Monday, August 14, 2017

Rhett Repko - About Last Night (2017)

Written by William Elgin, posted by blog admin

Guitar-toting pop rock maven Rhett Repko saw that the current crop of artists is lacking soul, so armed with a 6-string he presents his debut EP About Last Night.  With a chops-heavy, solid backing band, Repko illustrates his prowess as both a songwriter and a dynamic musicians (that knows his way around a group, as they know their way around him) capable of melding several styles into an intoxicating whole. 

“Were You Ever Really Mine?” is the perfect lead-in; breezy choruses bristling with acoustic guitar collide and careen into rugged rock riffs, shuck n’ jive bass lines and a steady beat on the drums.  Several genres mix together here but, at heart, it’s infectious pop with some serious muscle that boasts mellow acoustic rhythm and fiery lead guitar figures sizzling n’ boiling beneath Repko’s Beatles’-tinged vocal melodies.  Instead of taking the easy way out by presenting a 6-song EP with only one musical flavor, Rhett is constantly shaking things up.  Case in point, “She Loves Me” and its penchant for country/folk acoustics splitting the difference with Texas shuffle rhythms and twang-y southern electric guitar.  There’s more than a few shades of Neil Young to be found and they are pulled off with aplomb. 

Orchestral strings, slow dance clean guitars and downplayed rhythms turn “About Last Night” into a guitar-centered, pop rock masterpiece.  It’s the big, mid-tempo ballad of the album; capable of crossover appeal to become a mainstream smash while contain very well-directed instrumentation.  Nobody on pop radio is playing this which means Repko is filling a monstrous vacancy where guitars and real instruments are a breath of fresh air.  “Inside of Me” sounds like the work of McCartney or Ringo’s contributions to The Beatles, sultry pop aesthetics organically woven into the kind of fun loving beatnik rock that died in ’69.  “On the Run” further takes 60s guitar rock and sparkles it up with glossy vocal hooks and lots of winding lead guitar, leaving the final tune “Bye Bye Baby” to dim the lights in acoustic, breathy vocalized ambience.

Rhett Repko’s debut EP comes across as both fresh and classic all throughout the 6 tracks found therein.  Melody-wise, it’s built for pop radio and each song features more than a few sections that will stick in your head, though the fleet-fingered guitar pyrotechnics give the music an edge that most only dream of possessing.  The only nitpick is that you wish there were even more songs after it finishes playing but that’s what the repeat button’s for! 

Circus of the West - We'll See Ourselves Out (2017)

Written by Gilbert Mullis, posted by blog admin

Infectious debut album from the organ-kissed, keyboard accentuated rockers of Circus of the West who mix indie, pop, rock and upbeat melodies together all across We’ll See Ourselves Out.  Opener “Birdhand” is what happens if The Killers molded their danceable indie into a more rocking product with plenty of sizzling electric guitar and soulful lead vocals.  It sets the stage for the swinging grooves to be found all throughout. 

“Some Connections” slows the pace to bass-centered, mid-tempo shuck n’ jive that showcases Edwin Caldie’s shimmering vibrato and introspective baritone alongside three part harmonies that sound like a sonic amalgamation of Interpol and Pure Prairie League.  Joel Leviton and Ben Court’s dueling electric/acoustic guitar shakes downs provide catchy lead components welded onto buzzing rhythm riffs that again reckon of a bluesy Interpol brimming with folky soul melodies.  Drawing down the mood, “Nothing Special” welds plunging bass figures to lonely, deeply textured keyboards and somber organ brushstrokes (courtesy of dual keyboard players Caldie and bassist Jason Kapel) that build the verse whispers into emotive choruses propelled forward by drummer Alan Einsman’s pocket snare fills. 

Perhaps the album’s most rockin’, rollin’ cut “Resurrection” is all about steamy, sultry blues, classic rock lead guitar matching wits with jangly acoustics, hearty vocal drawls and a heckuva groove foundation.  The gravelly, Mark Lanegan/Tom Waits’ inspired, whiskey-inflected singing of “Valentine Eye” slinks with side winding acoustic guitar sweeps, lush bass lines and a soft, steady drum beat that eventually gives way to a baroque melody drone where the instruments are layered immaculately.  A fuzzy, buzzing riff spirals “Looking In” into a godly, southern-tinged punk rock attack that embellishes soaring vocal harmonies reminiscent of forgotten 70s great Ashbury, walkin’ rampaging bass grooves and simultaneously atonal and melodic riffage.  It’s by far one of the album’s best tracks all told. 

The piano-laden, twin keyboard richness that kicks of “Finale” gives way to another expressive performance from Edwin, who wrings every drop of melodic grandeur out of each and every nook and cranny of this song.  A harder, rhythmic backbone fleshes the gentle grooves with some rock n’ roll attack as the organs dip into classic 70s runs and the electric guitar takes the spotlight as much as the acoustic.  Percussive syncopation and angular bass riffs lend “Asma” a split difference between jazz, indie and good ol’ fashioned hard rock flourish that nicely juxtaposes the beautiful “More’s” starry sky pianos and blue-eyed soul vocals.

 The album closer “Epilogue” harnesses some delicious finger plucked guitar melodies that drench the music in glistening country gallop (with vocal harmonies to match) before it ends surprisingly before the minute mark.  We’ll See Ourselves Out is a wonderful piece of work and a fine collection of songs from a band that throws caution to the wind when it comes to genres.  It would be interesting to hear them dial in on one particular sound more often but they keep things lively and progressive throughout with stellar musicianship and songwriting that stretches from 1970 till the modern day.  This is an admirably written, played and recorded album that should impress fans of many different styles. 

Jackson Howard - Just for the Mystery (2017)

Written by Jay Snyder, posted by blog admin

Soul rocker Jackson Howard and his band are in excellent shape on their second long-player Just for the Mystery.  Combing touches of folk, blues and soul in flurries of electric guitar mysticism, acoustic sweep, river deep rhythms, mountain high vocals and piano/key sprinkles, Howard’s in command of his song craft all throughout. 

The title track is the opening number and it couples a buoyant rhythmic groove with Andre DiMuzio’s infectious piano melodies and electric guitarist Jonathan Crone’s dashes of electric guitar spice.  Howard’s blend of vibrato rich lead vocals, falsetto bits and great melodic singing elevates the material even further.  The rural folk of “A Place in this World” remind one of the catchy Eagle Eye Cherry cut “Save Tonight,” as the vocal melody is familiar but the song structure is built more firmly on the guitars.  Subtle, soft and sweet, “Run with me” is a plucky, twangy gravel road folk/country ballad that opens up into wide, expansive orchestral textures later on thanks to Jared Kneale’s rolling, propulsive fills turning the volume up twice as loud to match Howard’s soaring high notes. 

Similar themes are explored on “Hideaway,” another wayward acoustic guitar jam that features a charming vocal duet with Mandy Cook.  Fans of Allison Krauss and Union Station’s work should find something to enjoy in this pleasant, breezy piece.  A surprisingly effective cover of Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore” has more Dixieland swagger than the original with Rachel Horter playing the Sandy Denny to Jackson’s Plant.  The quiet pairing of “Surround You” and “Driftwood” bring the mood down to an ambient, folky flicker before “This Town” swirls with some electric flourishes, rumbly vocals and a straightforward, 1-2 blues beat.  “Dizzy” could easily be a favorite at a jazz club and the piano/vocal magic of “If I Fall” really provide a showcase for Howard’s passionate vocals.  Dueling acoustic ditties “You are more” and “Tribute” keep the soul influences before a stomping, rock guitar gussied cover of EMF’s “Unbelievable” ends things with a thundercrack. 

Just for the Mystery traverses a lot of different emotional valleys and remains quality listening throughout.  With the ability to put an excellent spin on classic covers and deliver top quality originals, Jackson Howard has put out a worthwhile sophomore record.  No slump here, only solid material that reveals more intricacies with each passing listen.  Fans of soul, folk and soothing tunes in general would do well to check this out. 

Julia McDonald - Gravity (2016)

Written by Alonzo Evans, posted by blog admin

It’s rare anymore that a pop artist knocks it out of the park on their first release.  Usually it takes a couple of tries for someone to develop their songwriting but there are certain exceptions to that rule.  Case in point, Julia McDonald and her tasty flirtations with pop, r & b, trip-hop and soul groove on the debut EP, Gravity.  With the aid of producer/co writer Tavie Basarich, Julie McDonald has created an offbeat, mini-pop masterpiece.  As good pop tends to be, these songs are stripped down to the hooks and nebulous areas are covered by scores of synths/programming that keeps the beat going. 

The cool rush of the title track provides a good mixed mood intro that plays with ambiguity in its set-up; softly breathing keyboards, honey-coated vocal croons and spacey acoustic guitar usher in a mood both dark and light.  As the track rolls onward the volume moves skyward like a slowly rising wave, crashing beats, melodic synthesizers and McDonald’s expressive delivery selling the material to any ear that will listen (even those who might not usually).  This night-lit lamentation is offset by the thumping dance-y bump of “Games” where the acoustic guitar picks up the tempo two clicks above the title track and incorporates busier percussion to enhance the lively, free spirit vocal declarations.  From attitudinal slams to a gorgeous chorus, Julie is more than capable of adding spice to any musical dish.  “Pretty Committee” saves the committee for a cerebral take on Katy Perry’s school of hit single magic.  The jangly, mid-speed synths sparkle and fade alongside a steady beat and soft instrumentation that gives McDonald a chance to bust out some vocals that roar more than they coo. It’s further proof that she draws from soul and other genres for inspiration.  “No Good for Me” follows suit with a piano/key melody piled over pop radio programming, the track providing yet another highlight thanks to the soaring chorus.  The stalwart rock influence during “Something to Talk About” is another side of McDonald’s many songwriting facets with closer “Simpler Things” culminating the EP in starry eyed, dance/dub theatrics. 

Gravity will certainly appeal to pop music fans, especially those looking for more variety in the way songs are composed and arranged.  Not only does McDonald rule on the songwriting/singing end but she also obviously works well with her producers as the mixing is in top form.  If you want pop that feels like discovery with each passing listen as opposed to disinterest, Gravity is the place to go.