRAND SLAM has been heard all over the world due to the promotional services offered by Danie Cortese Entertainment & Publicity. Learn more here -

Friday, July 19, 2019

AV Super Sunshine releases "Are You Happy?”

“Are You Happy?” from Wisconsin’s AV Super Sunshine is released in three different mixes, a radio, club, and rock version, respectively. The radio version has the same rock and electronic hybrid edge defining many of their past releases. It is fascinating to listen to a band so skilled at balancing the past and present in a single package, but it is all the more impressive to hear them do it and never lose their way or reduce the song to a mishmash of sound. The contrast between the synthesizer driven melody and live drumming facilitates a connection between the song and its listeners that crackles from the first and never loses you. The song is cut to an ideal length making it an easy choice for radio play.

Other musical instruments are present in the radio mix. The guitar and keyboards are a little lost in the radio mix, but nonetheless are present in the song. They combine in a dense way, but “Are You Happy?” retains a fleet footed musicality despite the density. The entire track isn’t that way however. AV Super Sunshine change things up at all the right points and the musical push of the song track dissipates into atmospheric bridges and instrumental breaks that round off the tune in a satisfying way. The vocals are twofold. There is a lead vocal coupled with band member Philomena’s contributions on backing vocals. She isn’t present in every line, but she comes into the song with a refreshing vocal tone that juxtaposes well with the lead vocal. 

The two vocalists do a five star job of adding a lot of oomph to the track and those aforementioned atmospheric moments and they are clearly singing with the music rather than positioning their voices against the music. They do an exceptional job of making the lyrics come alive for listeners without ever outshining the music. The club mix is an extended treatment of the radio track, a little over six minutes long, and AV Super Sunshine takes the chance to stretch the song out to its limit. The same dynamics at play in the radio mix are present in the club mix, but this version obviously pushes more percussive elements of the song and develops the melodic elements of the song in a much slower fashion. The rock mix is cut from a different cloth. There are none of the frills present in this version we hear from the other mixes, though the presence of keyboards obviously nods in a way to their electronic influences. The drumming, guitar, and vocals possess a lot of bite.

AV Super Sunshine is continuing their ascent into the musical consciousness of music devotees around the world and “Are You Happy?” will only hasten their rise. It is a memorable single that doesn’t take shortcuts, shows discipline and focus alike, and sparks with fire and passion. It bodes well for the entirety of Candyland Vol. 1 and will undoubtedly leave a mark on anyone encountering AV Super Sunshine for the first time. 

 Jodi Marxbury

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Fenix & SM1LO release hot new music


Beats rain down on us like devilish sonic daggers as we find our way through the fog of Fenix’s “House Remix” of “Where We Begin,” the darkest mix of the title track on his all-new album. This record isn’t his artistic baby alone, though; SM1LO is on board for this affair, as well as Llexa, and they’re dead-set on creating an electronic-tinged quicksand with tracks like this one, “Where We Begin (Radio Edit),” Fenix’s “House Radio Edit,” and the instrumentals “Club Radio Dub MIX,” and “House Dub Mix.” 

 If there’s something that you don’t like about one mix, there’s another almost guaranteed to ignite a passion within your soul that only premium EDM can, and despite the fact that there’s a repetitiveness to some of the content here, all of these mixes – instrumentals included – sport something more unique and brooding than what any of the headline artists associated with this project have dispensed on their own. Good things come to those who wait, and if you’re one of the millions of pop fans that has been eager for some virtuosity in 2019, Fenix & SM1LO have you taken care of with Where We Begin. BEATPORT: Fenix’s “Club Radio Edit” is my favorite of all the tracks in this record. 

Unlike other versions available to us in this collection, this take on “Where We Begin” has a torturous overtone to it, partly influenced by the shimmering, yet melancholy-soaked, acoustic guitar parts that play such a prominent role in the ascent towards the chorus. Llexa’s vocal has a lot of reverb on it, more than I probably would have used, but it definitely makes her words so much more haunting than they are in SM1LO’s remix or the standard “Radio Edit” version of the song. The melody is evocative, and its interplay with the percussion is reminiscent of a torrid love affair that has suddenly been met with an impasse. The house mixes were built for the world of runways and supermodels, but these club cuts have something much more intelligent and artistically savvy about them. Some legitimate emotion went into making these tracks, and that’s easy for even the most novice of pop aficionados to pick up on.

There have been only a couple of electronic acts to really impress me this year, but this record is certainly among the best pop music that I’ve been rocking out with this summer. Since its release last June, outlets that wouldn’t normally cover EDM have been taking an interest in Where We Begin, and specifically, Fenix & SM1LO. I haven’t a doubt in my mind that there are going to be a lot of calls for a follow-up to this fourteen-track wonder, and whether they bring Llexa back into the fold for another go-round or not, I hope to have the chance to review the finished product when all is said and done. Their charismatic studio techniques alone would be enough to warrant even more experiments together, but even without considering that, there just isn’t another electronica record out right now with the kind of spunk that Where We Begin has. FENIX 


 Matthew Huber

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Integriti Reeves releases new Single

Latin jazz crooner Integriti Reeves is stunning the critics in her new single, the swinging “Eu Vim Da Bahia,” from her debut extended play Stairway to the Stars. In “Eu Vim Da Bahia,” Reeves draws from old fashioned jazz influences while flanking her stylish grooves with a sleek, cosmopolitan sway that is anything but uncontemporary. There’s a lot of grandiosity in the composition of the instruments, but even at their most attractive, they’re never potent enough to steal the limelight away from her lead vocal, which stands out as one of the most seductive that I’ve personally listened to this summer. Much like the record that it was spawned from, “Eu Vim Da Bahia” is an exotic, multidimensional offering that will leave you begging for more from this sensational new singer.

I hear a lot of Django Reinhardt in these guitar parts, and anyone who knows jazz will tell you that this is no small statement to make. They’re so incredibly colorful, and yet enjoy an understated presence and simplistic construction. It doesn’t take more than a single listen to see why there’s been so much buzz around this track – from the get-go, every stitch of audio is awash with a supreme polish that emphasizes the emotion underpinning every note the strings emit. It’s almost overwhelming in a couple of spots, but Reeves is careful to curb the more indulgent moments in “Eu Vim Da Bahia” with a clean-cut vocal track that holds everything here cohesively together. I dig the approach she’s taking in this song, and would like to see her expand on the formula a little more in future efforts. 

The rhythm in this single is quite intoxicating, and when combined with the soft serenade occupying the top of the master mix, they yield an unbeatable hook that I’ve admittedly become addicted to. There’s a lot of excellent pop music being made on the mainstream side of the dial at the moment, but I don’t know that I’ve heard anything with the sultriness, not to mention impressively-appointed complexities, that “Eu Vim Da Bahia” has. It’s a fascinating treat for jazz fans, and moreover, anyone who has been in the mood for something a little more stimulating on their stereo this summer. It’s a far cry from the pseudo-vocal pop that frequently draws comparisons to the vintage jazz that Reeves takes inspiration from, and perhaps one of the few Latin singles I’ve heard this season that would appeal to audiences across the board. 

July just got a lot sexier with the addition of the string play contained within “Eu Vim Da Bahia,” and I for one am very excited to see how Integriti Reeves follows-up on its release in the years to come. She’s got a lot of momentum behind her, and for being a relative unknown to most of the world, she’s already got quite a following building around her brand right now. I have a feeling that we’ve yet to see what she’s fully capable of as a performer, but at any rate, this is a great way to familiarize yourself with her enticing style of jazz. 

Kevin Huber

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