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:  https://www.facebook.com/sundownbarbaraj/

Mindy McCall

Monday, March 11, 2019

Stephanie Rose release Sprout (EP) and Luxury (SINGLE)



Stephanie Rose hasn’t been writing, recording, or performing for long, but she’s already made strides it takes most performers years to equal. She’s already an award nominated singer, an increasingly experienced live act, and has one well received EP release under her belt. Her latest studio release, an EP entitled Sprout, shows she has no signs of slowing down. Instead, the six songs included on this EP reveal her, for newcomers, to be a singer and performer unafraid to face down a variety of material without any compunction – the nature of her talents is so wide she can convincingly handle any number of styles. The title song begins the EP with a decidedly upbeat point of view sonically – nothing is ever out of control here, but the playing rushes forward with a lot of energy and the inclusion of horns adds an interesting, if not unexpected, twist.

We’re back in a more predictable position with the EP’s second song “Rusted Love” but, even here, Rose tweaks our expectations. Modern country is rife with songs leaning more in an AOR rock direction than steel guitars, but Rose has such a natural aptitude for ransacking rock music’s sound while still remaining identifiably herself it makes her stand out from more customary fare. The third song “Luxury” has a totally different tone, pulling back the reins on any hint of rock, and instead going headlong into country balladry and avoiding any of its hackneyed tropes. The song has slower, much more deliberate pacing and works largely as a marriage of fiddle and piano. The latter instrument doesn’t unwind continuous melodic lines; instead, it builds its effects incrementally and the fiddle swirls and sways throughout the performance with bewitching lyricism. Her vocal really gets deep into the song’s portrayal of love enduring in the face of struggle.


“Old Soul” comes off like a throwback, for sure, but never in a roll your eyes sort of way. Rose is using this traditional style, a likely four piece set up with strong bass playing anchoring everything, for her own uses rather than just imitating the form. She has a remarkable way of writing about serious subjects with a gracefulness and easy sophistication far beyond her years, but chronological age has always been a poor way of evaluating talent. She definitely stands out thanks to songs like “Old Soul”. It doesn’t feel like a rehash; instead, Rose is refurbishing and refitting time tested traditions for a modern audience.

“Crushed” does much of the same. Here, however, Rose is back in rockier terrain than “Old Soul” and anyone who listens to modern country will recognize the style, but she diverges along the way. It’s subtler here than other songs like “Luxury” and the title track, but there’s a level of nuance and attentiveness in her art you don’t often hear from other contemporaries. Rose, time after time, seems to have an astonishingly clear idea of what she wants her music to accomplish. “Same Old Same Old” brings Sprout to a satisfying end despite its seeming light touch. The songwriting has more to say than you might initially assume, but Rose delivers the song with a wistful sigh and the character of someone unwilling to let negativity get too deep under their skin. It’s an ending well in keeping with everything coming before it and provides proof of another strong point for this EP – it is every bit as thought and fleshed out as any full length release and the running order is clearly arranged for maximum effect. It’s these kinds of seemingly small details that make Sprout an even more rewarding experience.

Seth Mitchell 

Friday, March 1, 2019

Penelope Robin “Some Girls”



Though the premise for her new music video is simple, there’s nothing ordinary about the sensational brand of pop that young Penelope Robin is dishing out in “Some Girls.” Robin’s big voice transcends the limits of stereophonic recording in her latest single, and in its accompanying music video, viewers are treated to a visual tapestry that is reflective of her unique talent, and moreover, the content of a song that reigns supremely over its contemporaries in 2019. Her swaggering lyrical approach invites us to embrace the confidence that she so poetically espouses in this track, and in watching her find joy in the simple sights and sounds of an urban setting, we’re inspired to revisit a childlike wonderment that exists within all of us, regardless of age.

Robin’s vocal is extremely well-mixed in this single. Though the gentle piano play that frames it in the composition is brooding and equally as evocative, her words are always at the center of our attention, cushioned between the rigid textures in the instrumentation but never crushed by their grandiosity. You could make the argument that her style of singing is so organic and natural that it would stand out no matter the backdrop, and considering the intricacies that comprise the melody in “Some Girls,” I would be inclined to agree with you. Robin is the type of singer who doesn’t need a lot of fancy bells and whistles to steal the spotlight away from everything else going on around her; this isn’t to discount the efforts of her backing band here, but instead to highlight how profound a vocalist she truly is.


The lyrics that wash over us in “Some Girls” are accessible and catchy from the onset, and don’t fall apart in the chorus in favor of adopting a predictably hooking rhyme. Whether you’re a big fan of pop music or not, there’s no denying the talent that she displays here linguistically; inside of a mere two and a half minutes of play, she weaves together a sharp, erudite narrative that is relatable across age and gender borders – something that, to be fair, is a marvelous feat in its own right. If she’s this adept at only 11 years old, one really has to wonder just how incredibly skilled she’s going to be ten years from now with a plethora of professional experience under her belt.

“Some Girls” is a fun but poignant pop song that starts off 2019 right for Penelope Robin, whose tremendous potential as a recording artist is utilized excellently here. You know you’re onto something good when a song communicates to the audience texturally as well as lyrically, and in the case of this single, words like “engaging” simply doesn’t do the subject justice. I’m eager to see what Robin does with her sound next, and further, how she develops her palate to suit whatever musical direction she wants to take as an adult. This is a very exciting time in the history of music, and with young people like Penelope Robin at the forefront of indie culture, I’m confident that audiophiles have nothing to worry about as we enter this bold new era in pop.


Bethany Page

Monday, February 18, 2019

Hughie Mac releases “Let’s Get Away” Single



The swaggering piano that drives “Let’s Get Away,” the new single from the incomparable Hughie Mac, marches along with a bass-heavy tonality that wants to shake us to the very core of our souls, but it isn’t alone in its daring pursuit of our affections. Lightly-struck cymbals adorn a modest drumming that frames the piano keys with a simple rhythm that instantly takes us back to the glorious days of big band and bop. Mac’s singing is, of course, the most visible strand of melodic might that we’ll come in contact within this single, but it’s unquestionably bolstered by the magnificent band supporting its grandiosity. “Let’s Get Away” is a take on “Let’s Get Away from It All,” the Frank Sinatra staple song, but what makes it much more special and significant than any other cover I’ve reviewed in 2019 is its modern, ultra-high definition texture, that literally draws us into a smoke-filled nightclub where Hughie Mac reigns supreme over the audience. This is Mac at his finest yet, and though it’s only one cut from his incredible album Hughie Mac Sings Some Great Songs, Pt. 3, it could very well be the record’s signature single.


From a critical standpoint, the swinging tempo is the main source of catharsis in “Let’s Get Away,” but it doesn’t stick out in the master mix as the primary cosmetic feature designed to grab our attention from the get-go. Mac’s vocal rouses our awareness of the contrasting rhythm lying just beneath the surface of the piano play; the vibrations in the bass warm up the cold, stoic percussive elements and set the mood for the chorus, which is where the groovy sway takes the main stage beside Mac and rocks us with its rollicking beat.


 If it sounds like a complex number, that’s because it definitely is – I’m quite impressed with the way that Hughie Mac took this song apart piece by piece and reconstructed it to suit his palate without sacrificing any of the original’s most alluring charms. I’ve never been the biggest supporter of covering material as iconic as this particular track is, but as far as I’m concerned, Hughie Mac is one of the only artists exceptional enough to give it the justice that it really deserves.

This single, along with the whole of Hughie Mac Sings Some Great Songs, Pt. 3, represents some of the most sincere pop music that you’re going to come across this winter and well into the rest of 2019, and though he’s made amazing music before this release, Mac has never been quite as on top of his game as he is in “Let’s Get Away.” The sensuous vibe of danger skewed with a swaggering confidence that the Rat Pack made famous well over a half century ago is alive and well in this song, and through Hughie Mac a new generation of listeners who would have never had access to this legendary passage from the American songbook will come to understand why it’s as treasured by critics and elders as it is. This is premium pop music from a purebred original.


Mindy McCall

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Dizzy Box Nine releases sophomore album


Out of sunny SoCal comes Dizzy Box Nine’s sophomore album, Pop Fantasy, which as its name suggests is a dreamscape of melodies skewed with furious rip-roar adrenaline in the vein of puritan punk rock. Right out of the gate, Dizzy Box Nine rocks the paint off of the walls, with the opening salvo of “Anytime, Anyplace,” the galloping “Yesterday” and the radiant “Like a Star;” each track pumping out a thicker layer of muscular riffage than the one that came before it. As we get deeper into the track list, it becomes very clear that Dizzy Box Nine hasn’t merely conceived a follow-up to their debut Electric Illusion; they’ve brought their sound into full color melodic high definition.

This album is a lot less eclectic than their debut record Electric Illusion. “Happy Birthday,” “Hello Baby” and “Maybe” all feature a streamlined mix that leans heavily on the percussion and vocals and allows the strings to shape the direction of the melody. On paper, the way this record is arranged is pretty familiar, perhaps even black and white, but it’s the band’s diversified tonality that really sets these songs apart. The tracks indeed seem to follow a similar formula, but if anything, it makes the final product feel much tighter than it would have been otherwise.

URL: 
http://www.dizzyboxnine.com/

The production quality of Pop Fantasy is absolutely amazing, to the point where every detail, even the subtler ones buried in feedback and molten hot bass, is given its own platform to imprint a unique texture into the ultimate sound of the songs. These riffs are as cutting as they come, and through the master mix they’re amplified to a larger than life size that is both formidable and still undeniably friendly and inviting, including in more jagged tracks like “Talk Dirty to Me” (a cover of Poison), “Lost and Found,” “What I Like About You” and the intriguing album-closer “I Won’t Let You Down.”

Even the two cover songs this record contains (“Talk Dirty to Me” and The Cure’s iconic “Just Like Heaven”) have the sporty energy of the original material. Dizzy Box Nine have such a versatile, well-rounded rock sound that they’re a rare exception to the standard industrial rule that covers should be reserved for amateur bands and karaoke club-goers exclusively. The depth of the guitar work on “Just Like Heaven” rivals that of the original and Dinosaur Jr.’s much beloved rendition, and you could even make the case that “Talk Dirty to Me” sounds a lot less hedonistic and trite in this setting than it did when Poison released it.

Whether it’s surreal pop that turns you on or a more focused, breakneck riff rock that you seek, Pop Fantasy brings so much to the table that you’ll be pleasantly impressed with these thirteen glitter bombs.

Dizzy Box Nine may not yet be a household name, but this record has the potential to elevate the status of this melodic California crew from indie sensations to legitimate mainstream threats. Their sound continues to evolve and grow into its own here, and I can’t wait to hear what they do with it in their next set of live performances.

Mindy McCall

Friday, December 28, 2018

Ted Hajnasiewicz releases This is What I Do



I-TUNES: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/this-is-what-i-do/1445264414

Ted Hajnasiewicz has made quite the career out of pitching us some of the American underground’s most opulent grooves and swaying strings to match them. Almost always these songs have been punctuated with an undying lyrical earnestness that is impossible to resist when you love a good country/rock crossover tune like I do, and in the singer/songwriter’s aptly-titled new album This Is What I Do, he treats us to the sweetest (and most somber) tracks of his sterling discography. Opening with the stone cold “This Town is Not For Me” and closing with the awesome “Burning Bridges,” This Is What I Do is an unforgiving treasure chest of searing ballads listeners won’t soon forget.

“Oh! Sweet Love,” “If I Could Leave This Place Tomorrow” and “Stars and the Sea” represent the buoyant side of Hajnasiewicz’s catalogue, while the more elegiac “Go Easy on Me,” “You Will Find Him on a Mercy Seat” and the suffocating acoustic rock of “Longing for the Northern Wind” are decidedly more cutting and direct both lyrically and musically. The duality in his songcraft isn’t lost in this greatest hits-style compilation, and if anything it makes his multilayered persona the real star of the show. You’d have to be a fool not to appreciate the versatility in his sound; it’s as attractive as his honeysweet voice is.

The balladry in This Is What I Do is indulgent and richly designed, but I don’t think it’s anywhere close to being excessive or ridiculously gluttonous. The raw energy of slow dancing twang-steeped songs like “My Heart is in Memphis” ensures that while these tracks have an extra coat of production lacquering in this setting, they’re far from reprocessed pop fodder meant to satisfy radio disc jockeys alone. These tracks have the streamlined structure that mainstream airplay demands, but their simplistic, DIY aesthetic is perfectly preserved and not intruded upon by the muscular mix.

There’s plenty of riffage here (albeit acoustically based) to satisfy rock fans alongside Nashville disciples, and I think that they help to balance out the brooding country lyricism that we come across in “I Give Myself” and the stirring “Wedding Coat,” which on its own has the look and feel of a much more dangerous blues jam than it ends up being musically. Guitar buffs won’t be able to stay away from the glow of “Oh! Sweet Love” or its counterpart, the stoic “Go Easy on Me,” which could be even more affective here than it was to begin with – if you’re able to imagine as much.

Bold melodies and stinging prose make This Is What I Do required listening for anyone, and by that I mean everyone, who loves intrepid heartland folk/rock free of the corporate chains that hold many similarly styled singer/songwriters back from reaching their true potential. Ted Hajnasiewicz has never had time for childish politics and industrial game playing; in this album we hear just how passionate he is about his medium, giving all of his soul over to the strings in 11 of the most decadent and emotional songs compiled together this year. Bottom line, give this record a spin this January. My gut tells me that if you enjoy music as much as I do, you won’t regret it.

BANDCAMP: https://tedhtunes.bandcamp.com/

Mindy McCall

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Rob Alexander - Long Road Coming Home



South Floridians know Rob Alexander as a well-regarded doctor, a faculty member at Florida Atlantic University’s College of Medicine, and an all-around amiable man and member of the community. Music fans have been getting to know him in an entirely different way this year thanks to his debut album Long Road Coming Home, which so far has spawned four singles, the most recent of which being the title track. “Long Road Coming Home” capture’s the same good-natured character that members of Rob’s family and community have always known him to be, but in the most defiantly soulful way possible. His music is an amalgamation of the softer side of classic rock and adult contemporary, and alongside producer and multi-instrumentalist mastermind Gabe Lopez he unleashes pure pop magic in this bitterly emotive gem.

Long Road Coming Home is a very complex record, but its centerpiece title track is actually one of its simpler and on-point offerings. It isn’t as sprawling and textured as some of the other material on the album, but it’s by far the most riveting. Rob croons tender words against a slow churning beat, each one of his lyrics spilling through the speakers like immaculate paints onto a canvas. He’s got every opportunity in the world to go over the top as he lumbers towards the chorus, but he restrains himself, allowing for the song to go on at an even tempo rather than suddenly flying off the rails. His discipline is something to be marveled at, especially considering that we’ve been living in somewhat reckless times for pop music.


Rob’s an amazing singer and songwriter, but his harmonies are what grab my attention more than anything else in this single. “Long Road Coming Home” isn’t particularly elaborate, as previously stated, but what makes it so magnetically alluring is its boldly orchestrated harmonies between Rob and the music. Gabe Lopez did a fine job of cleaning up the track to make every nook and cranny of the verses intoxicatingly inviting and earnest, and I think his work on this single is just as attentive as the artist’s is. I seriously hope this is the first of many collaborative adventures that they embark on together; they have awesome chemistry in this song and throughout the entirety of Long Road Coming Home.

I would love to hear this track live, particularly in an acoustic setting with just Rob and a guitar or a piano to assist him. He possesses a kind of raw skill that you can’t teach in a school or practice into existence; it’s something that comes naturally. He’s making the most of his abilities in this single, and I think he’s definitely on the right trajectory towards accomplishing what he set out to do with Long Road Coming Home in general. Singles, especially early on, are crucial to getting an artist the exposure that’s required to warrant making more than one album, and I think this one gives listeners a full-fledged sampling of what they can expect out of Rob Alexander in his future recordings.


Bethany Page approved and posted by Mindy McCall