Monday, March 20, 2017

Leah Capelle – Joshua


Leah Capelle – Joshua 


The three songs on Leah Capelle’s second EP Joshua are three fewer than appeared on her self-titled EP debut, but don’t mistake this as a dimming of her vision. Instead, Capelle’s skills and songwriting talents sound more distilled and refined on this follow-up. Her ability to get under the skin of a song is nearly unparalleled in our modern musical scene and are far more reminiscent of the facility shown by her avowed influences like Regina Spektor and the Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz as well as even greater icons like Joni Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones. Capelle, however, is her own performer. There might be clear influences in what she does, but Capelle never fails to set herself far away from any mis-tagging as an imitator or glorified tribute artist. Jeff Bova’s production work on this release frames it in beautiful light and highlights each element of the three tracks.  

His work is likely no better than what we hear on “Joshua”. The EP’s title song ties all of its instrumental touches together in a sparkling web of melody and assertiveness, all of it played just right and never over-stressed. The lyrical content is equally powerful; there’s a ton of details she uses to get her songwriting over and the way she tackles the individual passages varies from line to line but keeps up a solid standard of excellence that any of her audience will admire. The guitar playing and rhythm section work gives tremendous melodic import to the song without ever overshadowing her vocals or songwriting in any way. Perhaps the song would have less impact if she’d opted for a flatter, less dramatic construction, but “Joshua” is memorable, if nothing else, for the way it steadily climbs to some thrilling heights. The EP’s second number, “Out Now”, has a much more restrained presentation but adopts the same principles of slow-burning verses culminating in an exciting chorus. The great care that she and her fellow musicians take during the verses really sets a memorable mood that the pulse-pounding chorus expands on and the unity of the song, as a whole,  

“Who I Am” closes Joshua with some rock guitar bite. The six string flourishes are never gratuitous or plagued with over-playing, but instead fit tightly in with the rest of her own. The rhythm section takes on a particularly effective strength here and lays down solid, yet never inert, bedrock for the rest of the band. The lyrical content is the EP’s best, right behind the title cut, and Leah Capelle delivers it with an added dramatic emphasis that makes this stand out as her best singing performance on this release. The song shows the same white-hot focus that makes the rest of the release fly and it serves as a very effective ending for Joshua. This short collection is a valuable second studio step in a career that seems destined to have a lot of longevity. Leah Capelle’s Joshua has variety, discipline, and passion to burn in an entertaining package. 

9 out of 10 stars 


Charles Hatton

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Angie and the Deserters – Stay


Angie and the Deserters – Stay 


Angie Bruyere’s path is far from typical. The New York State native and Southern California transplant might have a bi-coastal lineage, but her voice is steeped in traditional Americana forms and she brings a ton of soul to everything she sings. The latest release from Angie and the Deserters, “Stay”, focuses on the band’s skill for crafting deeply felt and low key material without ever sacrificing an ounce of vibrant spirit heard in their more energetic recordings. Her experiences as an in-demand modeling talent seem far removed from the rustic and unvarnished charms of gems like this, but something of the same charisma and likability comes off of her vocal and lures listeners in. The song betrays the more country and folkie side of her musical character, but nothing feels or sounds like a pose. It isn’t difficult to believe everything about this song is ripped straight from the pages of her own life and the bleeding is painfully beautiful to hear.  

It comes through in every line. Angie has either lived this song, more than once, or else she is fine interpreter. Both explanations are likely true. “Stay” has a strongly lived-in quality thanks to the presence she brings to individual lines and the overall vocal quality. This is a singer perfectly in sync with the material and the obvious care she takes to shape her voice against the arrangement is a highlight of the recording. “Stay” comes from a long tradition in Americana and country music, but it never sounds like some slavish tribute. Instead, the performance comes off utterly heartfelt thanks to the aforementioned attention she pays to the music and the understated flair she brings to the lyric phrasing. In the end, Bruyere’s voice becomes an instrument in its own right and dovetails nicely into the band’s work.  

The violin playing that stands out from the band performance locks in with her voice while providing a welcome melodic and tonal contrast. It often has a slightly melancholy quality that the human voice cannot mimic, but also duets with Bruyere’s singing to often magnificent effect. The acoustic guitar and mandolin work are straight ahead and free from embellishment, but it’s their solid approach that the song needs and they provide Bruyere’s voice and the violin with a great foundation to work from. The words, as well, never reach too far and suit the songwriting. This is a pretty widespread experience we’ve all felt depicted in “Stay”, but the words leave things open-ended enough that Bruyere can summon a variety of emotions for listeners to hook into. Bruyere, moreover, sings with such emphatic feeling that she seems to be singing for all of us and that effect will be felt by many listeners. Singles like this, from any genre, aren’t so common anymore. Instead of feeling like it’s pandering some for our attention, Angie and the Deserters’ “Stay” sounds like something torn out of the band and beats with vibrant life. 


Lance Wright

Friday, March 10, 2017

Kirbie – Human

 
Kirbie – Human


Few performers today are like Kirbie. You won’t mistake her for anyone else. Kirbie’s newest release “Human” is the first single from her as-yet-unreleased second album, Melon Soup, and shows off her iconoclastic talents in a remarkable, yet compact, fashion. There’s a decidedly retro feel to the arrangement and instruments used, but the top flight production values place these traditional elements in a thoroughly modern context. She’s accompanied by a cadre of superior musicians who know just what and when to play without ever attempting to compete with her. Instead, the band seems intent on following the rise and fall of her voice and this attentiveness pays off with an even more complete performance than we might otherwise be treated to. The eloquently conversational tone of the lyrical content makes the song’s difficult subject matter go down a lot easier, but her immensely stylish delivery ensures that she’s able to get her message over with maximum clarity and minimal fuss.  

Kirbie has been plying her musical trade for nearly a decade in the DC metro area and its surrounding environs and the extensive live experience is easily heard in her vocals. Kirbie moves like a dancer through this song, slowing up when she needs to, adding extra punch to her lines when it calls for it, and presenting an unified interpretation of the song. It’s an interpretation that wraps up with the subject matter quite nicely without ever becoming too heavy-handed. The phrasing she uses makes the absolute most of its subject matter and seems to follow a natural movement with the lyric that grabs hold of all its ups and downs. It speaks personal truth to her audience without ever browbeating listeners with it and it’s difficult to disagree with her convincing presentation. It’s the vocal that leaves the deepest mark on listeners and few will fail to be impressed by her wide-ranging power and feeling. 

The musical values are every bit as strong. The keyboards and drumming, in particular, prompt a lot of key turns in the arrangement and never pushes too hard to provoke reactions from listeners. The percussion puts on a virtual clinic and spurs much of the musical drama; the hard-hitting intensity explodes at certain parts before retreating once again into a groove that the drummer never loses. There are some added bits of guitar, all artfully employed, that begin dropping in during the song’s second half and Kirbie keeps the length at a manageable place where the songwriting can make the most impact. All of her decisions, big and small, help make “Human” one of the most impressive new releases of 2017 and sets the stage for a whole new chapter in Kribie’s career. If Melon Soup maintains this same level of quality throughout, many more people will soon know Kirbie’s name. These sorts of talents can be ignored or neglected for a little while, but not for long.  


Pamela Bellmore

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Flashpot Moments - s/t


The Flashpot Moments - s/t 


Tim Cawley’s project The Flashpot Moments is one of the most impressive melodic hard rock albums you’ll hear in the last decade. His singing and songwriting dominates the entire album and it’s clear from the beginning that he’s a confident all-around performer who had a focused vision for what this album needed to do. The eleven songs on The Flashpot Moments never shoot over the listener’s head and, instead, connect with the audience on their level through a mixture of the personal, familiar, and anthemic. His talent for writing memorable hooks and choruses sets this apart. On the surface, such skills might seem rather easy to have, but it’s no small feat to write songs, time in and out, that stick in a listener’s memory and compel their bodies to move. Cawley, however, shows a seemingly effortless ability for this and his vocals are full of charisma. He gets these songs over and the melodies are his best vehicle for doing so, but he shows surprising range as a lyricist in this genre as well. 

“Strangers Dance” is the first song that really shows that talent for songwriting. Cawley’s songs attempt to tap into a common thread of experience we all share and this track does a better job than most of pulling that off. It gains added impact thanks to its straight-ahead, catchy melody and the way keyboards and guitar alike double down on that central hook. The chorus, as well, is one of the album’s strongest moments. The two track “’Splode (The Party Prelude)” and “Abigail, Mispronounced (The Party Aftermath)” might be a little too thought out in their titles, but they are musically entertaining together and apart. The songwriting is full of some understated, knowing humor and outright laugh while the vocals show a lot of variety to bring out the storytelling elements in each. “The Learning Curve” is a wise, hard rocking track that comes at listeners from the beginning and never relents. He keeps things well focused here while the following song “Hands Up!” toughens the six string approach while give the musical arrangement many more changes in direction than we hear on “The Learning Curve”. There’s less melody on these songs than we hear elsewhere on The Flashpot Moments, but the riffs still have enough melody to further engage listeners. 

“Can’t Wait to Find Out” is the last outright rock song on the album and, arguably, it’s most complete effort in that area. The riffing is much more tempered here than on “Hands Up!” and there’s an increased emphasis on the lyrics, but the ultimate emotional impact of his songwriting here cuts much deeper. The Flashpot Moments ends with the lengthy “The Last Stand” and there’s an abundance of vivid musical moments in this song living up to Cawley’s ambition for the album. This is as memorable of a rock album as you’ll hear in 2017 and it powers along with equal parts imagination and raw strength. Tim Cawley will have to go a long way to improve on this, but it’s so good that it isn’t difficult to imagine. 

9 out of 10 stars 


Montey Zike
 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Jeremy Poland & Lantz Dale - Timeless Soul


 
Jeremy Poland & Lantz Dale - Timeless Soul 


After nearly 150 live performances in 2016, Timeless Soul’s seven songs prove that Jeremy Poland and Lantz Dale have their act honed to a sharp edge. The songs on their debut release as a duo are well crafted, sincere from start to finish, and glow with easy-going musical excellence more complex to pull off than it ever sounds. The thing that makes this work so well, even in the confines of a recording studio, is musical and songwriting chemistry. Poland and Dale are tuned into the same sonic wavelength from the outset and their vision for how this collection should turn out remains remarkably consistent throughout the entirety of Timeless Soul. It’s this steadiness of intent and the ability to manifest it with rich, rewarding material that makes Timeless Soul stand apart from similar efforts in today’s scene. It’s hard to pin down, as well – there’s elements of Americana, rock, and pop running through it in equal measure and no one style ever really gains the upper hand for long.  

The first track has a strong pop oriented sweep. “All Yours Now” has personality as well, particularly when the chorus hits, and the longing communicated by the lyrics and singing feels quite playful as well as quite real. The acoustic instruments are recorded in a very intimate way, like they closely miked, and the singing has the same intimate vibe. “In the Light” has a more deliberative air, only changing up the musical direction deep into the second half of the song, but that change is handled quite artfully and puts this performance over the top for me. Poland and Dale successfully shift gears with the song “All Over Again” moving from the pop rock and folky workouts of the album’s opener into a much more musically challenging track that they handled with considerable aplomb. It’s near reggae like feel makes it stand out on Timeless Soul and shows their versatility as well. 

“I’m a Wreck”, however, stands apart. It’s the most clearly conceived song on Timeless Soul in that it makes the best use of dynamics and doesn’t seem to have a single wasted word or note. The intimacy is greater here than ever before thanks to the added fragility Poland and Dale bring to this standalone performance. “Where Did It Go?” will remind a lot of listeners of the opener and it’s clear they are created from the same school of thought, but there’s less of a contrast between the verses and choruses on this later song. The final track on Timeless Soul is the title number and it affords both Poland and Dale to stretch out a bit in the effort to leave behind a lasting statement. Very little of Poland’s avowed R&B and pop influences come through here and the song sounds much more like a product of the singer/songwriter school than any sort of pop confection. It ends the release on an appropriately beautiful note.  

9 out of 10 stars 


Scott Wigley

Friday, February 24, 2017

James Patrick Morgan - Art + Work = Love

 

James Patrick Morgan - Art + Work = Love 


The EP release from James Patrick Morgan, Art + Work = Love, is a stunning opener to Morgan’s career as something like a musical polymath. You can’t pigeonhole him into one particular style. Morgan has a strong enough voice to inhabit a rock musical texture, but he also has the chops to pull of soul or R&B influenced tracks, pop songs, and hard-charging singer/songwriter material. Despite the plethora of influences, nothing comes across too cluttered and there’s a clarity of intent picking up with the first track and carrying the entire release. Morgan’s vocals are vibrant and suggest he has a strong stage presence backed up by the skills needed to make live performances pay off. Art + Work = Love comes out of the starting gate with a lot of heart and a little attitude and, while he alters his approach from song to song, it never loses any of its spirit and energy along the way.  

It sets the bar high from the start. “Expected” has overall quality that any performer, at any level, would be proud to feature on a release. It’s jaunty groove makes it a perfect opener and Morgan’s clearly hot to sing it. He artfully tumbles through the lyrics, never stumbling over his phrasing, and brings home the lyric’s situation with eyebrow arching clarity. It’s a winning track and all around charismatic. There’s a rousing quality to “Alone” that Morgan and his collaborators play just right. The keyboards help propel the song along at a brisk enough pace without ever rushing its development. It’s one of Art + Work = Love’s more mainstream moments, but it’s never so poppy that serious music fans will reject it; quite the opposite. If anything, they will be impressed at how substantive it really is. Melody distinguishes a lot of what Morgan does and few songs show that better than “Sign Language”. The brief piano introduction is soon fleshed out further by compelling drums and strong acoustic guitar playing. It’s fascinating being able to hear glimpses in each song of its birth; it’s easy to imagine that many of these cuts began with a single guy working out the initial structure on acoustic between building onto it in the studio.  

“Right Mistakes” may be the album’s best song. It doesn’t have the same energy as the opener, but it’s an overall more thoughtful and considered bit of songwriting that Morgan clearly goes all out to elevate with his shattering vocal. The guitars working their way through this song hold everything together musically and do so quite nicely. His cover version of “Fly Like an Eagle” seems like a gift to his fans. He does a fantastic job refurbishing this Steve Miller classic for a modern audience without ever losing its connection to the original’s spirit. Despite this not being an original, it still reveals many of the same moves making the earlier songs so special. James Patrick Morgan is a risk taker – he isn’t afraid to reach out for his audience and lay himself bare to connect with the crowd. This is an EP that connects solidly with its intended listeners and should appeal to a broad based cross section of music fans. 

9 out of 10 stars 


Scott Wigley

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Matt Hannah – Dreamland


Matt Hannah – Dreamland 


Dreamland is a ten song album from Minneapolis headquartered singer/songwriter Matt Hannah. This second album from Hannah, following up his 2014 release Let the Lonely Fade, should raise Hannah to a place of preeminence among his contemporaries. The album doesn’t aim to be merely some memorable hodgepodge of different songs but, instead, is threaded together by a loose concept that seems almost novelistic in intent. The production presents all of Hannah’s songs in excellent fidelity and captures significant details that a less professional job would have missed while the album’s running order seems perfectly arranged. Hannah has really went the extra mile here; Dreamland more than reaffirms the talents on display during his debut, but takes a step further towards something with the potential to endure posterity’s judgment.  

He opens it up with a strong title track. Hannah’s acoustic guitar work is one of the album’s consistent strengths and the basis of all his songwriting, but the title track is one of its best illustrations. It’s joined at critical junctures by wonderfully atmospheric pedal steel guitar playing that perfectly complements Hannah’s playing. “Broken Hearts & Broken Bones” kicks off with some hard-edged, clipped acoustic guitar before the full band comes in. It never gets too heavy handed, but the song has a nice stomp to it and swings like a mother. “Dandelion” is much more of a solo performance than the preceding songs, but Hannah is a more than capable musician who can pick up a tune single-handedly and carry it to its completion. It’s his best character portrait on the album and the lyrics are full of delicately rendered details that will engage listener’s imaginations. “Banks of the Mississippi” has some electric guitar making low-key contributions near the end, but much of the song is dominated by Hannah’s acoustic guitar. 

The guitar means a lot to the song “Set Free”. The lyrical content is quite exceptional and Hannah really makes it go thanks to his energetic, but tempered, delivery, but it’s the instrumental break and resulting guitar solo that really seals the deal for this song. “The Night is My Home” has minimal accompaniment from other instruments except for a very light of touch of keyboards in the background. The center of the performance is Hannah’s voice and guitar playing. It has a tender touch that makes the most of the song’s melody without ever making things too precious. “Different Kind of Light” is a song with intelligent lyrics and a dynamic arrangement gradually scaling upwards in terms of musical intensity. These are the sort of dramatic shifts we usually associate with rock songs; Hannah makes excellent use of these turns to enhance what might have otherwise been a more delicate track. The final blast of blues on Dreamland comes with the steel guitar opening of “Gone”. This is, in some ways, the album’s most commercial track and has a strong musical and lyrical hook to draw listeners in. Dreamland is one of the young year’s best releases and transcends musical labels. 

9 out of 10 stars  


Charles Hatton