Tuesday, October 18, 2016
“Highway to Your Soul” has an unexpected anthemic quality and hits just as hard as the album’s second track “No Tomorrow”. Keys unleashes the fires of hell itself with her vocal, but it isn’t an unbridled desertion of technique as she shows considerable finesse coupled with that passion during the verses. The album’s final great moment comes with “Amos Crain”. It is obvious from the title that this is Keys’ nod to the tradition of lyrical character study and it succeeds quite well because it meets all of its benchmarks and offers something new. Her lyrics are subtle and well-crafted enough that, ultimately, they reveal as much about the narrator as they do Crain.
9 out of 10 stars
Monday, October 17, 2016
Like any great musical release, Behind the Scenes builds on itself. “Realized” is the first song and foundation of the EP’s ambitions. It is musically dominated by a variety of keyboard and synthesizer lines, including electronic drums and bass, but it never sounds cold or unfeeling. There is a thick aura of warmth surrounding the production on Behind the Scenes and this warmth conveys a real intimacy to the listener often lacking in commercially minded pop music. There are small crescendos and breakdowns throughout the song that bring an extra amount of pizzazz to an already stirring opener. Huns’ phrasing makes the most of fine lyrics. There’s nothing in the words to this song that will leave listeners scratching their heads, but it goes far beyond the usual Top 40 fare in depicting her personal dialogue.
“Gone” breaks with the first track in its inclusion of rockier sounds, like electronically treated guitar, and a muscular chorus that relies a great deal on thrashing guitar lines to make its impact. Instead of the breakdowns and micro-crescendos heard in the opener, Huns’ approach her makes the most of dynamics – alternating raucous passages with much more restrained moments. Her vocal, as before, takes full advantage of the well-written lyrics and helps the song reach its fullest potential. Behind the Scenes closes with “Red Line”, a song that attempts being everything to everyone and succeeding. Dynamics, once again, are the order of the day and this song does a better job than the first one at manipulating the arrangement for maximum dramatic effect. The lyrical content here maintains the same high standard as before, but Huns’ singing certainly does much to envelop the text with even more power and passion than either of the first two songs.
Behind the Scenes sends this prodigious talent’s career off into the stratosphere. Juliet Huns sounds absolutely inspired throughout, as if she is fully aware that this is her big chance to reach the widest of possible audiences, and she never disappoints. Three songs may not seem like much, but she makes the most of them, and it is sure to leave her audience quite satisfied.
9 out of 10 stars
Friday, October 14, 2016
The Big Easy has been producing distinctive and original music throughout the city’s history and the latest addition to New Orleans’ musical history is the five piece The Good for Nothin’ Band. The band has songwriting ambitions and musical skills measuring off the charts and their lyrics often tackle adult matters, but The Good for Nothin’ Band doesn’t take themselves too seriously, but they likewise never drag their songs into outright buffoonery. The ten songs on their first album Maniac World are full of good taste as well – this is certainly a collection of musicians who believe in the edict that it’s the notes you don’t play that count more. Everything here is carefully cultivated, but it lives, moves and breathes like real art should.
“Fishin’ for Stars” swings listeners into the album with gentle ease and certainly casts a spell with its emotive vocals and strongly imagistic lyrics. The vivid writing marking this track extends over all ten songs, but it serves its purpose to ornament the music without ever overwhelming it. Much like the musical content in “Fishin’ for Stars” and the remainder of the album, there isn’t a wasted word or moment of excess. “DNA” pushes its way into listener’s consciousness with force and an inventive variety of tempo shifts that will keep new and old fans alike keyed into the song. Jon Roniger’s vocal swoops and soars through the lyric with the same twisting, imaginative grace. The title tune takes on a completely different stripe. The Good for Nothin’ Band are totally believable indulging the blusier side of their musical character, but there’s something a little stilted about this because it truly doesn’t feel as personal or close to the band’s sensibilities as heard elsewhere on the album. People will definitely identify with it, anyone paying attention to the world around them should, but it does hit with the same impact as the songs before and after.
There’s some edgy horns making “Bosom of Extremes” move, but nothing ever pushes too hard and there’s taste exercised in every lyrical, musical, and playing decision. The Good for Nothin’ Band picks their shots on Maniac World and takes chances with a few extended songs, but they keep things brief for the most part and excel with both approaches. The album’s last big top energetic number comes with “Lips Like Candy” and Roniger’s vocal, in tandem with the brass section, gives the song memorable added oomph. The production on this album does a really sharp, judicious job of mixing the instruments together in a very balanced fashion. The final song “One Last Call” shows off a considerably different take on the blues genre than the band’s earlier attempts. It has a confident, stylish sway that has great drumming dramatically guiding it towards a definitive conclusion. It ends Maniac World on exactly the right emotional and musical note without falling prey to the typical desire to make a big statement with that final number.
9 out of 10 stars.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Gorgeous melodic strengths, classic pop structures, and even a light dash of psychedelia go into the making of Seth Swirsky’s third solo album Circles and Squares. There’s no denying that the influence of Brian Wilson, The Beatles, and other late 60’s American acts hold considerable sway over the songwriting and sonic architecture of Circles and Squares, but no one has quite the same ear for melody that Swirsky does. Moreover, his talent for writing concise mini-symphonies is virtually unparalleled in the modern music scene and nothing ever feels arbitrary in these songs. Swirsky’s gift for words, melody, and arrangement are functional; the same beautifully focused economy applies across the board on this – his third release to date.
“Shine” is a perfect example. You’ll likely realize, after listening to the album in its entirety at least once, that Swirsky could not have possibly chosen a better opening number. The presence of piano in the song is key and helps push the song along in a surprisingly percussive way. Harmonies are another key component in the song, but it’s relaxed march contributes much as well. “Circles and Squares” is a title track that comes rather early on the album. Nominally, a title song is representative of the band’s efforts and, next to the opener and closer, arguably constitutes the most important track on any album. Artists typically place it at the end or in the middle of their releases, so Swirsky pulling out that particular card on only the second song is a lightly audacious move. It pays off. The rising and falling of the song creates a magical mood within a relatively short space of time and Swirsky’s vocal is quite up for any challenges that the song poses for a singer.”Far Away” moves him from the brightly colored pop of the opening two songs into something much more deliberate and plotted out. “Far Away” never sounds sterile because of this. Instead, it plays like one of Swirsky’s more ambitious songs and sees him attempting to cover his canvas in a much different fashion than before.
The mood turns coolly celebratory again with the song “Let’s Get Married”. This is much more reminiscent, personally, of George Harrison’s songwriting than The Beatles, per se. It is quite obviously full of much love and tenderness, but the fervor is modulated some by the distinctly laid back nature of the music. “Sonic Ferris Wheel” brings another side of Swirsky’s songwriting into play. The brash drumming and bright musical backing conceals some of the album’s darkest lyrics and the dramatic tension that create helps the song stand out as one of the best on Circles and Squares. Swirsky’s bravery is one of the most quietly impressive qualities about this release and his willingness to tackle thorny personal topics is inspiring. “Let’s Move To Spain” makes delightful use of traditional rockabilly tropes while underplaying them just enough to sound completely clichéd.
Few artists ever write and record an album with this many sides. The multi-dimensional moods and musical shifts Swirsky brings to bear on this collection is difficult to forget because, unlike most performers, it all works. These songs are certainly the product of much labor and forethought, but Swirsky has the rare gift for making them sound like they were always there and just waiting for someone to play them. Circles and Squares couldn’t be more highly recommended.
9 out of 10 stars