Sunday, January 29, 2012
Jessica Lynne is a rising country artist new to the Seattle music scene after spending much of her life in Denmark. I was a little surprised since her voice is pure country and it wouldn’t be out of place on 2nd Avenue in Nashville, Tennessee. She presents her new debut EP Spiritual Cowgirl as a taste of both modern and traditional country styles. There is an undeniable purity in Lynne’s vocals and a warm tone that really draws a listener into her songs. Comparisons to Trisha Yearwood and Tanya Tucker are appropriate in my opinion. “Singin’ Country” details Lynne’s life in Denmark and her journey toward self discovery and the desire of playing country music. Impressive slide guitar and a catchy chorus, with effective harmonies set the tone for the EP. “Not my cowboy”, a track about not being “the other woman” even though there is temptation, is pure traditional country. Featuring some fine fiddle work and a vocal reminiscent of Dolly Parton, this track is a standout. Lynne’s control and tone are remarkable and therefore this is my favorite track on the EP. “Fallen angels don’t cry” is a track about letting go of fear and the idea that strength can be achieved through having a good cry now and again. Pretty harmonies and a soaring chorus bring this track to the forefront. “Wheels” is a country rocker that begins with a moody tone and develops into a tale of scorn, a quick exit and a new life ahead. Lynne puts some great energy into the vocals and the payoff is a modern country rocker that would fit well on country radio alongside Carrie Underwood or Miranda Lambert. I was impressed with the polished production and effective mood this EP presents. Lynne is very ambitious, talented vocalist and I predict much success in her future.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Adena Atkins is an aspiring young singer/songwriter recently transplanted in Seattle after studying at Berklee College of Music. She presents her new four song EP The Slowest Curve as a representation of seasons changing as well as shifting relationships. The fluidity of nature and human interaction is clearly her inspiration. Initially I was drawn in by Atkins sultry soprano voice, which I would compare with Tori Amos or Ani Difranco. It has a distinct tone which lends itself well to her intimate song writing. A lot of imagery of nature presents itself as the writers vantage point is one in which she is peering from a window. The “window” may be literal as well as metaphorical as each track on this EP explores interpersonal relationships and opening oneself up to life’s possibilities. Atkins is joined with production and instrumentation by Jay Pinto. Interesting electronic synths, rhythms and various effects add a modern shine to some pretty melodies. “Glass” opens the EP representing fall and begins with an interesting synth line and electronic drums. The thoughts of a passionate relationship are intertwined with imagery of nighttime and tree branches reaching for the sky. “End of story” brings the listener to winter and the idea that sometimes relationships just need to end. A natural progression has occurred and a separation is inevitable. I thought the melody was beautiful and reminded me a bit “Mad World” by Tears for fears. “April Rain” naturally represents spring with it’s lovely keyboard melody and driving rhythm. This song sheds winter and exposes the patterns in a relationship and asks the question, why do we break up just to make up again? The writers answer is that we live just as nature exists, however one must learn there is beauty in these patterns as well. “Hot gray morning” represents, you guessed it, summer. As the writer misses home, staring out the window 3,000 miles away from California, I was mesmerized by the foreboding instrumentation which created an effectively somber mood. Overall, I thought the instrumentation and production on this EP was top notch. A very modern sound with great attention to detail. Atkins soprano has a great tone and her wordplay was interesting. I’ll look forward to Atkins growing even further as an artist. I hope she continues the path of a holistic approach to songwriting as this makes her unique in the singer/songwriter community.
What first struck me when diving into Vienna Austria recording artist Emina Rock’s album was the power of the lead singer’s voice. A combination of hard rock wails and bluesy soul stood out on the first listen. Amazing power and control along with a vulnerability makes it quite appealing. I would compare the voice to Amy Lee, Johnette Napolitano or Gwen Stefani on certain tracks. Soaring vocals really shine on this album. Overall, the vocals along with the searing guitar work and driving percussion create instant comparisons to Ritchie Blackmore era Deep Purple, early Whitesnake or perhaps April Wine. All quality references, albeit not hugely trendy these days, in my prospective. “Action Girl” has a catchy chorus and driving bass line. It reminds me Concrete Blonde. This was my favorite track on the record and I really like the pop rock style shown on this track. These songs are focused primary on relationships and love gone wrong which has certainly been mined for years in this genre but remains interesting here due to the blend of hard rock/ pop styles as well as some scorching guitar licks and more than a dose of attitude. Tracks such as the driving “Speeding on the highway”, “That’s why I’m screaming” and the suggestive “Bitch” are certainly empowering while conversely “Carry me” seems to have a Christian rock message though it could be this writer’s interpretation. I felt the track “I don’t need words” works well as a power ballad and the vocals are particularly strong in a Amy Lee sort of style. Nice acoustic guitar work on the pretty “I’m leaving” and “Carry me”. I think the record has a good mix of rockers and ballads which help keep the listener interested. The lead vocalist’s style would lend itself even better to pop rock. Overall the style feels a slight bit dated on some tracks but the production on the record is very professional and I could certainly imagine hearing some of these tracks on modern rock radio.
Florida’s Elia presents a late-eighties, early nineties style in the stand out track "Let me out". Similar to Da Lench Mob or Brand Nubian, Elia embrace a turbulent, raspy flow, with a funky piano loop but with Busta Rhyme type outbursts of anger. This track has attitude with a fat bassline ala Too Short, and in your face lyrics. The chorus opens up the track and has a nice build up before returning to the verse. No subtleties in the lyrics as they express paranoia, striving to spotlight life’s hypocrisies and bust out of the barriers of establishment. The track "Hostage Negotiations" is a rock/rap hybrid with a solid guitar hook. This is a defiant track, a revolution song filled with in-your-face attitude. Elia have reached the boiling point and will not be held back by the system. Synth intro sets the tone for the fast paced delivery with a strong chorus and nice breaks throughout. "Brap" is a more playful, free style track compared with the other two. The jazz horn loop lightens up this track even though the message is pretty heavy with defiance. I would consider this the "Party" song in terms of the music as it is funky with an old school groove. Overall, Elia show a defiant style with in your face attitude but keep it funky and loose with horns, piano and some catchy choruses.
Galveston, Texas indie alt-country pop wizard Tommy Larkin presents a batch of songs that speak of breakup, regret, tornados, earthquakes, corporate greed and annoying co-workers on his new album "Truth in Anger". What first struck me as unique was the tone and style of Larkin’s vocals. He has a style similar to Beta Band, Ween , The Frogs and in some instances Jay Farrar. The half sung/half spoken word style lends itself well to the acoustic guitars, odd assortment of percussion and quirky keyboards. Larkin certainly has a consistent presence and style on this record and knows how to craft a song with a sense of humor as well as a good dose of truthiness. "Typing and Cursing" is relatable to anyone who’s worked in an IT department and has a bluesy lead guitar hook ala Jack White. Ending relationships is a recurring theme throughout this album and I feel several of these songs may be therapy for the writer in letting go of the past and moving on. "The meaner you are" parts 1-5 may be a bit redundant but send a clear message that being alone is much better than a bad romance filled with passive-aggressive actions. I would have kept this to a single, longer track. "Something Happened" is very effective in relaying the cost of war in a very personal way. "Nicki Bradshaw", a song told in the third person accounts the tragedy of a tornado and uses nice vocal effects and instrumentation to bring the listener into the storm, but I felt the effects were a bit distracting from the message of loss being relayed in the track. "California fault line" is my favorite track on the album evoking imagery of earthquakes as a metaphor for a love relationship split apart. This track has a country feel, with some creative backing vocals. "Mississippi Canyon 252" is certainly a topical track related to corporate greed, lack of accountability and fraud. This track is presented with anger but also a sense of humor in the last third of the song. It’s an anti-corporate protest song for a new generation. The production on this record is fairly professional, more so than some of the instrumentation but when it all comes together with Tommy’s unique vocal style and message it’s really quite enjoyable.
Al Berman has a lofty goal with his debut album, Floating Wilderness. The liner notes read "I want to write a song that makes you feel like it could be the last track you ever hear". This is a bold task for such a young artist and the results are mixed. Essentially, Berman has crafted a breakup album most relatable to those experiencing their first "lost love" and its accompanying loneliness, while longing for the great times they once shared. Clocking in at just under 30 minutes, the album is well paced for this subject matter with concise, albeit, well-worn themes. Album opener "Run away" is about setting out to sea with a girl. Good choice for track one seeing the theme of meeting a mysterious girl is recurring on this album. What redeems this track and many on the album from a bombardment of clichéd metaphors , however is the soulful voice, accomplished instrumentation and quality production. Creative bass lines, solid harmonies and nice piano work are abound which equate to fine musicianship. Berman is clearly a talented musician and this album has a high production value. However the "singsong" style of "Run away" is a precursor of a tendency to craft overly wordy verses which emphasize the writers point in a hurried way and therefore detract from the instrumentation and the overall message of the song. A similar problem occurs in other tracks such as "Hot Air Balloon", "Reminded of you" and "Floating wilderness". As a listener, I was waiting for a bridge or a hook in the chorus during several of these tracks but it never came. In terms of lyrics, Berman relies on a lot of "Creative Writing 101" clichéd couplets, for example "lounging on the side of the moon, honey maybe it’s too soon, when i’m with you I feel like it’s June" from "Hot Air Baloon (Ragtime Girl)" and "Your eyes glow like diamonds and your body is the rain since the day you left here your name’s played in my brain" from "Reminded of you". Also apparent are the forced use of rhymes, for example "we could go sailing in the deep blue sea , mumbling incomprehensibly holdin hands and shootin the breeze". Upon repeated listens, these aspects tend to detract from the meaning Berman is trying to get across. On the other hand, I was intrigued by the imagery of "The Ballad Of Crotchety Powns","Lune", which was my favorite track on the album, and the straight ahead theme of "I Wanna Party". Berman will surely grow as a writer with more life experience and I look forward to expanding themes in his writing. What stood out for me on this album upon first listen however was the singer’s voice. Berman has a vocal quality similar to Adam Green, E , and They Might Be Giants with an interesting, slightly nasal tone that I found really fit these tracks well and combined with the accomplished musicians on this album, made it a comfortable, albeit not entirely intriguing listen. Berman has a way to go before he can claim his lofty song writing goals but I feel he is heading in the right direction.
The first thing that struck me upon diving into the music of Dublin, Ireland’s Simon Fagan was the thick, rich quality of his vocals. Comparisons came to mind such as Ryan Adams, Glenn Hansard , Ray LaMontagne and Devendra Banhart. There is certainly a sultry confidence in his delivery which is well earned on this EP and goes well beyond the “folk singer/songwriter” label into blues, rock and soul. I could sense the American influences in his music and was interested in seeing the direction he took. I was immediately drawn in by the pure, intimate and soulful nature of “Water’s edge”. This track has a sense of urgency and is adorned with lovely acoustic strumming and a yearning, soulful delivery. I felt the track could have been slightly shorter in length and still just as effective, however this aspect doesn’t detract from the quality of this song. “Tomorrow’s another day” stuck me as an optimistic track about letting go of the past and accepting circumstances as they are. Uplifting vocals along with a pretty melody go a long way in this track. “Something I don’t know” , which happens to be my favorite track on the EP, contains lovely harmonies on top of a eloquent lead vocal with a building piano accompaniment. This is certainly the “rocker” of the batch. This track reminded of the great Van Morrision. I was taken in by the soaring vocals in the last half of the song. “What’s the point on looking back” was very effective with it’s Dylan like quality. A folk song about moving forward after a breakup. Great soaring vocals and a heartfelt delivery stood out to me. “Tired of trying” went in a laidback direction with lovely harmonies. The Bluesey vocal style was very effective. Overall I fell this EP is a great introduction to Fagan’s work, both lyrically and stylistically. I get a real sense of the intimacy, soul and power of what it must be like seeing him along with his talented backing band perform live at a small club.
Garden Grove, California trio Countless Thousands brings forth a playful, propulsive shot of modern rock to the landscape where many bands have strived to reach. When first researching the band, it was interesting to learn of the dissimilar backgrounds each member had. Danger Van Gorder came from the choir group, Davey Munch was a former Jazz bassist and Jon David was a former Civil War reenactment drummer. Despite dissimilar backgrounds and influences, together they really gel into a cohesive band with a common goal and a successful sound. My first impression was the amazing voice of Van Gorder and the great harmonies throughout the record. Van Gorder is a top notch vocalist with a very commercial quality in the best way. Accompanied with the searing and often soaring guitar work and the propulsive bass and drums, these components really give this trio a big sound. Comparisons to Foo Fighters, Cursive, At The Drive In and Ted Leo came to mind as I was giving this record a first listen. The production value of the record is top notch as well and several of the tracks would fit nicely in a modern rock format. The mastering is not overly compressed/loud like a lot of modern rock these days. I really got a good sense of the record with the opening track, “Overture”. It sets the tone for the record with a dual guitar assault and a big drum sound. “Fickle” had a lot of energy and a neat effect with dual vocals layered. “Chemical exchange”, “Prom Song” and “The Patriot” all utilize great harmonies and driving guitar riffs to draw the listener into the song. “The Patriot” is certainly topical as it delves into the hypocrisy of modern times (“freedom isn’t free”, Fox News, outsourcing, freedom fries). A couple of effective ballads are also presented with “Asskickers union” and “Cockfosters”. The former being a self-referential love song obviously written from personal experience. “Devil” was a great take on a classic guitar battle and reminded me a bit of Tenacious D while the A capella “No contest” showcased lovely vocal harmonies and fine musicianship. My favorite track on the album was “Too close to call” with its solid melody and catchy chorus, I think it would make a great first single. My overall impression of the record is that of a showcase for Van Gorder’s wonderful voice and effective/often times humorous lyrics. My only criticism of the record might be the length. Although I thought the pacing and sequence of the tracks was fine, and the tracks were varied enough to keep my attention through 15 songs and the closer.