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.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Man Called Noon - Everybody Move (2017)

Written by Laura Dodero, posted by blog admin

The third outing from Chicago’s Man Called Noon represents a substantial leap into the future for the Windy City eight piece and Everybody Move finds their brand of intimate, yet intensely physical, music more alive than ever and, potentially, ready to commercially take off in a significant way. However far Man Called Noon takes their dreams, they will always be able to say that they didn’t compromise themselves to reach their goals. The three songs on Everybody Move indulge in a relatively wide cross section of sounds for such a short EP and the band convincingly pulls off that stylistic balancing act. Their music brings singer/songwriter level intimacy together with a soulful, robust approach to arranging along indie alternative rock lines. One of their unique signature, multiple voices exerting some sort of effect on each of the cuts, elevates these already fine songs to a higher realm.

The title song has an ambitious, melodic texture despite its condensed length. James Marino and Anthony Giamichael’s guitars rein themselves in for a fill and rhythm focused performance only occasionally bursting into brief melody laced passages from lead guitarist Marino. Giamichael’s vocals lead the way for Man Called Noon, but Erin Myover-Piotrowski and Jacqyelynn Camden’s contributions are important in this song and the remaining tracks. Much of the Americana touches creeping in on their earlier releases are, largely, missing with this EP, but it doesn’t lessen the impact of the band’s presentation on the title song. “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” has similar results. This is far removed from Americana and, instead, the funk and rock mix powering this cut is topped off by a superior vocal from Giamichael. The song is a little busier than the title number, but never threatens to overwhelm you. Instead, it has fiery rhythms and a rock attitude that captures you quick.

“One Last Ride” does a much better job of bringing a rock sound into the EP and it’s never inaccessible. Marino’s lead guitar is a pivotal part of what makes this work, naturally, but the rhythm section performance from bassist Dave Aitken and drummer Josh Fontenot keys much of its fireworks without ever sounding too heavy handed. Giamichael’s upper register bent is credible tackling a straight rock track and the lyrics are among the most effective on Everybody Move. Man Called Noon’s EP recording carries the band’s creative vision a significant step forward without ever losing sight of its foundational strengths. Anthony Giamichael and his band mates sound fully engaged with this material and it’ll surely ignite even hotter during live performances.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Michael Askin - Road by the River (2017)

Written by Laura Dodero, posted by blog admin

Breaking away from the cut n’ dry band aesthetic, New Jersey singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Michael Askin (once a member of the bands Divine Sign and My State of Attraction) has dived headlong into a solo career with 2 EPs to his namesake already available to the public.  2013’s Single Step introduced Askin’s folk-y, blues smothered country rock to the masses while 2015’s Ignore the Evidence cemented his keen ear for his chosen style.  His third and latest release Road by the River takes the next logical step with his sound by compacting the songwriting into tighter, gruffer jams that balance melody with an occasional bruising, blues-centered rock n’ roll wallop. 

The title track gets this eclectic EP started off proper.  Punchy percussion, double-tracked acoustic guitar jangle, smooth vocal melodies, Earth-toned lyrics painting a picture of rustic America and ambient electric riffs congeal into a number that’s more pure country than anything that the radio’s been playing for the last decade.  Subtle vocal harmonies and the lush, organic nature of the music is an absolute jewel to behold.  “Nashville” the song sounds like it’s straight out of the USA’s country music capital city.  Electric riffs with a wealth of slide, pocket beat shuffles and a searing, mid-tempo rock n’ roll swagger meld some brimstone wielding dynamics to the contemplative country mule kick. 

After an elegant acoustic guitar riff sets things up, an increasingly harrowing, electric-charged blues rock thrust invigorates the brooding, growly jamming heard on “Sun’s Going Down.”  Organ runs straight out of the late 60s/early 70s (think some of Savoy Brown’s work) permeate the atmosphere with American Gothic manna while intricate acoustic/electric bedding covers a sturdy, 4/4 rhythmic canvas.  Running a similar ramshackle road but placing the glorious acoustic malice a click over the scraggly electric riffs, “Hard to Make a Living” tells the woes of making it as a musician on the dingy club circuit.  Askin’s lyrics paint a very visual scene that should ring true for anyone’s that ever stroke out with their music all on their lonesome.  Musically, each passing moment adds heavier, bluesy shades thanks to dirty guitar riffs and a deeply penetrating, soulful organ drone.  Rounding out this short yet fully effective release, “Last Train” blows in on a breezy acoustic guitar lick that swiftly coils its melodies around Askin’s downplayed, crooning lead vocal.  Wailing synthesizers help the song build-up to a peak of psychedelic majesty as the track and EP itself come to a close and the result is nothing short of magical; another composition that takes Michael’s established sound and again tweaks the formula into something different from the norm. 

The five self-penned tunes on Road by the River are all killer no filler.  Askin’s poignant lyrics and vocals are a consistent highlight throughout and his mastery of various instruments from acoustic to electric give the EP a very dense, deliberate attack with each of songs piling on more layers as they go along.  Fans of country, blues, folk and rock should all find something to love on Road by the River.     

Sarah Morris - Hearts in Need of Repair (2017)

Written by David Shouse, posted by blog admin

Minnesota songstress Sarah Morris unleashes a potent doozy of an album in the form of her 3rd release Hearts in Need of Repair.  Fantastic songwriting, knockout instrumentation and Morris’ soaring voice are the glue that holds together an upper echelon recording that doesn’t have a dull moment in sight.  There’s groove and soul to spare throughout Hearts’ 11 rousing tracks with each tune being worthy of endless repeat plays. 

The title track is a punchy, catchy opener drenched folk influence with just the right amount of countrified acoustic guitar licks and Sarah’s skyward pushing vocals.  Morris also handles some of the acoustic guitar playing alongside regular band mate Thomas Nordlund while Aaron Fabbrini contributes exotic pedal steel.  Fabbrini carries over his smooth playing to the next cut, “Good at Goodbye.”  Lars Erik Larson interjects some percussive smacks thanks to his locked on work on the snare and the band’s regular producer Eric Blomquist ladles on a third acoustic guitar for a very vibrant, full sound that creates multiple melodies to follow. 

“Cheap Perfume” enters on a dusky, scrappy blues grind that eventually alters its mindset into up-tempo country.  Andrew Foreman’s electric bass grooves furthers the high noon shootout atmosphere as Morris’ vocals utilize husky lower registers that only highlights her many vocal personalities.  The wispy “Helium” moves at a slower clip and glows like the dying embers of midnight pyre with beautiful acoustic guitars glide above the supple support provided the bass lines.  The stringed instruments construct a rock solid foundation for Morris to paint hymnal vocal melodies upon.  

A duo of harder, more rockin’ tracks appear with the back-to-back attack of “Falling Over” and “Course Correction.”  Nordlund’s electric guitar is a centerpiece of both; bouncing off the numerous acoustic counterpoints that fill this part of tunes with life and soul.  “Empty Seat” draws the blinds, blocking out the sun with a dirge-y acoustic jam that’s equal parts engagingly melodic and heartbreaking.  Returning to hard rocking abandon “Shelter or the Storm” lives up to the “storm” part of its namesake by drilling electric guitar riffs into your cranium and offsetting with just the right amount of harmonic nuance.  The rhythm section explodes like a powder keg all throughout and the triple guitar attack is at its most ruthless right here.  This is easily the album’s heaviest, hardest cut and certainly shakes up the atmosphere like a vial of nitroglycerin.  The record comes to a close with a melodically contagious trio of acoustic leaned tracks with “Nothing Compares,” “On a Stone” and the piano-slicked, epic closer, “Confetti.”  Though the music throughout these songs is similar, each one has its own unique vibe. 

Hearts in Need of Repair is an astounding album and probably Sarah Morris’ finest offering to date.  The turbulent toss n’ turn of acoustic and electric guitar and bass, the generous amount of melodies and texture, the addition of dobro, piano, lap and pedal steel as well as Morris’ picture perfect vocal stylings yields an album that’s airtight in its construction.  Anyone with an ear for rustic rock, country, blues and folk will be unable to stop listening to this disc…it’s simply THAT good.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Joe Olnick Band - Downtown (2017)

Written by David Shouse, posted by blog admin

The funk genre lies relatively dormant these days with new artists and acts tough to come by.  I’ve heard a few but other than Alabama prog-funk rockers CBDB, there really hasn’t been that much stuff catching my ears anymore.  I’m a big fan of the genre and it sure is frustrating to have such difficulty discovering new groups.  Well along comes the Joe Olnick band to turn that problem on its head and me on my ear.  Downtown is this airtight unit’s SIXTH record overall…where the heck have I been?

Downtown wastes no time in getting to the point as the title track throws down some heavy, hook-y instrumental funk that’s got no b.s. and showcases a trio of kick butt musicians doing what they do best.  Bassist Jamie Aston catches a boogie woogie, wackachicka 70s lick and engages in perfect rhythmic harmony with his skin-slapping cohort Jamie Smucker who oozes class and quality with every jazzy cymbal splash and a barrage of swift-handed attacks on the snare.  Guitarist/composer Joe Olnick rockets his way across the fretboard; bluesy, FX-pedal goose guitar leads rock and roll their way into extensive, expressive solos and tasty licks.  This is just full powered soul funk that teeters and eventually levels its balance into a supreme mixture of jazz, funk, rock, blues and total catchy goodness.  Sharing a similar mindset, several tunes offer up a congruent yet noticeably different variation on a funk them; “Philadelphia Moonlight (Part One)” utilizes multi-tracked guitars for a clean/distorted double trouble blitz that’s totally settled into a mid-paced glory, “Food Truck” rocks harder and deliberately while allowing the bass to provide its own lead instrumentation and Olnick serving up five-fingered fretwork that nails some exotic high-flyer solos and “Rush Hour” is the kind of old school 70s funk n’ jazz that’s so damn good it could even appeal to fans of the almighty George Clinton and P-Funk. 

Elsewhere the album calls the dealer’s buff and takes free-wheeling chances and gambles with the stylistic side of the coin for the construction of some tunes that are totally different than anything else on the record altogether.  “Parkside” eventually delivers the rockin’ funky grooves but employs a lengthy, meditative first half that’s weird and angular in the way that late 80s/early 90s New York City noise-rock is and its companion piece “Philadelphia Moonlight (Part Two)” is a creepy odd man out cut that features guitar noise, a singular cymbal burst, an individual bass notation and creeping keyboards…it’s a total no-wave approach and there’s really no describing it.  Even crazier, closer “Sports Complex” is a fierce, voracious blend of hard rock and scraping noise-punk that still manages to push the fact that this is a funk/jazz band through and through… a really weird one but a funk/jazz band nonetheless. 

Downtown is a great record.  It’s great because Joe and the boys manage to merge tradition with trailblazing thanks to a refreshingly original approach to the genre that’s never afraid to step outside of its confines.  I could see anyone from fans of Coltrane to Clinton getting a rise out of this instrumental nuthouse.  Joe Olnick’s discography is well-worth checking out if you find yourself caught up with this album; recommended.      

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 ...