Monday, December 9, 2019

The Inoculated Canaries plow into their new single “Donna”

A flurry of drums comes barreling out of the speakers with a violent thrust as The Inoculated Canaries plow into their new single “Donna,” and though the chaotic percussion envelops the initial foray into the song in unapologetic discordance, it isn’t powerful enough to stop a blunt instrumental melody from making its way to the forefront of the mix inside of the first few bars. It becomes quite obvious within only moments of making contact with “Donna” that The Inoculated Canaries mean serious business with their latest release, which caps off a very productive year for the critically acclaimed alternative rock group. Though they’ve been incorporating a lot of pop influences into their sound as of late, this track reestablishes the band as a rock-focused unit able to construct simple verses and calculated hooks without creating a jagged finish for audiences to look past, which is something that many of their competitors in the American underground have failed to accomplish in their most recent studio recordings. 

I really like that the vocal is just as prominent in the master mix here as any of the instrumental elements are, because were it not given as much of a boost in the big picture as its afforded in “Donna,” I don’t know that we would be able to acknowledge (much less enjoy) its emotional depth as much as we can in this version of the song. Production tricks and studio schemes aren’t a crucial component of The Inoculated Canaries’ sound, but I would be lying if I said that they weren’t refining their studio presence in this track. They’re using every inch of sonic space in the mix to yield a tense atmosphere eventually broken up by the vocal’s cutting verses, and instead of making one part of the harmony the center of the song’s climax, it feels as though we’re listening to one epic release staggered out across four minutes of play. Is it a little unconventional? Of course – but this could be the reason why their compositional approach comes across as being the unique gem that it undisputedly is in this single. 

The Inoculated Canaries’ “Donna” finishes us off in a fading haze of harmony and havoc-wreaking percussion that has now become familiar to us thanks to the track’s chest-pounding beat, and much like “Sneakers” and “Who are you?,” it leaves behind an enormous melodic void just begging for us to keep the spirit and play the song all over again. While I won’t say that this is the most grown-up that The Inoculated Canaries have ever sounded, they’ve made a ferocious rock n’ roll juggernaut in this single that should be regarded as a beast of listen this December nevertheless. “Donna” is a rhythmic track with a creative music video worthy of the moniker that it wears, and though I’m fairly certain it won’t be the last song this group releases to the praise of critics and fans alike, it marks a step towards their sleekest sound yet, and perhaps one that will bring them the fame and fortune they’ve been working so hard for.

Scottie Carlito

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Jay Elle releases 5 song "Ease Up" EP

“My eyes were bigger than my heart / She knew that right from the start” sings a pained Jay Elle in his song “Sickly Sweet,” from the new record Ease Up, and though his words are dripping with discordant emotion, his focus is unmistakably strong and centered. As endearing as it is insightful, Elle’s Ease Up EP and its six songs – “Sickly Sweet” included” – are a collective statement piece conceived with the purpose of relaxing us while also provoking deeper thought about the world, and as anyone who knows this man’s work is already well aware, it’s as slick a sonic collection as you’ll get your hands on right now. 

Though it can be said for “Sickly Sweet,” not all of the songs on Ease Up are constructed around Elle’s lyrical wit and wisdom exclusively; actually, “By the Blade,” the title track and “Take a Holiday” are very guitar-oriented, and “Never Dreamed (I Could Be the One)” is, essentially, a synth pop song adapted for the needs of a folk-rock singer/songwriter. There’s a lot of layers to this record, and even though it contains but six compositions, it has the robust feel of a full-length album and then some. The master mix here does a lot to help define the mood in the music, but I wouldn’t say that it’s a required element in any given Jay Elle performance. Contrarily, soundboard wizard Brent Kolatalo is bringing all of the color in his vocal to the surface rather than inserting new, artificial textures in spots where Elle might have had shortcomings in the past. 

Their studio chemistry is off the charts, but there’s no examples that I could point to in this tracklist where Elle sounds overly-aided or effectively propped-up by his highly respected mixer, whose credits prior to Ease Up include work with heavyweights Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande. “Needs Fixing” is easily one of the most efficiently produced songs that I’ve listened to in the folk genre all year, and in my opinion, it more than justifies getting a copy of Ease Up all by itself. It’s the perfect segue from the country rhythm of “Take a Holiday” into the adult alternative swing of “By the Blade,” but even if it had been pushed up to the start of the record, it would still be one of the most jarringly-arranged and melodically rousing compositions that Elle has attached his moniker to here or on any other recording he’s cut thus far. 

Folk-rock fans aren’t likely to find another extended play out at the moment that is quite like Jay Elle’s Ease Up, and for better or worse, its experimental faceting and multi-interpretive narratives make it one of the more unique records out this season. I can only speak for myself, but I was utterly swept away by the first half of this EP and immersed in the emotional core of the second when I sat down with it this week, and judging from the response that all six of its tracks have been getting lately, I’m definitely not the only critic with these strong sentiments. 

 Scottie Carlito

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Terry Robb releases new Single

The finesse and soul of Terry Robb’s “How a Free Man Feels” is apparent from the first. He doesn’t make any hamfisted efforts to ground his latest single, taken from the new album Confessin’ My Dues, in melodramatic production trickery but, instead, opts for a polished and professional tone that never sacrifices authenticity. It’s a solo performance featuring nothing more than Robb’s voice, lyrics, and his distinctive fingerpicking guitar style – but it doesn’t need any more than that. Robb, with these spartan elements, accomplishes more than many full bands working a similar style even approach. It’s the latest pinnacle in a four decade long musical career that has seen Robb perform and tour with some of the biggest marquee names in the music world and illustrates how passion and talent can deepen rather than fade with the passage of time. 

His voice isn’t the gravel-laden blues yowl of Delta originators or their electrified Chicago offspring, but it is more than well equipped to demand your attention. He has a low-key soulfulness to his singing that helps listeners suspend disbelief and brings them into his world with ease. I like his phrasing a great deal – he makes the climatic line of the traditional three line blues verses mean a great deal without overemphasizing their primacy in the composition and the feeling he puts into his vocal makes the track all the more satisfying for listeners. The writing never overreaches. The song is written from a first person perspective, as most great blues songs are, and Robb creates a convincing voice for the listener without relying on a host of well worn tropes to win the audience’s confidence. 

There is no wasted motion – Robb never uses two or three words when one will do and the same focus defining the song’s music extends to this area of composition as well. Robb’s acoustic guitar playing is the critical piece of the puzzle and drives the song forward. He sets a mid-tempo pace with his fretwork and finger picking that fixes its attention on musicality rather than drawing from a bag of tricks in lieu of genuine substance. He shifts from one passage to the next with the surefooted skill of a long serving musician and, yet, the song has the spontaneity of a first take. It sounds like Robb walked into a recording studio with his guitar, sat down, told the producer to start recording, and cut this song in a single take. 

The video reinforces that impression. It consists of nothing more than Robb positioned in front of an old fashioned looking microphone and the assorted close ups of his face tossed in for good measure underlines how much he gives of himself to the performance. There are no arresting visuals thrown in to spice up the clip – it has the same focus he brings to the song and makes the listening experience even more rewarding. Terry Robb has scored again with this single and it promises that his latest album release Confessin’ My Dues will find its place among the finest recordings of his musical career. 

 Scottie Carlito

“Goodie Two Shoes” is a hot new single from Sayed Sabrina

Goodie Two Shoes” is a hot new single getting attention for its video, from Sayed Sabrina’s album release, Thou Art That, with Bobby Watson (Rufus, Michael Jackson), Sarah Morrow (Dr. John, Ray Charles), Gary Herbig (Elvis, Tower of Power), Carlos De La Paz (Cid, Mandrels) and others. These fantastic players and a voice most can only dream of having, all makes for a winning combo for all lovers of the Blues, Funk, Soul, Jazz and Rock music. That’s a lot to pack into one single, but it’s all to be both heard and seen for the better of what’s out there in the Blues community. 

 The Blues is not exactly all-of what Sayed Sabrina is about, as she goes back to the early L.A. Punk scene and can go anywhere her voice takes here. “Goodie Two Shoes” comes recommended as the play on words and positive message that it is. You can stay in your negative world or you can go out and change your look and change your life in the process and Sabrina’s pushing that dual message and not letting go. It works wonders in every way, once you have heard the song and start getting into the studio performance in the video. Considering herself less of a Blues artist per say, she is self-described as a singer that looks to feel the music, and that gets away from the title of Blues artist by way of feel, but still using inflections of traditional blues in a more modern way. 

This is tricky but nevertheless important to get the right message across, meaning business here but also take the time to treat yourself and you won’t be disappointed all the time. That’s only some of what this song means to me, others may vary but it’s in there no matter how you slice it. Not being sure of which players in her band play on which tracks, I can’t credit exactly who’s playing on “Goodie Two Shoes,” but if you watch the video and know their faces, you get a candid view of them jamming around and it doesn’t seem to matter, at the end of the day it is the work of Sayed Sabrina that put this on the map, so she deserves title but she only works with killer players. They’re in position to make it all magical thanks to her. 

If you look around you’ll find some more great songs by Sayed Sabrina to seal the deal for “Goodie Two Shoes” but in an industry that reminds you that you’re only as good as your last record, be sure and get the best of both her worlds and pick up this new single, you’ll dig it if new music matters to you or not. It has all the classic and modern appeal it takes to get in front of the masses where it belongs. And the video is getting a lot of views so don’t hesitate to invest the time, it’s a blend of seriousness and playfulness that doesn’t disappoint on any level. 

Scottie Carlito

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Gillum Bros deliver powerful Single

Breakups are never easy and saying something new about the end of a romantic relationship through the medium of popular song is no small achievement. Songs celebrating or bemoaning the loss of love, cars, lust, and having a good time are staples of the rock music and popular song in general, so it is notable when a young act can address any of those subjects with their own idiosyncratic turns of phrase and a fresh perspective. The Gillum Bros originally hail from a longtime hotbed for rock bands, the Motor City of Detroit, and they definitely include some nods to those musical elements in their latest single “Sticky Note”, but other factors play a part as well. There is the hint of balladry in the track, a strong singer/songwriter influence, and even a theatrical bent all coming together in one of the best singles I’ve heard in recent memory.

The theatrical elements are manifold. Vocalist Ryan Gillum brings his fine lyrics further to life thanks to his emotive phrasing, but there’s never any sense of him pushing too hard on the words and melody. Instead, he seems to be coaxing his emotions to the surface of the song as if one verbal misstep might drag him full on into bitterness and recrimination. Glimmers of those feelings do shine through however and take the form of brief flashes of rough hewn humor in the face of heartache. Another way the theatrical component manifests itself is visually. 

The music video for “Sticky Note” positions Ryan Gillum as the central figure in its small cast and he does an excellent job of physically embodying the song’s emotions without ever overstating himself. It is a quality shared by Keith Gillum and the beautiful woman playing his now ex-girlfriend. The video toys a little with listener’s preconceptions about the rivalry between brothers defining so many similar acts in popular music history but, once again, it is understated rather than belabored. Directed by Will DaRosa, the video for “Sticky Note” has a smattering of the same humor we hear in the lyrics and a stunning visual sense guaranteed to hold viewer’s attention. 

 Keith Gillum’s musical involvement with the track rounds everything off. He is a superb musician with arranging talents that leave nothing to chance and cleave any inklings of dross from the composition. His arrangement begins the track on a downcast note with its dark piano lines and he soon fleshes it out in full with the inclusion of spot drumming, organ, acoustic guitar running under the song’s surface, and swaths of electric guitar punctuating the song as a whole. I am quite taken by this track. The Gillum Bros are adept at melding their distinctive songwriting voices with time-honored traditions yet make them sound fresh – as if they are the first performers to turn their hands to a song about a broken relationship. The personality and skill shining through every moment of this song makes it one of the more compelling and satisfying listening experiences I’ve enjoyed in 2019.

Scottie Carlito

The NaveBlues’ “Pale Blue Dot”

If you’re keen on the history of space travel, you’re probably already familiar with the legend of Voyager 1, the probe that carried a gold record with specific instructions on how alien life could find and contact earth’s inhabitants. In the music video for The NaveBlues’ “Pale Blue Dot,” the experimental rock band create their own narrative as to what happened after the aforementioned journey into the unknown – and in the process introduce us to their slickest set of beats yet. It isn’t often said, but space fanatics and lovers of good music alike would be hard-pressed to find another document quite like this one in 2019. 

 Right from the onset of this track, the string parts in “Pale Blue Dot” are vibrantly aggressive but not necessarily assaultive in their adrenaline-laced stomp. The music video’s wary wanderer, The NaveBlues’ own Navé Pundik, runs in near-synchronicity with the opening salvo of swing, creating a cadence that is as hypnotic as the stinging blue light he pursues through the dense forestry serving as a backdrop. Much like the harmonious sway of the guitars, there’s nothing overindulgent about the construction of the video, and more importantly, the means in which the band went about joining its story to that of the music. The vocal component in this song has a little more oomph than it actually needed, but I can definitely understand why The NaveBlues mixed “Pale Blue Dot” the way that they did. 

In giving the lyrical delivery an extra boost of scooped EQ, the monstrous harmonies created by instrumental elements never become so intense that we feel suffocated by the muscularity of the band’s play. Some serious time and energy went into perfecting every inch of this single’s development, and while it might be a bit too complex for some listeners, others (myself included) will probably enjoy it for the sonic symphony that it is. Aside from the single’s profound musical attributes, the video for “Pale Blue Dot” is a remarkable effort in its own right. I’ve seen a lot of really inventive music videos this August, but there haven’t been very many that have caught my attention like this one has – it presents viewers with an understated sense of humor and an anti-pop visual experience, both of which have been missing from a lot of the buzz-making rock music to emerge from the left side of the dial this summer. This is, in all actuality, a rare instance of a video actually trumping the song that inspired it. 

The NaveBlues are at the top of their game in this latest experimental treasure, and though they’re still operating with an outside the mainstream-style sound, they’ve definitely made a lot of progress in making their music as potent as it can possibly be. 2019 has been a crossroads of sorts for a lot of seasoned bands like this one, but from the looks of “Pale Blue Dot,” this is a group that we can count on hearing a lot more of in the next decade. Their story isn’t even close to being over, and this track and its video are evidence of their continued evolution as a unit. 

Scottie Carlito

Thursday, August 29, 2019

"God Bless You & Protect You” is a single with ideal modulation

“God Bless You & Protect You” is a single with ideal modulation – the folk duo Owls and Lions, comprised of vocalist/violinist Nicole DeLoi and vocalist/guitarist Jay Della Valle respectively, know what the track demands to be successful and never push it into disarray or heavy-handed dramatics. It begins on an intimate note with Valle’s acoustic guitar providing a melodic musical platform for DeLoi’s voice, but Valle soon joins her on vocals and brings an immediate sense of completion to the performance that endures for the entire track. They make excellent musical partners and seem to share the sort of telepathic connection the best tandems share and their emotive talents seamlessly dovetail into each other without fail. It is an excellent introduction to their latest EP release There’s a Light. 

 The song draws its guiding impulse from the wildly popular NBC drama This Is Us without ever making direct reference to the show or its characters. The lyrics are staged as a dialogue of sorts between a father and his daughter and take a freewheeling chronological view – present and past connection is celebrated rather than focusing on a specific moment in time. Owls and Lions produced a video, as well, for the song featuring Valle, an actor and filmmaker as well, in the role of the father while DeLoi’s daughter plays his child. There is a wealth of visual imagery contained in the video reinforcing the song’s virtues. Valle works under different musical paradigms away from Owls and Lions, but his chops as a bonafide folk guitarist are without question when you hear “God Bless You & Protect You”. 

There’s a near lyricism to his acoustic guitar playing and he shows great restraint and tastefulness with his electric guitar contributions. Drummer Kevin Walters is the final piece of the musical puzzle; he has an assertive style that never overwhelms the track’s sensitivities. It is muscular while still sounding finessed. The structure of the song serves listener’s needs. Moving from a low-key opening into a near striding mid-tempo pace highlights the song’s lean dynamic energy and builds in an intelligent manner towards choruses with a rousing uplift. Even these moments, however notable, are tempered – the obvious experience and skill both DeLoi and Valle bring to the song makes for a captivating yet stylish listen. It is difficult, if not impossible, to dislike this song – I certainly cannot. 

Though I have yet to hear the remaining four tracks on There’s a Light, I am confident based on “God Bless You & Protect You” alone they are promoting a real winner with this release. Owls and Lions offer something you hear less and less of in the modern musical world – an unaffected and honest artistic experience free from even a whiff of pandering and, instead, reflecting a human impulse to communicate with audiences in a clear yet artful way. There is no fat on this song, no self-indulgence. Owls and Lions’ “God Bless You & Protect You” is a moving and deceptively simple song that I love without reservation. 

 Scottie Carlito

“Alone” by Kodiak

If hard rock is a dead genre, let’s be grateful no one ever told Kodiak or producer/rock legend Carmine Appice. Appice mans the production booth for the New Jersey band’s debut release and they’ve kicked off its initial promotional work by releasing two impressive singles capable of whetting even the most jaded appetites. The newest single “Alone”, like the first, is released with a video as well. It has more than a little artistry working in its favor thanks to its creative use of animation and color alongside traditional footage and communicates the customary sense of unity and shared vision any new band feels trying to realize their ambitions for stardom. They say hard rock bands have a rough way to go nowadays with the commercial ascent of modern country and rap music, but the landscape is more hospitable to such acts in 2019 than years past. Bands like Kodiak and Greta Van Fleet are reminding a new generation of the guitar’s potential and how sweeping hard rock anthems with memorable hooks can unite audiences and leave them feeling physically invigorated. 

Moreover, it doesn’t need to be facile. “Alone” definitely has a commercial edge any attentive listener will note soon enough, but it has an adult point of view rather than just regurgitating well worn subjects like women, cars, and the fleeting joys of youth. They play and sound far more mature than their years. Another indication of that is their nonchalant refusal to indulge flashiness in a meaningful degree. There is some flair to this performance, for sure, but they apply those moments with artful restraint. The lead vocals are wide open and brimming with energy and emotion. Charismatic front men are every bit as much the bread and butter of this style as first class musicianship, particularly on guitar, and Kodiak checks that box in a big way. You never sense the musicians or vocals are out to prove something, per se, but they both exhibit boundless confidence in themselves and the material that helps make listeners believe every second of the performance. The chorus and subsequent refrains are the musical highlight of the track for me. Everything comes together in those moments and the band knows exactly how to make the most of those climatic moments without ever obscuring the value heard elsewhere in the track. Their transitions between verses and choruses alike show surefooted skill and an understanding of hard rock dynamics that many bands never consistently master. It is all the more impressive when you consider the band has been together less than two years at this point. 

 Kodiak are more than just potential; their two debut singles point towards promise fulfilled. The debut album will further flesh out the scope of their accomplishment when it lands, but I am confident enough in their talents to say, without question, the sky is the limit for this New Jersey based four piece band. They have the necessary ingredients for a long and substantive career rather than sounding like a flash in the pan. I’m eager to hear the debut album in full and you will be as well. 

 Scottie Carlito

Onlap are dishing out some of the biggest and baddest grooves

French hard rock syndicate Onlap are dishing out some of the biggest and baddest grooves of the summer in their latest single, “Miracle,” and its potently exciting music video, both of which (justifiably) have critics from one side of the Atlantic to the other abuzz at the moment. While it’s definitely a riff-oriented rock song, “Miracle” isn’t about celebrating the chest-beating swagger of its genre exclusively – here, Onlap act as poetic storytellers with a lot to say about where we’ve been going lately and, more pressingly, what we’re supposed to do about it as a people. Put simply, this is real rock with a conscience. 

The bassline is as much of a beast as the guitars are in “Miracle,” but I think that it’s important to point out just how well-defined it is in the master mix. Unlike many of the metal-influenced singles that have been making headlines this August, this track doesn’t have any sort of muddiness in its multilayered attack – actually, it’s one of the crisper cuts that I’ve heard out of any rock group in 2019. Onlap don’t have to assault us with noise to make us feel the intensity of their wallop, and they were wise to avoid such excesses here. Even though all of the different components within “Miracle” have their own moment in the spotlight, you could definitely make the argument that everything in this song – from the percussive pattern to the structure of the riffs and right on down to the very cadence of the bass and drum interplay – is constructed as to keep the lead vocal track at the center of our attentions from beginning to end. Even in the music video, it’s quite difficult to focus on anything else when our singer is lashing away at his backing band with one crushing verse after another. He’s on fire here, and setting his fellow players ablaze with every word he belts out.

 As far as rock videos go, this one just might be the most cinematic that I’ve seen in a long time. The premise is minimalist in spirit, but the colors, the audio and the way that director Mathieu Spadaro strung all of it together is truly larger than life. This isn’t a group that needs a lot of bells and whistles to look the part of a modern rock god-collective, but they’re certainly shining their brightest in this music video and the source material that inspired its creation. Onlap have struck gold yet again in this latest slab of heavy metal might, and even if you’re not the biggest fan of hard-edged rock n’ roll, “Miracle” is a track (and a music video) that I would recommend taking a peek at just the same. It isn’t often that I come across a song of its style that has as meaningful a narrative as this one’s got, but at this point I’ve come to expect the unexpected from one of France’s most criminally underrated bands. They’re on their way to genuine mainstream exposure here, and by the time this year is over, my gut tells me that a lot more people are going to be talking about the majestic music of Onlap thanks to this recent release. 

 Scottie Carlito

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Best of Matthew John

“Shine for Me,” track two in the four-song compilation The Best of Matthew John, might start off a little slower than most pop anthems do, but what it unleashes over the course of the next four minutes is anything but slothful. It is in this composition that Matthew John shares with us some of the most emotional singing he’s contributed to a studio record, but as entrancing as this brilliant slice of musical swagger is, it only accounts for a quarter of what The Best of Matthew John contains (both figuratively and literally). I came across this 2018 EP just recently, but I’ve definitely become hooked on everything that it represents from an aesthetical perspective. 

This is good, clean pop with a touch of old fashioned soul where it counts the most. The percussion in “You Are There” is tucked beneath the stirring lead vocal of John, but it’s strong enough in the master mix to make a noteworthy impression on anyone who has their stereo playing at a decent volume. There’s a lot of texture in its finish, a lot of emotion in its calculated arrangement, and yet it doesn’t feel even remotely overcomplicated in structure. Judging from the way that Matthew John approaches the mic in this track, he doesn’t get intimidated by cerebral compositional concepts, nor does he have any issues attacking a really swanky verse like he was born to serenade us with its message. He isn’t an international superstar, but he sure sounds like one in songs like this one. 

“Let’s Begin Again” is the Matthew John song if there ever was one. As confident as he sounds in the other recordings on this EP, it all pales in comparison to what he does in this track, which features a Cheaters-esque dangerousness to its hook that isn’t all sizzle. There’s substance in every stitch of this song; the guitars grind against a chic bassline as if to dump fuel on the fire of rebellion that exists within each and every one of us, the drums echo the broken cadence of a weary heart, and the vocal harmony that binds all of the pieces together howls with the ache of a hundred hungover mornings spent staring at old photos on the bathroom floor. John doesn’t just act cool in “Let’s Begin Again;” he’s cool personified. I’ve always had a soft spot for easy listening-style pop, and tracks like “Reach for the Stars” are the reason why. 

Matthew John reiterates a rousing narrative through simple, albeit heartfelt, poeticisms that don’t devolve into cheesiness (even when it might have been catchier to do just that). His talent is all-natural, untainted by the external, non-artistic influences and still charged with a potential that has only been somewhat exploited since his arrival on the scene some years ago. These four songs might be the hardest-hitting numbers that he’s got in his discography at the moment, but something tells me that they give us but a limited melodic mockup of what he could accomplish if provided a more liberal recording budget. 

Scottie Carlito

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