Friday, April 28, 2017

Jerad Finck - New Kids (2017)

Photo by Michael Sparks Keegan


The newest single from Spokane native Jerad Finck will haunt you. His interest in music from an early age, discipline to work hard, and a willingness to learn from those who’ve come before you set him apart in an age when pop sensations flame out at a faster rate than ever before. “New Kids” has the entertainment value, intelligence, and emotional resonance we associate with extended careers. The discipline propelling his hard work touches on his penchant for writing first class material. It’s his latest collaboration with writer/producer Denny White (The Fray, Tiesto, Usher) and the two have an obvious rapport. Another factor contributing to the song’s success, without question, is the influence jazz music had on Finck’s youth, but it isn’t an influence that readily announces itself. You can hear it in the exquisite textures that make the song so memorable and the attention to style that far outpaces what most modern pop has to offer.

There’s a pleasing inevitability about the way it moves. Finck has certainly hit upon a winning formula for this song and it moves with cool fluidity throughout its entire duration. Groove and melody, more than anything else, makes this work. The drumming has just the right touch and the reverb driven guitar work weaves an evocative web over the top without ever overindulging. There seems to be a little like post-production work applied to Finck’s singing, but it just accentuates his natural greatness thanks to the phrasing he employs in every passage. It’s finesse coupled with feeling and you can hear the conviction he brings to the song. Perhaps some of his early jazz influences come out in the clear way he listens and studies the musical accompaniment behind him. This isn’t a performer who’s trying to take up the entire spotlight. He wants to sing with a band and does so marvelously here.

His musical collaborators are equally focused on serving the song. The guitar work is particularly memorable and, much like his vocal, certainly suffers no harm from the sounds laid over it but has enough melodic merit it could have easily stood clean on its own. It works as a second vocalist, in a sense, and duets with his voice quite well. Finck spends much of his time fixed on working with the six string and percussion alike, but the song never feels cluttered. Everything is streamlined, sleek, but sizzles with undeniable life. Jerad Finck’s steady ascent towards global stardom likely continues with this song. “New Kids” burns with exceptional lyrical content and an excellent musical and vocal presentation and shows his growth is exponential. Jerad Finck clearly has a strong musical DNA that is evolving at an impressive rate and moves with a sure footedness beyond his years.

Written by: Pamela Bellmore

Grade: A+

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Swirl - Ditch Day Soundtrack (2017)

Photography: Neil Zlozower



The power and precision of Southern California’s four piece Swirl has the sort of recognizable swing long missing from young, modern hard rock. Iconic bands of this ilk were always expert in delivering the hard-hitting punch required for this style, but they also specialized in a familiar swing that gives the song real strength and sway. It has become a bit of a lost art. Swirl, however, has a natural feel for this style that comes through quite clearly in the three songs included on the Ditch Day movie soundtrack. The tracks come from the band’s recent self-titled effort and are an ideal fit for a movie that has attracted a lot of popularity and notice from numerous quarters. The core of the band, guitarist Duane “DT” Jones and drummer Brian “Bam Bam” Jones, are augmented by vocalist Alfred Ramirez and bassist Shane Carlson. The quartet packs superb instrumental prowess in a package with palpable rock and roll attitude, but their lyrical content distinguishes them a little further. The three songs included on the Ditch Day soundtrack have familiar and intelligently chosen imagery, passages of pure virtuosity, and enough energy for three bands.

The first of the three numbers, “Spell”, draws lyrically from the genre’s long tradition but gets over in a fresh, thrilling way thanks to some subtle twists and how well Ramirez embodies every line. The rhythm section really jumps out at listeners thanks to Bam Bam and Carlson’s sharply honed chemistry and the tight focus they bring to their playing. Duane Jones shares the same focus. His guitar attack isn’t afraid to show off some flourish, but it likewise commands a great deal of fundamentally mastery that keeps the track grounded. “Rise Up”, the band’s most recent single, has an exhortative quality that defines a lot of great rock and roll and the band deserves props for putting it out there in a way that doesn’t overtly personalize it but, instead, relates it to the band’s large and ever-growing audience. Duane “DT” Jones brings the same combination of flair and fundamentals that filled the first track, but there’s never a gratuitous moment in what he does. Instead, there’s always reason behind his rock and roll madness and numerous passage sing with convincing melodic moments.

“We Are Alive” puts an exclamation point on the aforementioned song’s message. Swirl really has quite a talent for zeroing in on what hard rock audiences want and are hungry for. This song, as part of an EP release, would make an effective closer and works just as well in its role here. It summarizes the band and all their best attributes with the same concision and lean muscularity that sets them apart from the pack. Ditch Day and the band benefit greatly from the mutual association. This is big screen hard rock/metal that hits hard and leaves you wanting more.

Grade: A

Written by: Bradley Johnson

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Humprhey/McKeown - Tapestry of Shadows (2017)

Written by Scott Wigley, posted by Jason


Heather Humphrey and Tom McKeown first began working together in 2006 and found some initial success working as a songwriting team and peddling their creations to a variety of artists. It wasn’t long, however, until they found themselves chomping at the bit to take their songwriting vision and do something with it themselves rather than feeling beholden to the whims and professional vagaries of another. It resulted in five albums, thus far, of uniformly high quality. The latest release from the duo, Tapestry of Shadows, is a twelve song affair with the sort of focus and wide ranging vision we typically associate with the greatest of artists and acts. Their sure-handed invocation of Americana music never follows a predictable path, but contains recognizable elements reaching out far from a mere regurgitation of the style’s trusty tropes. Tapestry of Shadows delves deep into universal human experiences and has a spark of the personal that will draw in many listeners.

The opening track makes this apparent. “Beautiful” doesn’t go in for any of the trite musical or lyrical explorations of the subject and, instead, hits a solidly soulful and melancholy note quite unlike anything happening today in the genre. The album’s third song, “You Don’t Know Me”, has a bittersweet sentiment conveyed by a musical arrangement placing a premium on imagination over obvious turns. Any predictability in the performance has a pleasing variety – listeners can come to expect it and admire how well Humphrey, McKeown, and their collaborators pull it off. “Flower on the Wall” has a more traditional slant than many of the other songs on Tapestry of Shadows, but it never smacks of the imitative. Instead, it serves as one more testament to the duo’s ability to refurbish traditional minded material in a thoroughly modern way.

“Someday” has a light, relaxed musical feel and the trading off of vocals between Humphrey and McKeown finds just the right balance for it to prove an entertaining listening experience. Their lyrical skills are always welcome – few songwriters, singly or in tandem, are so adept at balancing the disparate elements that go into making a great song while paying justified deference to all of them. One of the album’s high points, songwriting wise, comes with “Sasha on the Carousel”. This image-heavy song has a strongly personal air but, still, retains enough universality to allow everyone to enter into its world. The slight elegiac air pervading the track gives it a faintly sad air while never belaboring the emotion. “Passing Shadows” opens up with some hard-charging mandolin playing soon joined by some strong and simple drumming. The song does an exceptional job balancing its attitude between alternating Humphrey and McKeown vocals as well as different musical moods. The album’s finale, “Sunshine Today”, has a bright uplift quite different from the earlier songs but never so out of the ordinary that it doesn’t sound wholly consistent with what has come before. It’s an excellent finale for an album that personifies all the best qualities associated with the singer/songwriter or Americana form while avoiding all of its excesses.

Grade: A

Monday, April 17, 2017

Brit Royal - Change (2017)

Some artists are just old souls. They emerge on the scene fully formed, for the most part, and the boundless depths of their art do much more than hint at promise and potential. Brit Royal is such an act. The brother duo of Mazin and Kais Oliver are hot on the heels of their recent full length release London and the single “Change” reveals them to be exceptional songwriters who have an ear for revealing performances and aren’t afraid to invest their work with wisdom shocking from those so young. Their talents greatly benefit from working alongside renowned modern production and songwriting masters like Mikal Blue and Dishwalla’s JR Richards. Their own vision and the influence of such pivotal figures helps them flesh out this fantastic single into something even finer – it’s a track older listeners can relate to without deeming it a guilty pleasure and one young fans can hear and feel a tight connection to.

They refrain from embracing big top production values and studio confections in an effort to get their material over. Instead, the song’s arrangement pins its success on some richly melodic and fluid piano playing that casts its own spell but, likewise, hopes to complement the vocals. It manages to do thanks, in no small part, to the space it allows the song to breathe and the vocals falling in all the right places. Another important factor in its success is the focus it shows. Brit Royal never belabor things too much with needless flashes and flairs of hollow virtuosity – instead, every note and word of “Change” serves a purpose and dodges anything even remotely smacking of extraneous nonsense. To carry off such bare bones beauty is impressive even from veteran performers but, from young men like this, the effect is slightly revelatory.

The vocals are bell-clear and show off phrasing that seeks to make use of the fine material rather than attempting to get itself over at the songwriting’s expense. The attention to detail at work here deepens the song’s sentiments and gives it an added humanity that makes the words all the more impressive. The well-honed instincts that go into the music working so well also work magic on a lyric that doesn’t waste a single syllable, let alone any words. The Oliver Brothers get to the heart of the song’s experience, weathering the changes that life brings and emerging deeper and more empathetic as a result of your survival, in a way that every listener can understand. Their writing never relies on melodramatic or clich├ęd effects – instead, it has a plain-spoken eloquence that is sure to touch all but the most cynical minds. Songs like this are the stuff posterity is made of. The timeless strengths at work in “Change” seem to come quite naturally to the Olivier Brothers and there’s a cathartic aura surrounding the performance that will satisfy the duo’s audience.

Written by: Charles Hatton

Sarah Donner - Black Hole Heart (2016)

The beauty of real artistry in action is that it touches the heart through a combination of sincerity and simplicity. Few albums you’ll hear this year better embody that approach than Sarah Donner’s Black Hole Heart. Her interest in altruistic causes translates well into songwriting clearly manifesting a strong focus on storytelling and understanding what motivates human emotions. The dozen songs on this crowd-funded release aren’t the first from this important songwriting voice, but they rank high among her most clearly conceived efforts. Her musical style has often been referred to as pop-folk, but there are a number of moments on Black Hole Heart that are purist folk in its finest form and distinguished by a melodic directness that connects well with a wide audience rather than narrowly appealing to those hidebound by tradition. The musicianship on this release is quite strong and Donner’s performances are rendered with exquisite clarity by the production.

There’s a thematic consistency extending throughout the collection that gives it an additional cohesiveness. Her first song on Black Hole Heart, “Phoenix”, makes fine use of this timeless mythological story and it’s indicative of how well she occasionally uses common literary references to make larger points. This is where she introduces the album’s concept of imaginatively chronicling natural disasters and their effects on those who survive them – instead of being heavy handed, as all concepts have the potential to be, she artfully explores the theme. “Black Hole Heart” has much stronger pop music elements but they are brought into perfect accord with the spartan musical arrangement and everything comes off quite stylish without seeming too premeditated. Her voice is quite wonderful, but Donner’s intuitive understanding of her own gifts extends to a sharp ear for framing her voice in the best possible way with gentle and alluring vocal melodies. There’s a real hint of travail and struggle in the song and the sparse musical landscape is an ideal match for the material as it is elsewhere.

“Athena” is another strong musical character piece driven forward by a steady pace and sparkling mandolin work from Brad Sicote. She gives the song a little more bounce thanks to an equally sparkling vocal. The backing vocals on “The Longest Road” give it an ebullient demeanor quite unlike anything else on Black Hole Heart and it helps smooth over the rough edges inherent to the song’s narrative. The musical backing, once again, casts a bright light over listeners and keeps you involved from the first. “Big Big Heart” swells with a generous spirit of gratitude and deeper truths that never quell its very human spirit. There’s a very traditional grace infusing the album’s penultimate song “Sinking Ship” and the harmony vocals joining Donner’s voice at various points through the performance results in a priceless gem near the album’s conclusion. There are many riches in this collection and Sarah Donner’s heartfelt elegance never feels put on or overly affected. Black Hole Heart will win you over early and offers more than enough to keep you coming back for more.

Written by: William Cline

Grade: A

Monsieur Job - Chilliando Hangueando (2018)

Written by Jason Hillenburg, posted by blog admin Toby Holguin and his compatriots in Monsieur Job are steadily upping their musical ...