Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Jerad Finck - New Kids (2017)

Photo by Michael Sparks Keegan

Written by David Collins

Jerad Finck’s upbringing in the Spokane, Washington area proved fortuitous as he was exposed to a particular set of experiences and opportunities for musical education he may not have received elsewhere in the world. Finck’s first love, jazz, morphed into a fascination with popular music and found this young singer/songwriter/performer joining his first rock band in college. Finck naturally displayed an easy aptitude for the form, no doubt aided by his knowledge of more complex forms like jazz and the aesthetic that governs them, and it has quickly propelled him to a place among the most promising newcomers working today. This isn’t his debut, mind you, but every new release from Finck sparkles with the energy of someone announcing their arrival. “New Kids”, his latest single, is no exception.

This is the sort of single that unites opinion rather than dividing it. It is difficult to dislike or find fault with his nearly seamless mix of lightly employed studio atmospherics, evocatively recorded guitar, and well phrased vocals. There’s a pop edge to this song impossible to deny, but there’s credible substance here that goes beyond what we normally hear from performers working in this vein. Finck isn’t trying to have some overnight success, make a little bank, and just plod on uncreatively. Instead, you get the sense listening to this that Finck wants to make important personal statements while still entertaining the widest possible audience. He certainly succeeds here.

It is all built around the songwriting. There is a natural and seemingly effortless progression to “new Kids” that means one section flowing into another without any sense of awkwardness. Finck, likewise, has his voice set perfectly within and against the musical arrangement. His vocal melody lands in all the right places and has a strong sense of purpose without ever overpowering the song. The musical talents working for the success of this song are exemplary. The guitar playing, in particular, strikes a compelling and almost melancholy note without ever overplaying its hand. It is important to mark your mark on a song as a musician, but it is even more important to know when to pull back and how to best embody the song’s subject in musical content. Jerad Finck and the musicians he worked with to help realize “New Kids” have a vivid sense of what to do here and they pull it off with all the aplomb you might expect.

Sometimes the cream still rises to the top. Jerad Finck has the unique combination of skills and intangibles to make his presence felt on the contemporary music scene for many years to come and his songwriting powers only continue to grow. He is aided, as well, by a top flight collaborators who work in nearly perfectly sympathy with his talents. “New Kids” is, simply, one of 2017’s best singles and bodes well for Finck’s future work.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Humphrey/McKeown - Tapestry of Shadows (2017)

OFFICIAL: www.hm-music.com
FACEBOOK: www.facebook.com/HumphreyMcKeown

Written by David Shouse
Email: davshouse@gmail.com

There aren’t as many active songwriting duos consistently working today. Scanning the major genres reveals that the last lingering bastion of such an approach, a remnant of the Brill Building’s influence on popular song, exists in various forms of Americana songwriting. One of the best songwriting partnerships working in the Americana style today is, without question, Heather Humphrey and Tom McKeown’s longstanding collaboration. The two began working together in the early years of this young century and soon realized that, rather than peddling their collaborative efforts to various performers, they would better serve their own dreams and desires by recording and performing their material together. The duo, five albums later, have conclusively proven their instinct to be correct. Their latest release Tapestry of Shadows continues the ongoing process for the duo and finds them now evolving into a full band sound that sounds completely organic rather than seeming more like a mere vehicle for their songwriting. These are songs and arrangements that stand up nicely on their respective feet.

“Beautiful” brings things off with a memorable start. It has a solidly Americana base, but there are a number of structural points in the song that are pure pop. These moments, however, are never handled cheaply. Humphrey/McKeown do an excellent job of weaving the traditional elements of their sound in with this more modern feel. There’s a bit of a bluesy downcast to the second song “Better Day” but, like the opener, it embraces the sound of adult oriented popular song in a way that makes its traditional sound unusually fresh. The slinky, slightly behind the beat tempo of the song gives it an additional allure. McKeown’s vocals come out much more on the song “You Don’t Know Me”. They are name-checking, perhaps indirectly, a pop standard with their own stylish track, a dark jazzy glide with a fluid bass line and seamless changes that might seem a little predictable, but in the most pleasing and inevitable of ways. “Sasha on the Carousel” is another of the album’s more memorable tunes thanks, in no small part, to its melodic strengths – particularly the chorus. The songwriters’ voices come together very nicely on this song and there’s a reflective quality in the lyrics that matches the arrangement quite well.

The violin playing adds a third voice to the mix on “Our Beautiful Sad Dance” and it is the chief melodic vehicle in an otherwise lean musical narrative whose simplicity works beautifully. “You and I” has an almost hypnotic intensity centered on some rather simple melodic phrases and an intense vocal duet between McKeown and Humphrey.  “Madness” and “Sunshine Today” end the album with a distinctive character. The former is a lyrically inventive and has the steady stride listeners might associate with folk rock rather than outright Americana. “Sunshine Today” is bright and buoyant in a way few songs on Tapestry of Shadows can match, but it’s comparatively upbeat demeanor doesn’t sound out of place and brings the twelve song album to a close on a thankfully upbeat note.  

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Where Dead Voices Gather

If songs can never tear down
his cardboard coffin's white walls
or split plastic seams and spill
his gray ashes and bleached grains
into a man's living shape,
then let words brighten the black,
fill the mouth, and stir his tongue.

If I listen to him speak
and again hear his timber
like a new buzzsaw purring
or drill bits sinking in wood,
its sound will drown out echoes
from the absence of his face.

He will answer for his death
and give a complete account
of heavens and hellfires
his spirit cannot enter
because if I keep talking
he will never be silent.

My father's running blindly
across black peony fields,
his hair blowing off his skull
like the thinning, tangled wake
from a tailspinning rocket.
He wants me to let him die,

but if he cannot return
and my words can never join
ashes like jigsaw pieces
and solve this puzzling grief,
I will keep talking and run
where the dead voices gather.

Friday, June 28, 2013


Those are bodies, not bottles,
Stacked below your window.
Fractured faces stare at you
From the broken sparkle
Of each bloody shard.

That is a pyre, not a pile,
Whose glow bleaches the sun.
Jagged limbs flame from the heap
And lunge like razor blades
Through the soot and smoke.

Ashes are no ink for songs.
No fire from your pen
Can ever perfume these lines
With a scent sweet enough
That cinders will sing.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Post Mortem Bar

Bartender, pour me a drink
Free of the ashes and ink
I smoked and spilled for years
With every high spoiled by tears.
I'll wade through the dead for a taste
Of any potion brewed to replace
The gasping thirst in my throat
To devour all I wrote,
But if I can hold it down
I'm ready for the next round,
And if I don't choke on rhyme,
We will toast again in time.

Some knotted and tightened ropes
To blacken their brains or hopes.
Others switched spikes and rails
Plunging when their hammer fails.
I went from bloom to blotto
Preaching more as my motto,
But there's no profit for drunks
To drink where the dead are sunk
And, wet for wear, shed more tears
For their bloody, wasted years.
No poem can call that bluff,
I've chased these voices enough
And what they would have me do
Is drink until I am through.

Bartender, serve the ghouls
Who still crown the bony stools
Strangling shots with shaking fists,
Scars slashing their necks and wrists.
For me, though, the taps are dry,
Soured by the bitter lie
That even the strongest stuff
Is never quite strong enough.
I write these words on barroom glass
Before pushing off at last,
If it's empty, my brother,
Where one bottle came from,
There's always another.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Jonah Complex

I am alive inside a monster,
The stomach of a dreaming whale
Whose body of earth and sky
Swallows the world and digests my days.

I can never die here, only dissolve.
Sinking deep into the beast's skin
I bleed from the grave and strean
Through a billion blossoming limbs.

My heels will kick and stomp the skin
Until I hear the beast's bones break.
I will slice at its starry span
And crawl out any open wound.

I will not be consumed like this,
These words ulcer the dirt and air
With light no darkness can submerge
And a mouth forever singing.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Wishbone Ash
Ludwigsburg, Germany
October 4, 1989

Disc 1
1) Real Guitars Have Wings
2) The King Will Come
3) In The Skin
4) Cosmic Jazz
5) Keeper Of The Light
6) Lost Cause In Paradise
7) Throw Down The Sword
8) Band Intros
9) Why Don't We?

Wishbone Ash Ludwigsburg 1989 Disc 1

Disc 2
1) Hole In My Heart
2) Living Proof
3) Blowin' Free
4) Blind Eye~Medley
5) Guitar Solo~Jail Bait
6) Rollin'

Wishbone Ash Ludwigsburg 1989 Disc 2