Monday, May 20, 2019

The Respectables - The Power of Rock ‘N’ Roll

Swinging with as much firepower as a vintage American muscle car, The Respectables get right into the groove of “That Girl” and impress upon anyone listening just how committed to the classic rock model they truly are. The subtly country “Wheel in My Hand” tosses some southern twang into its melting pot of melodies, and much like “18 Wheeler,” doesn’t stop sizzling no matter what volume we’re listening to it at. These three songs and eight others comprise the blistering new album The Power of Rock ‘N’ Roll, The Respectables’ first in ten years, and while they’re not glistening in pop polish, they’re definitely the smoothest work of the group so far.

If “That Girl” has the swing, “Give Some” has the missing sway, and uses it as a foundation for its brutally physical riffing. “Mardi Gras,” one of the more exotic tracks on the LP, bridges the first half of the record into the second without skipping a beat, and though it’s not as tenacious as the title track, it isn’t lacking in lyrical substance at all. The Power of Rock ‘N’ Roll is constructed with very diverse material, but it never feels like a haphazard mixtape.

“Highway 20” is a smart exhibition of the band’s terrific harmonizing as a group, and with “The Shotgun Seat,” makes for the most rhythmically intoxicating song on the album. “As Good as Love Gets” is, regrettably, sort of predictable percussively, but right next to it in “Oasis,” the jaded tone of the drums gets replaced with a surreal spaciness that lends to the introspective nature of the lyrics. “Limousine” is a little too stripped down for my taste, but it doesn’t feel out of place in this record at all. The Respectables had a decade to put this LP together, and you can tell that they spent plenty of time making sure that it was everything that it could be from both a musical and a production standpoint.

The Power of Rock ‘N’ Roll isn’t the only juggernaut in their discography, but I do think that it’s the most fluid and consistent release that The Respectables have chosen to share with us since forming so many years ago. The basslines are beefy, the guitars are crunchy where it counts, and as the music hypnotizes us with its seamless mix, the poetic narratives in the lyrics remind us of who these guys really are, underneath the hard-rocking persona that they’ve fashioned for themselves. To put it quite simply, The Power of Rock ‘N’ Roll is an identity record for this band, and it’s a worthwhile listen for curious indie fans looking for something fresh.

Lucas Kilpatrick

Monday, April 29, 2019

Victor Pedro releases new Single

Victor Pedro’s “Call Me I Need Ya” opens in a very stylish manner and has female backing vocalists nailing down the song title for listeners before Pedro’s voice enters the song. Pedro wisely never overburdens the song with an assortment of musical bells and whistles but, instead, centers his musical efforts on creating an uncluttered musical experience built around insistent electronic percussion and additional understated synthesizer flourishes flashing intermittently throughout the entirety of the tune. Many listeners, especially those who aren’t converts to electronic instruments, decry what they often label the sterile and impersonal nature of such sounds, but such criticism cannot be leveled against this song and its arrangement. The percussion and synthesizer emits genuine warmth throughout the song dovetailing into Pedro’s own intimate vocal.

Pedro’s singing is the heart of the song. Much like the focus we hear from the song’s music, Pedro never overplays his hand as a vocalist and concentrates on delivering emotive and well phrased lines while devoting much of his attention, as well, towards weaving his voice around the musical accompaniment. Unity is one of the overall strengths of this track. Each element feeds into another rather than creating tension and the inclusion of the earlier mentioned backing vocals complements him as well. There is no glaring chorus, per se, but Pedro has a canny skill for manipulating the lyrics in such a way there is a natural rising and falling in the vocal every bit as satisfying. He, likewise, fills the vocal with a tangible longing surging through each line with an amount of feeling we expect from much older and more experienced performers. To hear it from Pedro testifies to the vast talent he brings to bear on each new release.

The lyrics give him a launching pad for such excellence. There isn’t a hint of overwriting present in this track; instead, it goes right to the heart of the subject without ever entertaining any sideshows. The same emotional intensity fueling the musicality of this song is present in the lyrics as well, but there’s confidence as well coming through in every line. Victor Pedro’s words are convincing at every turn. Even a single listen to this track will make even the most casual listeners believe he, indeed, does need to hear from the subject of this song and he pulls it off with bracing effectiveness. Much of that effectiveness can be attributed to the fact, like it is musically, there isn’t a single wasted word to be heard in this song.

Victor Pedro’s journey from youthful musical passion to becoming a complete professional has proven to be an invigorating ride, but even one hearing of “Call Me I Need Ya” should likewise prove this journey is far from over. He possesses the necessary talent to be a musical force for years to come and we have likely only begun to scratch the surface of his considerable talents. This is a dyed in the wool R&B single with all the necessary attributes to make it a classic of the form.

Trace Whittaker

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina - Little King and the Salamander

If “Hey Everybody” doesn’t draw you into this album and bring a smile to your face, check your pulse. Some might dismiss this track as a throwaway, but that’s a superficial knee-jerk take on an obvious album opener brimming over with an affirmative spirit and inspired guitar playing. Bandleader and songwriter Ryan Shivdasani has a clear penchant for utilizing studio effects to enhance the atmospherics of the band’s recordings, but strip away the artifice from tunes like “Hey Everybody” and you still have musical gems capable of entertaining listeners in studio and live settings alike.

“The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina” is one of the more idiosyncratic musical and lyrical offerings included on Little King and the Salamander, no small accomplishment, but it isn’t so precious and far removed from the common listener’s experience that they will reject the tune. It has an unusual jazz influenced flair, but Shivdasani and his collaborators never overplay their hand in this regard and mix it with pop structures in a compelling way. The chorus is strong and has an abbreviated cascading effect that will stick with you after a single listen. There’s a strong cinematic texture defining the mid-tempo “White Light and Lullabies”, another song shaped in a big way by Shivdasani’s judicious use of effects, and he delivers one of the album’s best vocals with this track. The melancholy of his voice is well suited to the dark lyrics, but it isn’t a track wallowing in despair. The songwriting on this release is far too canny to ever be so crude.

“Particle Craze” is one of the cornerstone tracks on the band’s previous release Act 3 and included here in demo form. The Act 3 version has some musical elements absent from this earlier take on the track, but it is fully satisfying in this form as well and connects with listeners early. The unique lyrical imagery is something shared by all Merrymaker’s Orchestrina tracks and it testifies about the extent of Shivdasani’s songwriting skills that he can take unusual language and use it to fuel new takes on well-tested subjects for songs. “Together” has a rough and ready alternative rock take on another traditional songwriting subject, longing for a significant other, and the uptempo pace gains even more momentum thanks to the song’s uncluttered instrumental makeup.

The oddest points in the release come with the tracks “Jeepers Creepers” and “Definitely Not My Underwear”. The former track is sort of coffeehouse poetry gone mad with an unpredictable jazz infused backing capable of taking turns wherever it likes yet never losing the listener. It is quite unlike anything else included on Little King and the Salamander. The latter cut is a blast of psychedeliczed acid rock in the vein of early Pink Floyd or Hawkwind, but Shivdasani’s humor has a quality all its own that helps keep this distanced from imitation. The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina’s Little King and the Salamander includes fourteen songs spanning a wide array of musical styles and never fails to hold listener’s attention.

Carrie Logan

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Ajay Mathur releases new Single

It’s a song about making a decision on a relationship fallen apart. It’s about getting smart about your own life,” said Switzerland singer-songwriter, Ajay Mathur, in his official biography for his newest release, “Start Living Again.” The song and its accompany video are just a small example of the globe’s independent musicians making their mark in a big way. Mathur, who took home the top album prize at 2018’s Germany’s Rock & Pop Awards for his album, Little Boat, channels all what is best about indie music and all that inspired it along the way: solid songwriting.

“Start Living Again” is track number three from Little Boat and comes in at just under three-and-half-minutes. The mood is light. Not fun, or clap along worthy, but very earth tones and sun-like. I heard very strong influences of 60s pyschedelic guitars and percussion smatterings. Interestingly enough, Mathur was born and raised in India. He gravitates more towards acoustic and electronic guitar riffs in “Start Living Again” and relies heavily on a repeated chorus. While listening to the chorus, my mind wandered off into far spaces – and even recalled Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks.” Mathur’s lyrical contact sways way more into the pop rock world than a prose or gloomy-indie rock. With words like “They were only ‘things’ that we aspired not love for someone. Everything I was holding onto fed my fear,” he simplifies decision making in a relationship. And he seems to do with an inspirational confidence. It’s as though he himself as already been through the fray and he can attest to getting out alive on the other side. As mentioned before, his own vision of the song is about making better decisions.

Mathur’s decision to make this song pop rock is a wise one. Supposing this was more of a piano-based track, I don’t think it would have had the same reaction. I enjoyed the guitar work on many levels, and the harmonies the riffs created were very tight. The tempo is perfect, and it sets the mood for a strong start to a morning run, or even just a ride in the car to work. It’s probably not a slow dance song. But whatever floats your boat.

Mathur once again collaborated with video creator, Ciro Ayala, for the “Start Living Again” visual representation. The two previously worked together on “My Wallet Is a House of Cards” (also from Little Boat). Ayala’s canvas is one of computerized graphics and visually stunning, rich colors (especially the fire scene). He even gives a 60s filter look to Mathur’s facial profile. I can concur with Mathur that Ayala captures the essence of first tearing down one’s house before the rebuilding can start. Before we become anew, we must sometimes look in the mirror and discover the true source of pain.

“Start Living Again” doesn’t take long to get the emotional reactors charged. I still think Mathur’s lovely voice makes it hard to be angry or hurt while listening to the song. I do think it makes you reflective. It makes you feel less alone.

Andrew Brody

Brooke Moriber’s new album Cry Like a Girl

Galloping grooves join forces with a homespun harmony in an effort to sweep all of our cares away with the wind in “Time Takes It’s Time,” one of eleven tracks to be found on Brooke Moriber’s new album Cry Like a Girl, but this isn’t the only instance in the record where catharsis will reign supreme. From the pendulous piano play in “The Last Goodbye” (the album’s first single and music video) to the magnetizing melodies of “Behind the Scenes,” Moriber will stop at nothing in her mission to make us experience her artistry like we never have before, and for the most part, she hits it out of the park in Cry Like a Girl. It’s a little bit country and a whole lot of adult contemporary pop, and it’s a listen that fans of both genres might want to take a look at this spring.

Countrified grooves give “The Devil I Know” and the title track more of an edge than what we hear in the somber “Shattered Glass” and “It Doesn’t Hurt,” and despite the diversity in this collection of ballads and boisterous anthems, Cry Like a Girl enjoys a really fluid tracklist that feels rather progressive when compared to similarly stylized records out this April. “Here and Gone,” “99 Days of Rain” and “Steal the Thunder” are designed using completely different styles of attack, but they’re ultimately cut from the same meticulously crafted sonic cloth as “Long Long Time,” “The Last Goodbye” and “Time Takes It’s Time” are.

“It Doesn’t Hurt” and “Steal the Thunder” feel a bit stock when juxtaposed with the more calculated “The Last Goodbye” and formidable “Shattered Glass,” but I don’t know that I would go as far as to call either of the songs “filler” per-say. There’s a couple of aesthetical growing pains present in Cry Like a Girl, but by and large they’re limited to the cosmetic side of the songwriting (something that could be easily remedied in future works). I think that Moriber has got more charm as a singer when she’s flirting with Americana-tinged folk-rock in tracks like “The Devil I Know” and “Here and Gone” than she does anything else, and with a voice like hers, there’s never any need for external bells and whistles to enter the mix.

Fans of country, folk, pop and roots music should check out what Brooke Moriber is up to in the studio right now the next time that they’re in the market for hot new records, as Cry Like a Girl introduces us to her sound in a full-color, high definition setting that her caliber of content is definitely deserving of. She’s got a limitless ambition that is on full display in this LP, and despite a few hiccups, these eleven songs hold their own with most anything else I’ve heard out of Nashville in the last few months of 2019. Only time will tell, but if she keeps on this same creative trajectory that she’s been on for the last year, it won’t be long before Moriber shares a full-length follow-up to this fascinating first album.

Mindy McCall

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Francine Honey releases her junior album to date

Ontario’s Francine Honey has released a new album, her third, entitled To Be Continued and the eleven songs are among the best yet she’s committed to a recording. The album hangs together in a way few extended releases down in the modern era and she clearly placed much thought into the track listing; the dramatic flow of the album makes a lot of sense and peaks at just the right points. The songs rely on traditional instruments rather than stirring the pot with exotic sounds, but the arrangements are uniformly intelligent and reach emotional heights without ever straining to make an impact.

“Snowflakes on My Eyelashes” has light reverb on its electric guitar work that contrasts well against the slowly evolving violin. Another part of the song that will stand out here and elsewhere throughout To Be Continued… is its drumming; there isn’t a single wasted beat throughout the song and even the climatic moments refrain from rushing the tempo unnecessarily. “Stay” is one of the album’s most straight ahead love songs and has a mix of soulful wailing guitar and longing well in tune for an album full of first rate material. The slight barroom tint from the track’s piano never goes too far; another defining musical characteristic of the release is how well Honey uses piano on many tracks.

The title song is another example of the piano being turned to good use. It never exerts an omnipresent sound in the mix but, instead, helps accentuate the lyric’s dramatic qualities. Honey digs deep into the words, a look back on youth from the vantage point of many years later, and they avoid any sentimentality that might otherwise drag the tune down. She shows her penchant for sharp characterizations with the track “Honey” and the sultry physicality of the arrangement helps give further life to the track. Honey’s vocal is among the album’s best and she has obvious fun drawing a picture for listeners.

“Shacked-Up Sweetie” is a glorious blast of honky tonk with gritty snap in the guitar work and an appealing bluesy yet commercial sound. Some singers in this style might overdo the vocal for a song like this, believing the audience expects a female singer to belt this type of track out in dramatic fashion, but Honey’s vocal hangs back and focuses on getting the lyric over with listeners while also blending well with the band. The video released with this song, a single release as well, complements the track very nicely without ever trying to obscure its impact. It’s filmed with great professionalism and excellent composition; moreover, it never relies too much on the histrionics common to songs and videos of this type.

One of my favorite moments arrives with the song “Space”. It’s another of the beautifully rendered musical landscapes included on To Be Continued… but, likewise, shows how Honey’s songwriting often reaches far beyond the self-imposed limits of much in modern songwriting. It’s another song about relationships, in this case the aftermath of one, but has an unique point of view in the way it details the narrator’s need for time to heal and reconsider things. The acoustic guitar and piano driven duet of “Marilyn” musically sustains a well written tribute to the affect a long dead movie star exerted over a young girl and woman. The dialogue between those aforementioned instruments is well represented in the mix and Honey’s voice underlines the ghostly quality of the song. It’s one of the most memorable entries on an album that seems destined to stand the test of time; Francine Honey’s To Be Considered… definitely deserves consideration as a fully realized work illustrating her growing maturity as an artist and entertainer.

Drew Blackwell 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Barbara J. returns with her sophomore album A Box Full of Records

Barbara J. returns with her sophomore album A Box Full of Records and its three stunning lead singles – covers of The Korgis’ “Everybody’s Gotta’ Learn Sometime,” The Carpenters’ “Rainy Days and Mondays” and Poco’s “Crazy Love” (which features no less than Mike Webb contributing keys to the song) – and while these tracks are true to the classic framework that made them hits to begin with, they’re inarguably as original as it gets in this brand new, pointed execution. I’ve always been hesitant to embrace cover songs and have always struggled to appreciate records made up wholly of material written by other artists, but in the case of these tracks, it’s impossible for me to dismiss them as anything other than modern gems.

“Crazy Love” and “Everybody’s Gotta’ Learn Sometime” see Barbara J. putting all of the emphasis on the texture in the melodies that hold the righteous rhythms together, while “Rainy Days and Mondays” focuses mostly on her awesome delivery of the lyrics. In all three instances, she’s using the backing band to create as much of a mood as she is the stylish poetry in the songs, but each of these tracks displays a different approach to the recording process that, for all intents and purposes, Barbara J. would appear to have mastered.

These songs suit the style of her singing perfectly, and in “Crazy Love,” we really get to see what her voice is capable of when it’s given enough room to really spread out and cultivate a mountainous melody. The string arrangement is pretty conservative, but her vocal track is simply brimming with muscular bass and treble, cutting through the glowing verses with impunity. She’s come a long way since her first record, and I actually think that she should explore covering more material from this particular period in pop music history.

There’s an immeasurable amount of emotion in all of these singles, and though it gives the chorus in “Rainy Days and Mondays” all of its zeal, I don’t think that the vocal ever becomes so intense in the big picture as to overshadow the instrumental aspect of these songs at all. Barbara J. is the type of artist who pays attention to the littlest of details in her music, and as a result, her releases never feel lopsided or inarticulately constructed. If her peers could somehow find a way to adopt a similarly disciplined attitude towards making a record, mainstream pop might not be in the inexplicably trite mess that it is right now.

To say that it’s awfully hard to make legendary music feel as real and tangible as it did for the era of listeners who made it a classic would be an understatement of criminal proportions, but in the case of A Box Full of Records, Barbara J. makes it look all too easy. She’s on top of her game and dishing out some of the most sophisticated and sensuous melodies of her career so far, and if you ask me, there isn’t an artist around – in or out of her scene – making the deeper creative impact that she is at the moment.

FACEBOOK: A Gordon Lightfoot Retrospective:

Mindy McCall