Friday, September 30, 2016

Water Street - Waiting for Martin


Stylishness and taste like this only comes with experience. The five members of Water Street are all veteran performers who bring a wealth of knowledge and talent to the ten songs on the debut album Waiting for Martin. The songwriting, as well, sparkles with the sum of a life well lived as well as powerfully imaginative moments that strike universal notes. The songs make use of a wide variety of instruments creatively and with great restraint. Melody is in abundance throughout these songs and the twin vocal approach they take, alternating lead between songs while the second vocalist provides harmony, gives them a signature quality that many bands would kill for. The two vocalists, likewise, aid them in balancing themselves rather artfully between a light, credible mainstream stance and a much more artful take on traditional music in a modern frame.  

One of the album’s best songs also opens things up. “Better Off Alone” obviously, based on title alone, lightly plays with some comedic elements, but the music doesn’t grovel in gimmickry. Instead, the music hits with a lot of impact thanks to the spectacular swing of the drumming and Dave Paulson’s colorful funk fills around the edges of the groove. His guitar skill gets another workout on “These Eyes”, but it’s much more in a traditional folk-rock vein despite its muscularity. His vocals are both of these songs are not the typical radio-friendly fare, but they are quite easy to connect with while still drawing listeners full on into the experiences of the song. “Foul Play” is another of the album’s more dramatic moments thanks to exquisitely timed and structured piano figures that vocalist Claire McNulty fills with color thanks to his singing. None of the album’s songs ever drone on too long, but when the band decides to expand the typical length like they do here, there isn’t a single wasted note or moment to tax listener’s patience.  

“Something Anything” is one of the album’s most likeable tracks and succeeds in a big way thanks to the contrast between the lyrics, vocal delivery, and musical backing. The arrangement has a strong bounce in its step, but it’s more than that. The song has restless movement from its first note on and the energy is impossible to ignore. Paulson gets his spotlight vocal moment on the album’s longest track “Maybe” and he delivers spectacularly. He’s quite obviously hanging with every word and tailoring his phrasing to conform as much as possible with the song’s arrangement. “Donna Lee” is one of the album’s more relaxed moments and the lyrics do a superb job of characterization, but Waiting for Martin’s final peak comes with the concluding song “Colors”. Much like the earlier song “Something Anything”, the closer’s quality comes largely from the juxtaposition of its musical arrangement and lyrical content. Waiting for Martin embodies a variety of moods and approaches but keeps a solid consistency throughout that illustrates the talent of its participants. Water Street are more than a talented regional act – they are a band whose talents leave them teetering on the cusp of greatness. Let’s hope they topple over soon.  

9 out of 10 stars 

Bradley Johnson

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Paul Kloschinsky - Nobody Knows

Paul Kloschinsky’s career spans five albums and the latest, Nobody Knows, brings together many of the same elements distinguishing his earlier releases. Thoughtful songwriting, solid structures, sharp instrumental talents, and a frequent emphasis on melody helped set his work apart from many contemporaries and those strengths abide on Nobody Knows. The album’s songwriting spirit, however, takes some unexpected turns along the way and they enliven an already sturdy work with a sense of daring and anything is possible desperately lacking, usually, in such releases. Kloschinsky is never a paint by numbers performer or songwriter. Even his DIY method of recording brings an unusual veneer to the work and helps weave added atmospherics where otherwise none might have existed. Kloschinsky turns everything to his uses on Nobody Knows and the result is an impressive ten song collection. 

He kicks the album off nicely. “Fallin’ For You” doesn’t tackle any new subject matter for popular song, but Kloschinsky pours old wine into new bottles with more than a little style and facility. He keeps his guitar playing practical and quite direct – there’s no virtuoso trips on a Paul Kloschinsky album and not a single gratuitous note to be found. The same economical artistic vision helps shape the title song into one of the album’s marquee numbers. It’s one of the album’s best examples of understatement while still carrying a discernible personal flourish that sets it far apart from similar efforts in this vein. Klonschinsky often shows a wise and knowing sense of life’s absurdities that eludes music’s more literal minded songwriters. The slow swirl of strings and light percussion married with Kloschinsky’s acoustic guitar molds “Do You Remember?” into one of the album’s finest moments. The melancholy melody never overtaxes listeners with over-familiarity and lulls you in from its opening notes. 

“Ravish Me” sprints out of the gate with a sprightly bounce that’s equal parts pop confection and even hints of commercial alt-rock bleeding through. There’s little question that, if he so desired, many of Kloschinsky’s songs could find new life as rock tracks and “Ravish Me” is no exception. He has a sharp ear for melody that never lets him down. “Can’t Forget About You” has a ton of propulsive energy and never relents from the first bar onward. Klonschinsky delivers an appropriately laconic vocal, but he’s attentive enough to varying his phrasing at key points for more effect. “Until You Said Goodbye” affords Kloschinsky a final opportunity to indulge his love for orchestral influenced pop music. The results are much more mixed than earlier efforts thanks to any uneasy union between the vocal delivery and lush backing track, but the song is far from irredeemable. Instead, it feels unfinished somehow, tantalizingly close to its fullest realization, but still falling just a little short of its potential. “Tell Everybody” is a nice late addition to the album thanks to its brisk pace and jaunty musical voice. 

Artists like Paul Klonschinsky and his songwriting sensibility is increasingly rare in these fragmented times. However, these lonely voices are still wandering the wilderness, spreading their songs, and investing their time and heart into a tradition long predating them and sure to survive them. Paul Klonschinsky is a proud member of that tradition. His songs on Nobody Knows, like the four albums preceding it, are well worth your time and money.  

9 out of 10 stars. 

Bradley Johnson

Friday, September 23, 2016

Zoe Nutt - Like You


One of the real miracles heard on Zoe Nutt’s debut Like You is how natural it plays despite the obvious effort taken with its construction. The eleven song release has impressive consistency and takes a similar fundamental approach to many entries while never being afraid to shake things up some at key points. It is primarily a country/Americana affair, but it doesn’t swear allegiance to new Nashville tropes or exclusively retro concerns. Instead, it hits on an ideal balance between those two modes while further enlivening the compositions with the distinctive stamp of a singer/songwriter intent on uncovering something of herself and life through the writing, recording, and performing of this material. It is a top flight professional recording in every way thanks to the presence of some Music City heavy hitters behind the board and even makes great use of covers by choosing two superb songs that fans might not immediately associate her with.  

First, however, listeners meet the real Zoe Nutt. Songs like the opener “Nothing I Can Do” and the third song “Antique Soda Pop Love” show her to have a perfect voice and lyrics for lightly rustic, carefully miked band performances that never lean too hard on singer or song while still give it just a slight urgent lift to help it reach an conclusion. She’s unafraid to deal with blues music on songs like Justin Townes Earle’s “Look the Other Way” and the other side of that particular coin, the acoustic blues heard in “Bones”. The earlier song has a less personal cast and this allows Nutt to display more of the technique that enriches her closer to the bone narratives. The latter tune, however, is much more raw, less elegant, and sounds like she’s dredged it up from her bones without ever falling into the histrionics that plague so many when they turn their hands towards this genre.  

The album’s title song sets the mold for some later songs on the album’s second half, but the listener’s first introduction to the track may feel like the first fully balanced union of voice, lyric, and music yet on the release. Nutt’s voice is full of emotion in every syllable, but she never allows her dramatic wont to overwhelm the careful dance between guitar and voice. She covers Bruce Springsteen’s minor Born in the USA hit “I’m On Fire”, but dispenses with its eighties’ trappings in favor of a carefully rendered acoustic soundscape that allows her voice a larger share of the attention. “Sweet Tennessee” is very much in the mold of the album’s title song and clearly has personal weight that enhances the song’s deep musicality. Like You’s final song “Dearest” is keeping with the theme of earlier performances, but the musical arrangement is much fuller and widely realized than earlier efforts. It serves as an exclamation point of sorts for the release and brings things full circle in a very satisfying way.  

9 out of 10 stars.

David Shouse. Edited by Scottie Carlito