Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Grace Freeman - Shadow (2017)

Written by Frank McClure, posted by blog admin

The beauty of Grace Freeman’s eleven song solo debut Shadow is undeniable, but its power may be underrated on a first listen. Freeman has a soft, dream-like voice that could lull any living thing into a pleasurable state, but the rougher-hewn material on the album draws a quiet strength out of her voice that matches her frequent use of a band, particularly strong drumming, and conveys some of the more desperate lyrics with a head up, eyes looking skyward defiance that communicates nothing will hold or keep her down for long. The album is built primarily around acoustic guitar and Freeman’s voice, but she brings other important instruments into the mix and the variation they lay on Shadow makes it a deeper, richer musical experience. This as memorable of a first solo release as Freeman could have hoped for.

“Oliver” starts off Shadow in a low-key, albeit rather dark, sort of way. The acoustic guitar passages and vocal weave a delicate spell without ever rendering things too exquisite – this never sounds like a beautiful butterfly trapped under glass but, instead, a breathing musical composition that moves from the first and never risks anything resembling self-indulgence. “Shadow” has a similar emotional feel but a weightier heft thanks to the assertive drumming and bass playing that gives the song a definite bottom end. This gives listeners the first inkling of that aforementioned quiet strength she can bring to her performances and it proves to be an entertaining, if not exactly cheerful, listen. The musical mood picks up with the song “Trying to Say Goodbye” and the poppier aspects of the performance never cheapen her musical goals. Instead, this would likely serve as an excellent song to introduce newcomers to Freeman’s talents.

“Another Long Night” has some sterling writing powering its lyrics and a thoughtful musical arrangement that complements her voice and the words. It is, certainly, another less than cheerful number, but there’s little doubt about the heart invested in this performance and how freely Freeman gives herself over to the song. “Dreams” is, somewhat, reminiscent of the earlier “Trying to Say Goodbye” and the musical lilt fueling its mood offers us a nice respite from the heavier material on Shadow. Another memorable turn with the writing comes on the track “Muddy Puddles” as Freeman shows her talents for using metaphor to deepen a song’s impact. “God Forbid” combines the best of the album’s singer/songwriter side with the commercial inclinations detected in tracks like “Trying to Say Goodbye” and “Dreams”. The lyrical material is, definitely, Freeman at her rawest, but her artful touch with words remains intact. The album’s penultimate track, “Mountain’s Peak”, has a wonderfully balanced combination of concrete imagery and suggestive passages allowing the audience to form their own interpretations. Shadow has a lot of different musical faces and Freeman handles them all with unwavering confidence.

Monday, September 18, 2017

KALO - Wild Change (2017)

Written by Daniel Boyer, posted by blog admin

KALO’s fourth release Wild Change is an eleven song release placing a white hot spotlight on the talents of singer/guitarist Bat-Or Kalo and her band mates drummer Mike Alexander and bass player Mack McKinney. The band has logged a significant amount of time on the road and the live experience has only enhanced their capabilities as a musical unit. That chemistry comes through quite clearly on each of the eleven songs included here. Kalo has drawn a lot of attention thanks to her unique vocal talents, but she’s much more than some big-voiced female blues singer. She excels just as much with the album’s muted, softer textures while also ideally complementing the band’s excursions into R&B and funk influences and the band always uncovers new and imaginative ways of tailoring what they do to her vocal skills. It makes Wild Change a visceral listening experience no matter what style they are attempting.

“One Mississippi” gets Wild Change off to a thrilling start. There’s ample snap in the way KALO attacks a swinging blues rock number and much of it can be attributed to Mike Alexander’s drumming. He locks into grooves very easily and the steadiness he provides the band’s performances makes everything else possible. There’s playfulness and grit alike in Kalo’s singing – she brings both aspects to bear on this song while still staying locked in with the song’s groove. “Isabel” takes the band’s blues rock inclinations in a much different direction. This is a blood and guts boisterous electric blues with the guitar set to kill and Kalo peeling layers of flesh off her tonsils with a lung-busting vocal. It’s never just raw power in what Kalo does. There’s finesse even in the most rugged moments she has on Wild Change. The title song has a similar effect. It’s a much more churning number, musically, but the different tempo and texture doesn’t affect Kalo’s ability to buckle down and deliver a vocal every bit as impassioned. “Only Love” is a slow, meditative blues that Kalo goes to the limit with. It’s one of the most memorable vocal outings on Wild Change. The band manages to avoid a lot of unconvincing clichés here and elsewhere – when they invoke the past, they do so credibly and with a completely modern sound.

“Pay to Play” is outright funk with a dash of R&B spiking the mix for good measure. Kalo’s guitar, thankfully, doesn’t completely recede into shadows and it puts a bluesy rock spin on the performance that’s going to be quite welcome with many. The album’s final cut “Calling All Dreamers” is an impressive acoustic closing to Wild Change and illustrates how adept the three member band is at shifting gears. The momentum they build over the course of these eleven songs is impressive and indicative of the gathering strength that seems to define each new release. This is a band working at or near the peak of their powers.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Dust of Days - Analog Mind Bender (2017)

Written by William Elgin, posted by blog admin

Dust of Days is an romping alternative rock act hailing from the New Jersey area first formed in 2009 and featuring the talents of songwriter and drummer Frank Lettieri Jr. over the course of three releases. The third release and second full length album Analog Mind Bender has been four years in the making, but there’s never any sense listening to the  twelve songs that they’ve been unduly overworked and drained of their blood and marrow. The performances have a remarkably natural and even live sound – the level of intimacy they achieve, for a rock band, is nothing short of exceptional. These are songs that lunge straight for the heart of human experiences and never attempt to cheat or shortcut the listener – they fully develop their ideas, package everything inside of strong production, and present a product that never dares pandering to its target audience. Some listeners might find that twelve songs are perhaps a song or two too many, but a lot more are going to find this a perfectly measured rock album for the times.

They open with the title song. It has a nicely striding riff, a dense musical attack, and their own distinctive take on the genre blending elements of classic rock with a more modern approach. They clearly show themselves capable of gritty lyricism that only a few bands of this ilk can muster and this blending of the current and retro has a combustible spark. “Aurora” is cut from the same rugged mold as the opener but there’s a much more intensely claustrophobic feel about this track than we experienced during the first song and the variations of vocal delivery are equally notable. “Heavy” is propelled by a bulldozer central riff and the band is wise to stick to it for the majority of the song, only switching gears for a few passages with tremendous effect. The focus here is undeniable. Dust of Days kicks off “Little Angel” with some methodical, less than ethereal riffing and the the song settles into a moody, spartan guitar driven groove during the verses. This is one of the album’s better songs thanks to the exceptional sharp dynamic sense the band presents for listeners.

“The Circus” opens with sledgehammer bass and drums and boomerangs from that into a languid, guitar heavy march. There are some other notable transitions in this unhinged barrage of staccato rhythm section grooving, massive guitar workouts taken at a glacial pace, and some swaths of clichéd blues changes tossed in quite by design. This may not initially seem like it, but “The Circus” may vary well be one of the best songs on this release. “Death Vibrations” is a two fisted post-punk rocker that comes out set to kill and crackles with energy throughout. Dust of Days takes a decidedly different turn with the track “The Shore” and builds this song around violin, piano, voice, and nothing more. It results in the band achieving a much different sort of intimacy here than they do at other points throughout the release. “Ghosts” is a remarkable and risky finale, but it works. The song is essentially two very different musical tracks linked by subject matter and theme and even features a significant interlude between the two halves. The first half is acoustic-based while the second takes an even darker turn and houses the near husted, glowering vocal in dark, light industrial electronics. Analog Mind Bender is quite a musical journey and the time Dust of Days devoted to getting this right has paid off with one of the year’s most rewarding rock album

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Chris Murphy - Hard Bargain (2017)

VIDEO: (“Cape Horn”) http://chrismurphymusic.com/video/

Written by Daniel Boyer, posted by blog admin

Chris Murphy’s newest release, Hard Bargain, allows the talented multi-instrumentalist and songwriter present new original material in a live setting, solo, nothing between the audience but his instrument of choice on a given song and a stomp box that provides all necessary percussive accompaniment. It is a natural successor to the more formal structure of his last studio release The Tinker’s Dream insofar as it sees his wayward muse following a distinctly bluesier direction than we heard on the aforementioned album. There are a handful of cuts on the album that are solidly commercial despite the rustic, low-fi surroundings he gives them and Murphy demonstrates a real flair for writing compelling choruses. It isn’t a quality you normally associate with this sort of nominally niche music, but Murphy is a songwriter and performer who transcends any number of boundaries. Hard Bargain is a gripping piece of musical art from the start and never loses listeners along the way.

The title track comes early. Murphy cajoles and coaxes a gusty blues from his violin with all the required desperation the lyric demands. He brings that same sense of desperation to his voice, as well, The stomp box, from the first, helps punctuate everything Murphy does musically and his instincts for using it seem well nigh unerring. “Bugs Salcido” is even darker than the title track and finds Murphy brooding at a near drone in the verses and only opening his voices up for the payoff when he wonders aloud about Bugs Salcido’s death. This is one of the more original, signature performances on the album and has a shaved to the bone energy that keeps it humming from the outset. The audience reacts enthusiastically to the tune and, undeniably, Murphy’s lyrical firepower. “White Noise” and “Last Bridge” are paired together quite well as they definitely contend for the most outright commercial sounding songs Murphy’s ever penned. Both have choruses capable of kicking you in the pants, but it’s the combination of their airtight swing and catchy hooks that gives them such impact. Murphy seems inspired by the material as well.

“Prevailing Winds” shares some similarities, but they are developed at a different pace and the structural focus is more relaxed. It’s another fine Murphy lyric, indelible in the sense that you can really only imagine him writing it, and the writing has a tight control over the balance between general and specific details. Our tendency is to hear material like this and assume it is autobiographical in nature but, honestly, it doesn’t matter. Even if the sentiments and situations on Hard Bargain are total fiction, Chris Murphy delivers them with utter credibility. “Trust” is a final emotional blast on an album that practically acts and Murphy propels himself musically through a variety of noticeably different moods without ever missing a step or making things sound incongruous. This is one of those moments when everything comes together for a performer and Chris Murphy’s Hard Bargain will ultimately merit mention with the best song collections ever released by this wildly talented artist.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot - Songs for Mixed Company (2017)

Written by William Elgin, posted by blog admin

Few Americana themed acts working today can lay claim to the prowess and power at Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’s disposal. Vocalist and guitarist Phil Barry’s collaboration with vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Fuerst is certainly a marriage of equals – they are a stunning vocal match on each of Songs for Mixed Company’s ten tracks and the songwriting excellence stamped on this collection is certainly their joint responsibility. The performances are augmented with a small cast of supporting musicians who aid the duo in further fleshing out their artistic vision and their contributions are important factors in the album’s ultimate success, but the center of the achievement on this release is the glittering and often surprisingly diverse artistry the duo brings to bear on their compositions. These are deceptively simple compositions, but close listening reveals these are deeply observed songs with a wealth of detail and flashes of stunning poetry. Songs for Mixed Company establishes Thunderbolt and Lightfoot as a monumental force in the Americana/folk music community.

“Let’s Be Friends” might have a conciliatory title, but the song is clearly cast on a downbeat note about the fracturing of an intense relationship into something much more tenuous. The delicate acoustic guitar work ably supports Barry and Fuerst’s vocals without ever competing with them and the plain spoken poetry infusing the work makes it a memorable opener. The intimate qualities of the recording are equally powerful and further accentuate the mood. “Miss Me” is definitely one of the highlights on the release and recalls classic country balladry without ever succumbing to its excesses. The steel guitar touching the song at various points brings just enough color without ever risking cliché and the percussion, when it enters the song, punctuates the song in a tasteful and authoritative way. The darkness edging in on the opener “Let’s Be Friends” is in full flower on the song “Can’t Be Trusted” and the yearning coming through in the lyric doesn’t sound like love and lust full of light, but shadows instead. Mike Lynch’s ghostly organ touches further contributes to the haunted feeling.

There’s a waltz feel to “Sad Song” and the patient development of the song thanks to Barry and Fuerst results in clipped lines and a minimal musical arrangement that is suggestive without ever overshadowing the singers. The drumming, once again, provides some first class work and gives the song great shape. One can even detect an incongruous playfulness in the song that defies expectation. The retro old-tymey tenor of “Goodbye is Not the End” has much more of the inklings of playfulness we heard in the previous song, but it doesn’t necessarily mean Thunderbolt and Lightfoot are playing this for laughs. The musicianship remains at the same high level as before. “Vesper” sounds ripped from the folk music tradition, but there’s an understated and unabashed modern edge blurring its edges. It’s an instrumental, but quite evocative and never just some sort of placeholder or filler. Songs for Mixed Company rarely roars, but the whispers compromising their songwriting makes a deeper impact than one might suspect.