Thursday, June 2, 2022

Hughie Mac’s Sings Some Great Songs Vol. 4


The sheer variety of pop songs Hughie Mac covers on his most recent release, Sings Some Great Songs Vol. 4, means there’s something for everyone amidst the album’s twenty-three(!) cuts. He touches on a virtual who’s-who of mid-20th century American music including performers as diverse as Garth Brooks, Nat King Cole, Glen Campbell, and Frank Sinatra, to name but a few. 

Legendary or relatively obscure, it doesn’t matter, Hughie Mac treats each of the album tracks as an investment of his time worth every second and his love of performing for any audience, listening to an album or live, comes through loud and clear on an assortment of the tracks. Opening with “Almost Like Being in Love” serves notice that Mac is intent on entertaining listeners. The track selection for this album culls from universally well-known and regarded material common on television and film, as well as radio and album. He achieves a level of intimacy during this and later songs that’s reminiscent of an old pal performing for you. 

Breaking down that distance, perceived or otherwise, between the artist and audience helps garner a wider base of fan support. His take on Garth Brooks’ “Two Pina Coladas” is recent enough for it to likely be one of the album’s popular numbers. It isn’t every singer of Mac’s type who would dare break from the pop leanings dominating much of this release to cover an artist often considered as country as they come. It won’t be the last time. 

He hits a travel theme for the back to back duo of “Come Fly with Me” and “Fly Me to the Moon”. Both are among the album’s best, but the latter will get more of your attention thanks to an especially zestful Mac vocal. Some of his selections come from musical theatre and “I Gotta Be Me” illustrates how Mac makes no distinctions about the source of his material – a good song is a good song. His warmth and even a playful edge emerge in his cover of the classic “The Glory of Love”. You can hear him smiling, it seems, as he glides through the song’s unforgettable vocal melody. It’s so simple, but he makes it so much fun. There are a few Sinatra songs on this release and scattered over the Sings Some Great Songs series and his rendition of Ol’ Blue Eyes’ “New York, New York” is among the best. 

He doesn’t ever attempt to outright mimic Frank but, instead, approximates Sinatra’s performance while bringing something of his own. His performance of “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” closes the album on a big brassy note that says goodbye with a nod and wink rather than grandstanding despair. This performance puts a bold exclamation point on the near-epic collection. You might expect his energies to wane by this point, but Hughie Mac’s Sings Some Great Songs Vol. 4 is the work of a performing artist engaged at every turn with their material. It’s the sort of complete experience that encourages you to keep coming back for more.

Scottie Carlito

Friday, April 15, 2022

Corey Stapleton “Sea Change” LP


Corey Stapleton “Sea Change” LP In folk-pop, everything starts with a single vocal, and Corey Stapleton has one heck of a voice to unsheathe in the new album Sea Change. While Stapleton has some help from his band The Pretty Pirates, his performance sounds like that of a proper solo singer/songwriter in Sea Change, alluding to personal statements in his lyrics that don’t come as much from collaboration as they do profound introspection. In songs like “Western Son” or “As the Crow Flies,” he doesn’t show us the leader of the band, but a man on his own, searching for the same solace we all are. 


There’s a buoyancy to the best harmonies in this LP, such as those in “Make This Work” and “My First Rodeo. Not.,” but it isn’t coming from a boost in the framework of the mix. Stapleton is pretty good at creating some buffering with the arrangements alone, which more or less removes the need for anything synthesized in the big picture. His voice sounds amazing with nothing more than the band behind him here, and I wouldn’t want him to cloud the narratives in Sea Change with a lot of overindulgences we’d likely just get caught up in. Sea Change never reduces itself to hook-centricity, and while “The Coin” flirts with pop themes that don’t fit the shape of the remaining songs in the tracklist, it’s still far from the stock content some of the other hybrid folk records I’ve heard this year have been featuring. 

There’s a little more time spent cultivating the tension in “Mosaic” and “The Pen” than necessary, but overall I think we get a good feel for the kind of melodic magic Stapleton can draw, even when he’s biting off a little more than he can chew from a compositional perspective. I love the meticulousness of the way this album was mastered, and although they didn’t need to be as heavy-handed with some of the piano and guitar parts as they were, the producers hit the nail on the head in keeping Stapleton’s rich lead vocal as the linchpin no matter which of these songs we’re listening to. He has his sharpest weapon out and ready to rock from the time we press the play button on the opening title track, and to his credit, he never has to put it away in the name of attracting a younger audience - honestly, the opposite is closer to the truth. 


Corey Stapleton plays like a man who has a lot to prove in Sea Change, but he’s sounding like a much more qualified singer/songwriter than a lot of his competitors in the international underground have been lately as a result of this potent effort. Sea Change is a decent-sized LP that shows us a lot of potential in Stapleton and, to a lesser extent, The Pretty Pirates, but if it’s really just laying out a prerequisite blueprint for this group’s next release, my gut says that the melodic efficiencies of this album are just a taste of what’s to come. 

Scottie Carlito

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Rina Chanel’s “Sweetest of Melody”


I didn’t know music like Rina Chanel’s “Sweetest of Melody” is even possible these days. It sounds so quaint or out of time when compared to the bell and whistle laden bluster of modern pop. It isn’t hip-hop, pop country, or the few remaining bastions of big-time record sales Chanel’s music pushes. The Brooklyn native and Virginia Beach, Virginia-based singer/songwriter debuted in 2020 and has stayed busy despite a global pandemic slowing her forward momentum. A few months now in 2022 and Chanel has a string of popular singles to her credit, a growing reputation as one of the best up and coming singers in pop music today, and a new single hitting the streets. 


“Sweetest of Melody” comes from Chanel’s EP release Rina. I believe it is safe to say now and in eventual retrospect that this single is the new collection’s centerpiece performance. Chanel and her duet partner Senghor Robinson engage in an elegant yet emotive dance over the course of the song’s nearly four-minute duration. Both vocalists focus on playing off one another without even a hint of upstaging creeping into either performance and they share similar approaches. Note how they tailor their voices to suit the material rather than attempting to impose their will over the music. It's an intensely melodic song without ever seeming crass or too obvious. 

The interplay of two singers, piano, and horn forms the song’s topline attractions while the understated rhythm section provides its foundation. 2022 is unlikely to produce many songs as well-orchestrated without sounding bloodless. It has the right pulse, as well, thanks to how neatly the aforementioned piano reinforces the song’s percussive touch. The production could have added a little more authority, i.e. snap, but it doesn’t miss the mark entirely. As usual for a duet, the lyrics are written in a “dialogue”. Chanel and Robinson, however, avoid any staginess and lock into the song’s tasty groove. It relaxes them and helps shape their performances. Chanel has made her name as a first rate purveyor of modern R&B/soul, but she isn’t some sort of purist latching onto a recognizable style. Instead, “Sweetest of Melody” makes it clear she is at home with this musical vehicle rather than borrowing it. It comes across as natural as breathing. 


She inhabits each line with an unmistakable presence. There’s a light touch of sexiness in her breathy inflections, deceptive power in the way she lands on certain lines, and a nuanced flair for the dramatic in the way she wraps important lines. Listen to the choices she makes along the way, what she emphasizes, what she downplays. Rina Chanel is the proverbial complete package and linking her up with talented vocalist Senghor Robinson affords us an opportunity to hear her gifts in a different light. Chanel has more to show us. She has all the makings of a lifer, a performing artist intent on leaving her mark with audiences on her own terms. “Sweetest of Melody” covers countless miles moving in that direction. 

Scottie Carlito

Friday, January 15, 2021

HEWAS (feat. AFROMAN Release "WHOLEthing" (SINGLE)


Boston’s Hewas, has collaborated on a new single with the high and mighty, Afroman, called “Wholething.” Hewas’s previous single, “Lemon'' went viral on Tik Tok, with 300 million views, so this is something of an anticipated follow up. Hewas, has an incredibly diverse ethnic makeup, consisting of Dutch, Spanish, and South African, just to name a few. He grew up, listening to Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, both of whom have had a substantial influence on his vocal style. Hewas has achieved that rare soulfulness in his voice, most typically associated with Motown greats. 


“Wholething” is something of a novelty piece. It isn’t likely to be the touchstone of an artist’s career, but it can be a quantifying addition. Things get started with a tropical style keyboard riff, and some console seasoning. The track has something of a swing to it, and a sardonic swagger, that is especially prevalent during Afroman’s part. Hewas shows his love for Michael Jackson, by singing in a tightly controlled falsetto. His vocal abilities are in top form, here, as harmonizes with Afroman and himself. It might be somewhat understated, just how signature Afroman’s sound is. The moment you hear the faintest na na na’s, in the mix, you would know who it is, even if he weren’t already credited. He’s the lovable emperor of indolence, with a touch of raunch, here. Afroman’s cameo is brief, but due to the content, is likely to be the most memorable. He dives deep, and completely embraces the rather dubious character of the song. The synergy, and intermingling that Afroman and Hewas have is exceptional, for two people who likely met on the day of recording. There’s certainly the “boys will be boys” aspect to “Wholething.”

That expression; or more accurately, that concept, is no longer considered as innocuous as it once was, though. One might argue that releasing a song that might be considered misogynistic in 2020/2021, is a risk not worth taking. Others would say that “Wholething” will fly under the radar of most potential scrutiny. It’s entirely conjecture at this point, because as to where Afroman has his fanbase, Hewas is still developing his. What is certain is that “Wholething” is a well written and slickly produced pop/hip hop hybrid style track. The performances are strong, and Hewas shows off his vocal chops. It leaves you wanting more too. I was genuinely surprised at how quickly the song passed by, looking forward to at least one more chorus. This is equally as likely to be intentional or accidental, but it doesn’t make it any less effective. 


“Wholething” is fun and simple. It does have the potential to raise the discussion in regards to “toxic masculinity” and how the entire premise of that term is firmly rooted in subjectivity. Afroman’s character in the song is a married man, who is addressing the boundaries of an intimate relationship with a woman, who is certainly not his wife. Yet, while some might be quick to condemn him for this, we also emphasize acceptance for alternative lifestyles, such as polyamory. The takeaway from a song like “Wholething” is that it can still exist in a time of great sensitivity, and moral debate, opening the door to discussion, for everything. 

Scottie Carlito

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Broken Past release “Some Gave All”


Broken Past may play much different music, but they are looking to join the same roster of high quality popular music talent emerging from New Jersey since the mid-20 th century. Their metal and hard rock chops are second to none, the result of innate skill and touring as much as possible since their 2015 formation. Their single “Some Gave All” from the EP Time for Change shows how far the four piece band has traveled since first hitting the scene and hints at even greater glories to come. It has an undeniable message, not a typical one however, and lead vocalist Frank Acee communicates his heartache and appreciation for the sacrifices of those who served the United States in a way you cannot ignore. His voice matches up nicely with the instruments and arrangement alike and he has the rare skill for singers in this style to deliver a credible vocal in more than just a single range.


They pluck their sound from a basketful of varied influences. Broken Past cite Bret Michaels, AC/DC, Overkill, and Black Sabbath, along with some other incongruous matches, as their musical touchstones and the impressive thing is you can, indeed, hear touches reminiscent of those artists. It is further impressive those influences are detectable without compromising the unique nature of Broken Past’s feel for the style. They are not imitators; they play, write, and perform with their own twist on time-tested styles. It makes the listening experience all the more enjoyable. 


They opt for a more extended approach regarding song length. There’s a hint, just a sliver, of progressive metal running through this track. You can hear it in the band’s willingness to tackle potentially thorny tempo changes and their ability to demonstrate their playing gifts without ever sounding ostentatious. The track boasts commercial edges, but its near six and a half minute duration precludes it finding much favor on radio due without a judicious editing job.  


 I love the way this band understands the value of light and shadow in their music. The alternating sections of this track fit in lockstep with one another and Broken Past moves in and out of the transitions without straying off path. Guitarist Wayne White leads the way to these ears as he moves between outright juggernaut riffing and artful atmospherics with equal skill. It’s a fantastic all-around performance from a band nowhere near the peak of their powers. Adding a great video just rounds things off. The music video revolves around three central motifs – funeral clips full of aging veterans honoring their dead comrades, folding flags, war footage from over the last century, and footage of the band playing the song for viewers. It is, in some respects, a classic music video, but the addition of the war footage makes it stand out more than it otherwise might. 

Some Gave All” is a heated and intense musical tribute to the fallen who fought for our beliefs and throbs with meaning. If this single is your introduction to Broken Past, you couldn’t meet them in a better way.

Scottie Carlito

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Paul Mark & The Van Dorens test "Gravity"


NYC-based Paul Mark & The Van Dorens test the Gravity of the situation on this great new LP, with songs about everything from thoughts of the day to thoughts of yesterday. Gravity is an album that floats any boat down the stream of the unknown while it takes the scenic route to get there and has tons of fun on the way, along with some heartfelt sentiments. These musicians are not only good but they’re as fun as they are serious, especially the featured man up front, Paul Mark himself. And not being familiar with him, the great thing is he has a vast back catalog to delve into from here. 


 Gravity runs prolific, and it runs in a succession of songs that fit the title which is about losing ground and going with the rocky flow. The artist reminds me of various songwriters of the past who mixed a bit of comedy with a serious songwriting approach, not unlike Warren Zevon and others. “Gravity Is Failing” begins the album with some tongue in check lyrics that challenge feeling well grounded. It’s very cool and contains some excellent violin. This might be the best track on the LP, but that can also vary the more I hear it. The lovely piano playing of Paul Mark dominates most of the songs and comes on heavy as “Forever” takes you away and it’s only “I Spin When You Grin” that can change the mood. And change the mood it does, and if I had to call a second favorite track it would be this one, as it goes very well with the opener. And that means all-the more to come must be worth sticking around for, so I did and “The Next Fight” is what I got. 

Another marvelous song with everything that’s good about this band. “Coronation” stands out to be a token instrumental and a very commanding studio performance by all. Hat’s off to another top shelf effort serving as a highlight in the Gravity of the situation. “Con Man VIP” is next and could get some attention or not for the subject matter but either way it’s out forever and will be heard. But the mood changes all the way up on “Friend Gone Astray” but you can add it to the amount of world class ballads on the album and they’re all really soulful and gritty to the max. 


“You Can Take It With You” is where more comedy come into the lyrical picture but it’s all very lighthearted where needed and more heavy handed in the right places. The point is there either way you slice it. “OTB” is the track I listen to the least, so far, and it still has something I am sure that will ultimately click. But things pick back up with a respectable cover of the classic Yardbirds song “Heart Full Of Soul” which is faithful to the original but not without the stamp of Paul Mark as it leads out the last couple of song on what is a brilliant 2020 release. 

 Scottie Carlito

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Dizzy Box Nine’s Faster Than Anticipation LP


If you’ve ever wondered what happens when fiery guitar licks, wild pop hooks, smooth vocal harmonies and radio-friendly rhythms get thrown into a post-millennium blender, getting ahold of Dizzy Box Nine’s Faster Than Anticipation LP should be a top priority this summer. Outfitted with fourteen party-starting tracks, including the feel-good “Friday Night,” “If This Is Real,” the distortion-packed diary entry “Near You” and single-caliber “This Is All For You,” Faster Than Anticipation never gives us a chance to catch our breath – it just keeps rocking harder and harder as we go. Valuing melody as much as they do the virtuosity of speed and efficiency, Dizzy Box Nine give us an album that is everything Pop Fantasy was and more in this latest release, and for those of us who were swept away by that LP’s sizzling tracklist, this couldn’t be hitting record store shelves at a better time this July. Rockers needn’t look any further for a cathartic good time than this album’s content, and something tells me that I’m not going to be the only critic remarking as much this season. 


There definitely a raw, punkish element to “Phone Bill,” “The Sun Came Out The Other Day,” “Little By Little” and “If This Is Real,” but there’s nothing in Faster Than Anticipation that I would say qualifies as being particularly abrasive or inaccessible to the casual rock fan. The framework behind the majority of the music here is steeped in pure pop aesthetics, with songs like “Near You,” “OK, OK,” “It’ll Be OK,” “Let’s Go Skating” and “Friday Night” exhibiting as much of The Beatles as they do Blink-182, but it’s worth pointing out that they share little – if anything at all – of their faceting with contemporary radio pop. Personally, I’d really like to hear all of the aforementioned songs in a live setting, if for no other reason than to hear how Dizzy Box Nine would broach performing them outside of the studio environment. The compositional integrity behind Faster Than Anticipation’s best moments is more than flexible enough to support multiple medleys and extended jams, and that much is obvious even to the most novice of critical ears. 


I fell in love with Pop Fantasy the first time I listened to it, and I will say that Faster Than Anticipation doesn’t disappoint as its sequel by any means. One of the reasons why I have a lot of respect for this group is because of their ability to evolve their sound without abandoning any of the core aesthetics that gave them an edge over the competition to start with. They’re still the same band they were when they recorded their debut, but they’re refining the skillset they began with exponentially through consistent creative chemistry (which I don’t see going anywhere anytime soon). They say it’s a rough time to be a rock n’ roll group right now, but from the looks of how Dizzy Box Nine feel about life, they aren’t experiencing any of the stresses their closest rivals have been.

 Scottie Carlito