Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Rejectionist Front - Evolve (2017)

Written by Michael Saulman, posted by blog admin

Rejectionist Front’s successful run has thus far seen the New York City based quartet place their music with both television and film productions, share bills with iconic artists like George Clinton and Joan Baez (among others), release a critically acclaimed and popular first album, and appear on important indie collections alongside other immensely respected artists like Patti Smith, MGMT, Third Eye Blind, and Jackson Browne. They’ve brought their music to respected NYC area venues like CBGB, the Highline Ballroom, and Webster Hall They’ve worked with important production figures like Grammy winner Andy Wallace, a pivotal player on recordings from artists as diverse as Bruce Springsteen and System of a Down. All of these turning points in the band’s career lead to its next logical step, the all-important second studio album, and the twelve song collection Evolve finds Rejectionist Front ascending to a new level.

Lead singer and songwriting force Michael Perlman’s musical art brings every bit of the same passion to bear that color his involvement with activist causes like Rock to Save Darfur, but there’s no soapbox raving on Evolve. The first song “Ride” is a fantastic opener revealing a specific side of the band while introducing some themes that remain album constants. The band’s songwriting embraces dynamics, like any aspiring great rock band will, and they show impressive timing in when and how they bring those moments off. Perlman has an excellent musical foil in guitarist Lincoln Prout – the six string player serves as the band’s sole guitarist, yet conjures a variety of sounds that are often the equivalent of a small guitar army. “Savior” is one of the album’s best pure hard rock tracks and illustrates some of the band’s primary strengths – they are able to marry especially effective hard rock guitar songs with memorable choruses, a generous but understated amount of melody, and a multi-faceted approach to vocals.

“All Is The Same” is a moment when that aforementioned strength reaches an inarguable peak. The meditative side of the band’s lyricism emerges vividly from these words and the musical accompaniment. Prout’s talent for bringing evocative, forceful melodies together with blazing lead work and straight forward riffing makes him a guitarist of rare distinction in the modern rock arena and bassist Tony Tino and drummer Dave Dawson are an effective rhythm section, yet versatile as well. “Sign” has a direct, highly charged riff propelling it much of the way and a real swagger that comes at listeners from the first. There’s no preamble here, no beating around the bush – Rejectionist Front wants to rock and does so convincingly in a familiar hard rock vein. The band returns to a more deliberative, nuanced musical attack with the track “Reclaim” and it shares many of the same exhortative elements that made the opener “Ride” so memorable.

“Innocent” brings together the artier aspects of the band’s musical presentation, particularly through Lincoln Prout’s often intense and even dissonant guitar work, with their talent for impactful and accessible commercial strengths like a good chorus. It’s one of Evolve’s standout efforts. “Flush” is the album’s briefest song and a perfect choice for single status thanks to its clearly commercial inclinations, yet it never unduly waters down the band’s hard rock approach. Rejectionist Front’s second studio release is a confirmation and elaboration of everything we heard with their debut and secures their status as one of the best hard rock acts maturing today.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Chris Murphy - Water Under the Bridge (2017)

Written by Jay Snyder, posted by blog admin

Like music you would expect to hear in a grand Civil War-era ballroom, Chris Murphy and his cohorts (The Blind Blakes Blues Band) fire on all cylinders with their latest eclectic instrumental album Water under the Bridge.  Molding a strong, soulful sound the record mixes and matches jazz, ragtime, blues, swing and country as so gloriously exhibited by opener “Moveable Feast.”  Saloon-styled piano that will make you want to soak back a sarsaparilla or three tangos hand-in-hand with vintage jazz rhythms, Murphy’s runaway train fiddle playing and some atmospheric guitar work.  This music is as catchy as it is progressive; welding together influences spanning a timeframe from 1930 to 2017. 

“Joan Crawford Dances the Charleston” furthers Chris’ out-there approach to his chosen stylistic attack in much of the same way that Frank Zappa threw caution to the wind in whatever sonic enterprise he decided to monopolize.  Murphy and his band’s take on the blues grooves with punchy upright bass work, ragtime piano, economical runs of downplayed electric guitar and numerous subtle tempo changes and aural fluctuations.  Neoclassical acoustic guitar lassos a flamenco element that positively dazzles the eardrums and only tangles the listener’s eardrums deeper in the artist’s audio webs.  The faster paced “Table for Two” incorporates bluegrass into the band’s repertoire with especial attention paid to high octane rhythms, fiddle on overdrive and spitfire, Nashville bound two/three-part vocal harmonies.  “Riverboat Blues” shifts into a slower waltz tempo that’s meant for swinging cheek-to-cheek sweetly with the one you love before “I Swear I’m Going to Learn This Time” settles on a danceable mid-tempo brimming with blue-eyed soul vocals with excellent harmonies, playful ivory tinkling, wayward fiddling and a rhythm section that’s completely locked into the arrangement.  A series of melodic stop/start instrumental licks and two-part harmonies enter at the 1:21 mark and craft an infectious sing-a-long you won’t be able to get out of your head with bleach and a wire brush.  An excellent segment of intricately picked, Hawaiian flavored guitar licks take the spotlight in one particularly potent segment which is immediately preceded by a fiddle lead and firmly bookended by some spotlight for the piano.  Even the bass guitar gets a shot to step up and command center stage.  Without a doubt this is one of the album’s finest tracks and my personal pick for a tester tune to see what Murphy and the boys are cooking up in their soul kitchen. 

Elsewhere “My Spanish Lover” a simultaneously laidback and engaging jazz number that’s afraid to strut both country and blues inflections over its 4 minute and 37 second course, “The Lemon Rag” is set aflame by a cavalry charge of busy fiddling heavy on the bluegrass touches while keeping the piano style firmly rooted in 1880s Americana, “Benzedrine Shuffle” buckles down on the blues in a well-layered storm of upright bass thunder mingling with every kind of stringed instrument imaginable, “Tomcat Blues” filters a blown out garage sound through the band’s usual and closer “Cheer uUp Mickey” relishes the minimalism of a kick drum and a rustic fiddle banging out complex melodies that are an absolute treasure to behold. 

Water under the Bridge is without a weak tune across its 14 track arc.  You get a little bit of everything on this record; from dazzling instrumentals to killer meat n’ taters singer/songwriter fare that sports a heightened level of instrumentation…it’s all here and sounds great.  This is a highly recommended release.        

Alpha Mule - Peripheral Vision (2017)

Written by Laura Dodero, posted by blog admin

The debut from this Southern Cali, rural music duo Alpha Mule is an excellent lead-off album.  Featuring 10 main originals, a pair of bonus cuts and some pared down duo versions without additional instrumentation of the album’s main tracks, there’s a lot to digest here and it’s certainly well-worth the time and listening effort.  Joe Forkan (vocals/acoustic guitar) and Eric Stoner (banjo/vocals) is practically the band, though they bring in a few support musicians to help out on the majority of the album’s tracks. 

Start-up number, “Corpus Christi” pulls the lead on a taut, tense dark-folk attack that sees dirty n’ raw production wraparound a hearty banjo/guitar/upright bass workout with lyrics and delivery fit for a night under the black sky.  There’s something overcast going on here and it’s among the bleaker, weirder tracks on the album and an interesting choice for an opener.  It really makes you stand up and take notice thanks to its bleak, foreboding vibe.  This darkness dissipates on the immediately following “On the Moon” which culls a brighter country guitar twang and buoyant banjo swagger that ricochets over a particularly wild upright bass line that practically propels the vocals to some awesome melodic highs. 

The mood takes a dramatic sea change on the stalwart country n’ western swing of the title track and its inclusion of slide licks and steel guitars which really hammer home the atmosphere; the hurdy gurdy vocals and plucky traditional arrangements only further the sentiment, conjuring one of the record’s most powerful tunes.  “The Distance” follows the same standard making for a superb couplet, which “Pavlov” is happy to alter with its furious upright bass grooves and incendiary guitar/banjo trade-offs.  One can hear bits of Elvis and even Bill Haley on this old school rock n’ roll scorcher, and again they change up the mood on the pickin’ n’ pluckin’ country of “Mule in the Mine.”  As the record continues onward in its steadfast charge to the finish line moods swap and change with the drop of a dime; “Step Outside” being the most straight forward atmospheric ballad on the album, “The Ballad of Huell Howser” going for the country side-wind full-throttle, “Music of our Hearts” going the dark, mid-tempo country route and closer “Empire” capping things off with dreamy, drifting folk that’s completely pitch-black in its vibe and atmosphere.  Some worthy bonus tracks including duo versions of album favorites “Step Outside,” “Mule in the Mine” and “Corpus Christi” show just how well Forkan and Stoner lay it down with no outside help at their disposal.  These guys can play and they have chemistry to spare. 

Peripheral Vision is a modern classic of the genre with great songwriting and musicianship that makes each track an all-out winner.  As the grooves seep into your brain and the duo’s dual melodic vocals take over your mind, you’ll find yourself replaying each track several times before moving on.  This is a standout record with one excellent song after another, and it’s hard to believe that these guys are already THIS good on their debut…the sky’s the limit for Alpha Mule, that’s for dang sure. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Shofar - s/t (2017)

Written by Mike Yoder, posted by blog admin

Minneapolis’ Shofar has returned to action with a six track self titled EP that finds the Larry Hagner led outfit revisiting the glories of their initial run with a new found perspective that represents a real advancement from their older releases. The songwriting definitely stands apart, particularly lyrically, from standard rock fare, but it’s distinguished with a number of light touches emphasizing its melodic aspects and the recording belies their indie status with its polished, even sophisticated sound. This is a collection rife with accessibility and authenticity alike while they punctuate every track with an intelligence and idiosyncratic flourish that’s all their own. Shofar’s return to active ranks definitely fares a lot better than other such “comebacks” from acts big or small and, even if the musical landscape has changed a great deal, they sound poised to build on their long-standing reputation.

“Running” sets an early desperate tone. Even the more muted verses, with sketched out electric guitar weaving tense melodic lines around Larry Hagner’s voice and lyrics, crackle with unsettled energy. It occasionally erupts into some ferocious riffing quite unlike anything else on the release. “Powerman”, however, is a complete shift into acoustic influenced pop rock harkening more to the classic British rock side of the spectrum with a little California sunshina-via snowy Minneapolis tossed in for good measure. The addition of backing vocalists makes it an all the more enjoyable musical ride and the six string jangle coming through on the tune is a little reminiscent of The Byrds as well. Hagner’s lyrical acumen remains at a high level for the song “Shades of Grey” and the musical mood finds him asserting a little more rock edge without ever exploring any of the harsh power we heard from the EP’s first cut. “Hands Down”, however, should be offered up as Exhibit A that, given the right inspiration, Larry Hagner has conclusively mastered the art of writing a top shelf rock gem. The chorus of this tune makes it priceless and it’s invigorating to hear the band seamlessly shift into a higher gear.

“Countdown” and the EP closer “The Coming” are more overtly introspective and thoughtful material than much of what we hear from this Shofar release/ The first of those two songs is particularly fascinating as it’s essentially a depiction of the world ending and rife with details that show Hagner’s eye for specificity is quite powerful. “The Coming” is a little more poetic minded, but it’s an ideal marriage of music and lyric with, arguably, Hagner’s best vocal performance on the EP. Shofar’s first run didn’t last nearly long enough and we can only assume, based on the strength of this release, that this time they’ve returned with the aim of fulfilling that early promise.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Blue Apollo - Light Footed Hours + Circles (2017)

Written by Jay Snyder, posted by blog admin

Dallas, TX trio Blue Apollo work up an admirable alt-rock sweat on their debut EP release, Light-Footed Hours.  As jangling, angular guitar lines rooted in minor-key chord phrasings brush shoulders with hard-hitting tribal tom rolls, deep diving bass lines and breathy higher-register vocal melodies in the title it’s clear that the band were raised in a school that taught John Mayer, Stevie Wonder, James Blunt and maybe even a little Slint.  It’s a rousing opener with a very casual flow but some nice tempo jolts thanks to Jeremiah Jensen’s punchy snare runs in the second half and guitarist/vocalist Luke Nassar’s scalding lead licks.  This is simply a well-put together rock track and it’s got the vocal magic to mold it into something special.  A great singer can carry an average band but a poor singer can’t carry a top-tier unit, graciously, neither is the case here. 

Groovy funk rhythms especially felt in those throbbing bass lines collide with reggae flavored guitar ska as Nassar breezes through a free-form scat in the hyper catchy “Feeling Right.”  Dramatic musical stops n’ starts lend the cut some jarring sonic expositions.  Jensen’s drums flex nothing but steroid pumped muscle throughout (his snare-work deserves special mention) while bassist Rodman Steele anchors down the groove with dense, fluid bass lines that weave in and out of the main guitar melody.  Luke’s lead guitar runs are yet again a highlight; even adding some classic rock style squeal, scorch and flair to the way they slowly, deliberately uncoil.  A touch of organ accompaniment further enriches the music in a golden 70s aura that enraptures the eardrums and keeps the listener involved for the long haul. 

“Therapy” kicks off with a simultaneously subdued and rocked-out lead guitar riff that picks up the pace as the drumming cautiously ratchets up the intensity.  Soon the rhythm section takes over with tidal ebb n’ flow of gorgeous sound as the guitar occupies an atmospheric role until it swells noticeably in volume during the tune’s show-stopping chorus.  James Blunt fans should be able to get down with the alternately indie and alt-rock tendencies going down in this cut (which so happens to turn out to be one of the EPs greatest highlights).  A melancholy, moonlit piano arrangement opens up “Avalanche.”  This piece provides a showcase for Nassar’s massively expressive pipes and a wonderful singer/songwriter showcase that focuses on the absolute most stripped-down structuring available.  Jensen integrates a sparse kick-drum beat with some cello wrapping around the twinkling ivories.  Layer by layer the song builds into something truly grand.  The bass creeps in carefully with sparse notations that rest within a bed of sparkling, crystal clear guitar melodies.  Surprisingly the music builds to a full band climax with some of the EP’s most frenetically rocked-out instrumentation contained within.  “Meant to Be” adheres to a similar format but pairs Luke’s soothing voice with mainly desolate guitar lines that eventually gives rise to another entire band climactic shuffle which sounds great and delivers the appropriate amount of impact. 

Bonus track turned single “Circles” closes out the record with spacey, high-energy buoyancy rippling in waves of effortless tom-tom pulsations, ever-flowing bass grooves, ambient electric guitar twang, a handful of bluesy riffs and soaring vocals.  It’s a perfect endnote to an EP that traverses many varying modes over its brief 6-song trajectory.  Honestly, the quality and satisfaction delivered by the material hear makes this record feel like a full-length.  At any rate, this is really good stuff and well-worth your time and hard-earned dollar.

Rejectionist Front - Evolve (2017)

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