Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Grace Freeman - Shadow (2017)

Written by Lydia Hillenburg, posted by blog admin

This is a release that a lot of people will get behind without much persuading. Grace Freeman’s talents shine through on each of Shadow’s eleven cuts and she has a naturalness as both a performer and writer that is a rare gift in any era. Don’t make the mistake of lumping her in with the gaggle of female singer/songwriters who’ve appeared in the last two decades – Freeman possesses a singular, transformative talent that certainly takes in the right influences but, ultimately, speaks with its own certain and convincing voice. She brings in some other instrumentation on various songs, but Freeman confines much of Shadow to making its mark via her voice, piano, and acoustic guitar. These songs are so good that scarcely anything more is required. She inhabits these spartan musical landscapes like a knowing, generous spirit and unstintingly gives herself to the audience.

“Oliver” begins Shadow on a muted note, but the artistry is undeniable. Few songs of this ilk in recent memory share such an obviously sympathetic bond between the musical arrangement and vocal. Freeman’s voice locks into the guitar from the first and her phrasing varies enough at critical points during the performance to make for some interesting juxtapositions. “Shadow” has a quasi-classical air thanks to the inclusion of piano, but this soon gives way to the inclusion of drums and bass that takes the song into a more high brow pop direction. It’s one of the most successful tunes on Shadow and one can only assume Freeman agrees since it comes so early in the album’s running order. “Trying to Say Goodbye”, like the later “Dreams”, doesn’t overtly pursue the suggestion of pop in performance, but it certainly has commercial appeal in a way that other songs on Shadow do not. The pained lyrics take on an unusual quality, almost playful, when placed against the arrangement on “Trying to Say Goodbye”. The acoustic guitar has a near gypsy flair on the later “Dreams” and it prompts Freeman to respond with one of her most invigorating vocals on the release.

“Another Long Night” and “God Forbid” are two of the best songs on Shadow thanks to lyrics just as strong as the musical ideas driving each track. The former song focuses on the marriage between Freeman’s voice and entertaining acoustic guitar – the unusual bluntness of the lyric serves it quite well and Freeman makes no real attempt to sweeten its sentiments. “God Forbid” is reminiscent of Regina Spektor’s songwriting, but Freeman is a far clearer lyricist while still retaining the capacity for a poetic turn of phrase. This is a collection that will stick in the memory for some time to come thanks to the virtuosic songwriting clinic she puts on and the burning focus we sense applied to each of Shadow’s eleven songs. Grace Freeman has struck gold with this one.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

KALO - Wild Change (2017)

Written by Robert Michaels, posted by blog admin

The blues is alive and well, but many of the best bands still playing electric blues don’t restrict themselves to that alone and need a central selling point. KALO fits the bill. Their eleven song third studio album Wild Change incorporates funk, R&B, and singer/songwriter influences into its bluesy stew and the results are appropriately impressive. They are, likewise, distinguished by the presence of Bat-Or Kalo, a duel threat as both a first rate guitarist with great fluency and originality alongside her astonishing vocal talents. Her voice is flexible enough to inhabit any musical landscape and does so on this album without venturing too far afield of its core strengths. The production plays an important role in this album’s success thanks to the big screen manner it uses to depict the arrangements – they forever teeter on the brink of overwhelming listeners, but never cross that line.

The most successful blues numbers on the album are all nicely positioned in the track listing. “One Mississippi” kicks things off with a lot of gritty, yet finessed, energy while the bucket of blood theatrical fury of barnburners like “Isabel” and the title track help make the album’s first quarter as memorable as anything you’ll hear this year. It’s a true bonanza for guitar lovers. The title track, in particular, solidifies all of the album’s achievements to that point in a performance that seems personal and marvelously impassioned. The one time on Wild Change that they choose to pursue the traditional, slow meditative blues is on “Only Love” and they do the style more than justice. It gives Kalo an opportunity to show us the full soulfulness of her voice and she invests the performance with an emotiveness that any singer will envy. “Free” has some similarities to the blues tunes, but it leans much more in a hard rock direction and ranks as one of the album’s more pile driving, aggressive performances. Kalo is up to the task as she unleashes one of Wild Change’s most incendiary vocals.

“Pay to Play” is probably the most significant stylistic variation you’ll hear on Wild Change. This is an outright funky tune spiked with some sharply presented guitar that, nonetheless, changes gears in the second half and adopts that warm, brown sound we are accustomed to hearing on bluesy numbers. The juxtaposition works quite nicely. “Bad Girl” blasts the audience with a final exhibition of their hard blues chops and Kalo lets loose with another lung buster that sets up the quiet, muted finale of “Calling All Dreamers” in a very lovely light. We needed this song to close out the album and its tenderness is an antidote, of sorts, to the muscular guitar workouts characterizing so much of the release. There’s something for everyone who loves guitar and great songwriting on KALO’s Wild Change.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Dust of Days - Analog Mind Bender (2017)

Written by Frank McClure, posted by blog admin

Analog Mind Bender, four years in the making, reaffirms the potential exhibited on the band’s first two releases 2012’s Thomas & Grace followed by the 2013 EP Ethers and Embers. The twelve song collection makes the case that Frank Lettieri Jr.’s songwriting has benefitted from a quantum leap forward that’s allowed the band to expand its sonic palette into previously unimaginable realms. This isn’t a band content to memorize a couple of successful formulas and then milk them for an indeterminate time. Instead, Dust of Days aims to leave behind lasting work that entertains while making enduring statements about the life behind the work and the times in which we live. The production gives it an impetus it might otherwise lack and gives each of the four players a platform from which their talents and contributions to the band’s music can be rightly appreciated. Analog Mind Bender is a powerful release all around.

The album begins on a high note thanks to the buoyant energy lifting “Analog Mind Bender” off the ground. It’s an effective title song for multiple reasons but one key factor in its effectiveness is how it gives listeners, in retrospect, a template for what they can expect from much of the album. There’s some delicious mischief in that as well because if you lock into this song’s lightly melodic push as indicative of the band’s work as a whole, you’re in for a surprise. That tweaking of expectations commences, really, with the next song. The title song doesn’t prepare you for the aggression and seething intensity of “Aurora” – few songs on Analog Mind Bender are nearly as abrasive and muscular. Lettieri’s swing between spoken vocals and straight singing further sets it apart from the first song. “Mustang” delivers yet another stylistic turn, this one much sharper than the one preceding it. This performance shows their talent for invoking atmospherics and Lettieri drives it all home with an achingly emotive vocal.

“My Dear” mines similar territory but has, if possible, even more emphasis on atmospherics than what we hear in the aforementioned tune. It certainly builds to stronger, far more outright crescendos than the sometimes diffuse “Mustang” and the guitar playing from Jim McGee and Mike Virok brings a lot to the final result. “Death Vibrations” is a hard-hitting rock song half masqueraded as a punk rock tune and Lettieri gives the fine lyrics a particularly punchy reading. Some of the guitar work in this song is quite tuneful while still retaining an aggressive, jagged edge. “Porcelain” takes the direction in both “Mustang” and “My Dear” and offers us Analog Mind Bender’s most dramatic and thoughtful song yet. The fact that Lettieri and his cohorts are able to invoke such feeling and color within a relatively brief space of time is nothing short of miraculous during this performance. “The Shore” and “Ghosts” end the album with more surprises. The first song is carried by piano, strings, and Lettieri’s voice manifesting yet another side for listeners. The intimacy and naked vulnerability of the song is astonishing considering some of the bluster preceding it. Analog Mind Bender’s final track, “Ghosts”, is easily the album’s most structurally experimental moment as the song is split into two very different halves that, nonetheless, possess themes and imagery that neatly dovetail into one another. The four year wait has been worth it. Dust of Days are continuing their near inevitable ascent to the upper echelon of modern rock acts with the release of this album  and we can rest assured there’s more to come.  

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Chris Murphy - Hard Bargain (2017)

VIDEO: (“Cape Horn”)

Written by David Shouse, posted by blog admin

Chris Murphy’s musical journey defines passion. Rather than contenting himself reworking folk and country standards for his violin, Murphy is an accomplished songwriter who performs original material. He records often, plays live as much as possible, and passing on his musical knowledge to future generations in his role as an instructor. He’s a multi-instrumentalist who felt the drive to learn multiple disciplines so that he might better satisfy his creative impulse. Murphy isn’t an artist who seeks merely to pay loving tribute to the past; instead, his songwriting picks up the mantle of long standing forms and revitalizes them for modern audiences. His soulful and often literary songs co-opt traditional language and turn it towards personal use while they remain accessible to his target audience and prove inviting to any novice listeners. Hard Bargain, recorded in front of a live crowd, is one of the most memorable entries yet in Chris Murphy’s discography.

He begins things from a traditional footing with the largely instrumental opener “The Caves of Killala” before deciding to lunge for listener’s throats on the second song. Placing the album’s title cut so early in the running order indicates a level of confidence we don’t often see with albums, any genre, and the catchy power of the song can’t be denied. It’s basically a blues of sorts and Murphy’s voice proves capable of belting it out with the right amount of grit, gravel, and gravitas. “Bugs Salcido” is one of the album’s high points. The bare bones musical arrangement gives the unsettled lyric an extra shot of tension and the winding, almost trance-like vocal melody piles details on the listener that reveal the story and subject incrementally. “White Noise” and “Last Bridge” are fantastically catchy rockers masquerading as acoustic tracks and should whet anyone’s appetite for the day, if it ever comes, that Murphy opts to work with a full on rock band. The virtuosic violin runs are what truly sets these songs on fire, particularly the fine “Last Bridge”.

“Prevailing Winds” is cut from similar cloth but developed in a much more relaxed fashion than the two preceding songs. The relaxed approach extends to Murphy’s singing and its easy going charms walk nicely alongside the warm violin playing. “Trust” is a strong song but, as well, serves as an extended instrumental workout for Murphy that never feels self0indulgent. It’s always a treat to hear the wide array of emotions Murphy is capable of manifesting through the instrument. The final track “Friend”: is one of the most emotionally affecting number on the album and this desperate lyric benefits from an extraordinarily sensitive, patient vocal from Murphy that will grip many early on and not let go. It’s an appropriately beautiful way to end an album brimming over with heart and the spirit of pure poetry color many of its passages and lines.

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 ...