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Monday, December 31, 2012

The Wildy's World Top-12 for 2012!

I try to do a countdown each year of the best albums I've reviewed.  The blog hasn't been as active in 2012, as I have been working on some other things.  Nevertheless, there were some incredible albums I did get to cover this past year that deserve recognition.  So without further adieu... the Wildy's World Top-12 of 2012.

12 - Rob Morsberger – Ghosts Before Breakfast
Morsberger is stunningly personal, and prophetic, in an album that explores mortality, legacy and all the emotions that swirl around these two concepts.  Written before Morsberger’s diagnosis with terminal brain cancer, Ghosts Before Breakfast transcends humanity and every day experience for simple truths on deep and dark thoughts.

11 – Mara and the Bitter Suite – Unspoken
An actress/Broadway singer and a composer/musical director venturing into alt/folk/rock would generally be an omen for disaster, but Mara and the Bitter Suite find a bit of magic in Unspoken.

10 – Meghan Cary – Building This House
Eight years might seem like too long to produce an album of songs, but for Meghan Cary it was apparently just right.  Highly personal and evocative, Cary takes a craftsman’s approach to storytelling, weaving each scene and story to perfection against minimal yet striking arrangements for a listening experience you won’t soon forget.

9 – The Hollyfelds – Title Stealers
The Hollyfelds might keep a low profile nationally, but they shine in their home market of Denver, Colorado.  In fact, they shine so bright on Title Stealers it’s hard to imagine them staying just a regional band.

8 – SethGlier – Things I Should Let You Know
Seth Glier’s first album earned him a GRAMMY nomination.  His second, Things I Should Let You Know, is even better.  Glier is more nuanced and personal than ever, and maintains the intense musicality that has always made him such an intriguing listen.

7 – Nate Kimball – Warrior’s Journey
By far one of the best collections of classically oriented original jazz have ever heard.

6. Jodi Shaw – In Waterland
Jodi Shaw writes from the heart and lays it all on the line.  She lays out her stories and characters in wonderfully robust and ethereal musical arrangements.  The imagery peppered throughout In Waterland is nothing short of brilliant.

5. The Do Good Assassins – Rome
The Do Good Assassins are the latest outgrowth of Ron Hawkins’ personal muse. This time out he is helped and supported by good friends in creating one of the best and most divergent double albums of the last several years.  Personal songwriting, amazing lyrics and an organic feel make this a can’t miss listen.

4. Cara Luft – Darlingford
Cara Luft is one of the darlings of Canadian folk music.  A former Wailin’ Jenny and Juno Award nominee, Luft delivers one of the most compelling singer/songwriter turns of 2012 with Darlingford.

3. Rob Morsberger – A Part Of You
Morsberger manages two albums in the top-12.  A Part Of You is a song cycle written to Morsberger’s youngest son; a collection of songs to see his son through the times when Morsberger anticipates not being there.  This intimate collection is full of laughter, hope and the joy of discovery.  There is also a hidden sadness; a melancholy of the artist who is envisioning all that he might miss out on.  This is what songwriting is all about.

2. Jason Plumb and the Willing – All Is More Than Both
Jason Plumb takes his prodigious writing/singing talents and his crack backing band (The Willing) and puts them all to work under the watchful eye of Canadian super-producer Michael Phillip Wojewoda.  The result is Plumb’s most soaring collection of songs since his days with The Waltons.  In almost any other year this would be the winner.

1. Delta Rae – Carry The Fire
There are great albums, and then there are albums that transcend their time.  These are the albums that people look back on two or three decades later as benchmarks of their era.  I fully believe that Carry The Fire is just such an album.  From the alternating lead vocals of Eric and Brittany Hölljes to the alternative folk-rock arrangements that soar one moment and lie down beside you and rock you to sleep the next, Carry The Fire is the sort of debut album that only comes along once or twice a generation.

Nate Kimball - Warrior's Journey

Nate  Kimball - Warrior’s Journey
2012, TNC Recordings
If you’re looking for the next big name in jazz, you might be very happy to settle on Nate Kimball.  His list of credits is impressive: Chick Correa, Natalie Cole, Barry Manilow, The Count Basie Orchestra, Jessica Simpson and The Killers, to name but a few.  The 28-year old Las Vegas native is more than just a wizard with the trombone however; Kimball is a composer nonpareil who has been recognized by the International Trombone Association (2006, 2007, and 2010); the Reno Jazz Festival (2012); and the Nevada Jazz Society (2007).  One of his compositions, “Side Effect”, was recently premiered at the Monterrey Jazz Festival by the Las Vegas Academy Jazz Ensemble.  You’ll see why the accolades rain down on Kimball after listening to his album Warrior’s Journey. 
Kimball recorded Warrior’s Journey with four impressive cohorts.  Joe Lano (guitar) has played with Lena Horne, Mel Tormé, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Nancy Wilson and Henry Mancini.  Brian Triola (piano/keys) is part of Las Vegas and regional favorites Moksha.  Bassist Steve Flora plays the top rooms in Las Vegas, and drummer Larry Aberman has recorded with The Vaughan Brothers, Ric Ocasek, Wynton Marsalis, David Lee Roth, Daniel Lanois, Lionel Richie and Danielle Brisebois (to name just a few).  This will give you an idea of the quality of play on Warrior’s Journey, but mere words don’t do the album justice.
Kimball sticks to classic jazz stylings, allowing the occasional progressive wave to pass through the waters.  It’s easy to see Kimball and crew fitting into any era of jazz from the Big Band era on.  Kimball kicks things off with “Warrior’s Journey”, beginning as a sleepy rumination but moving soon into a quietly energetic jazz waltz.  Kimball’s trombone is stellar, but the rest of the quintet is flawless as well.  Brian Triola adds perfect punctuation to Kimball’s lead, and whips off some amazing solos of his own.  Perhaps the most impressive part of the song, however, is when Larry Aberman takes the lead on drums.  If you want to analyze what he’s doing you’ll need a couple of cameras and the ability to slow tape on playback.  It’s amazing.
“Way Station” shows the same sort of breakdown of duties, with Kimball taking the lead, but passing it around for all to share.  What’s most impressive is how seamlessly Kimball’s quintet moves together, never seeming to miss a beat or an exchange.  “Far Away” has a distinctive, melancholy, blue-jazz feel.  Kimball brings emotions alive in the lyric trombone lines, while Brian Triola creates a bit of rhythmic dissonance that helps to appropriately shade the mood.  There is magic here.  “Road To La Coruna” takes a on a subtle Latin jazz sound, and features some of the best low-key work on the album.  Things get a bit more progressive on “Hello World”, with Kimball himself getting aggressive in his soloing style.  Triola picks up this vibe and runs with it, getting into a Vince Guaraldi groove that’s mellow yet not.  “Back Home” is an interesting closer.  You might say the ensemble play is a bit looser here, as Kimball et. al. look to push the boundaries with some off-the-cuff and speed-based solos.
Nate Kimball shows his worth as a composer, bandleader and musician on Warrior’s Journey.  With a killer supporting cast, and some of the best original jazz of 2012, Kimball challenges the world of modern jazz with a traditional-leaning album that reinvigorates the art form the way artists like Miles Davis, J.J. Johnson, Dizzy Gillespie and Harry Connick, Jr. have done before him.  Thirty years from now you’ll hear jazz aficionados discussing Kimball in the same reverent tones.
Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Lisa Matassa - Somebody's Baby

Lisa Matassa - Somebody's Baby
2012, It Is What It Is Records
Lisa Matassa’s voice might ring a faint bell if you were a fan of dance pop back in the late 1980’s.  Signed soon after she graduated from high school by Emergency Records, Matassa had two top-ten dance singles under the name Lisa Lynn.  Matassa quickly gravitated toward original rock and roll, but her label went out of business and Matassa settled into life.  Still, she fronted a club band on Long Island for 20 years, and in 2010 found here way to Nashville with childhood friend and producer Joey Sykes.  The EP resulting from those sessions, Me Time, blended country, pop and classic southern rock.  Matassa continues that sound on her latest effort, Somebody’s Baby.

Matassa kicks things off with the powerful country/rock of "Somebody's Baby", a message of love from mother to daughter. This is a powerful tune with a kicking arrangement that will have your toes tapping. The momentum carries through to "Wouldn't You Like To Know", a paean to the secret conversations between women out at a bar on a Saturday night. Matassa's playful vocal and the rebellious rock and roll arrangement are a joyous match.

"Girl With A Rock N Roll Heart" finds Matassa recalling her youth and over the top tendencies. This is a feel good song about being yourself and chasing your dreams, and it’s incredibly catchy mix of classic rock and country has serious crossover potential. "Learning As You Grow" is a sweet song written from mother to child that's not so much apologetic as it is realistic about trying to good parent. Matassa's cover of Bryan Adams' "Heaven" is reverent to the original, but adds an orchestral country aspect that seems fitting.

Even more impressive is Matassa's cover of "I Will Always Love You", combining the sweet vulnerability of Dolly Parton's original with some of the soul and strength of the Whitney Houston cover. Matassa winds down with a solid rendition of "The Christmas Song" just in time for the holiday season. The song has a classic sound as interpreted here, and Matassa makes it hers without making it over.

Lisa Matassa has a voice that can croon a classic or belt out a rock and roll anthem. She's like a female Garth Brooks, part country star and part rock n roll queen. Somebody's Baby has it all: Bombast, sweetness, grit and heart. Not to mention a voice that will leave you begin for more. Welcome to the world Lisa Matassa. Country music has been pining for a voice like yours.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (out of 5)
Learn more at

Friday, December 28, 2012

Les Misérables: Highlights From the Motion Picture Soundtrack

Les Misérables: Highlights From the Motion Picture Soundtrack
2012, Universal Republic
Editors note: I have always strived not to be negative on this blog.  However, I consider this a public service. - Wildy

Les Misérables, the long awaited screen adaptation of the Tony Award winning musical, hit theaters on Christmas Day. We received the soundtrack in the days before Christmas, and my visceral reaction to the album was so bluntly negative that I chose to wait and give it another chance. Suffice it to say that my prior plans to go see the film in the theater has been permanently set aside, as I cannot imagine paying to sit through a film featuring the sort of community theater performances in the film.

Russell Crowe is a primary villain, both in the film and to fans of the musical. Crowe is unable to summon the voice or charisma required to portray Javert. The result is an impotent and ineffective villain who leaves Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean) to carry the story. Unfortunately Jackman isn't up to the task, between over-emotive vocal passages and strained attempts to carry some of the more challenging songs in the score.  Even Sacha Baron Cohen, who landed the plum role of Monsieur Thenardier, is woefully miscast. The role, generally an over-the-top show stopper that serves as comic relief is so underplayed as to be boring. The fact that he can't seem to decide whether he's singing in a French or English accent simply adds to the woe.  Helena Bonham Carter is simply lifeless as Madame Thenardier.
Aaron Tveit stands out as Enjolras, outshining Eddie Remayne in his turn as the lovelorn revolutionary Marius. Remayne steps up for the duet "In My Life", which also features a frightened sounding Amanda Seyfried as Cosette and an utterly amazing Samantha Barks as Eponine.  We should also note that young Isabelle Allen shows off an amazing voice in the role of young Cosette.  She will be one to watch.

Many of the movie's signature songs pale in comparison to any one of a number of cast recordings available. Jackman's run through "Bring Him Home" is painfully strained. Likewise Anne Hathaway and "I Dreamed A Dream" and the usually inspiring "One Day More". None live up to their histories in the film version. Hathaway is at least passable, but simply doesn't have the voice or vocal charisma to carry the role.

"Javert's Suicide" simply can't be over soon enough, and is perhaps only outshone for utter lack of heart by Russell Crowe's ineffective stumble through "Stars". The soundtrack closes well with the powerful "Empty Chairs At Empty Tables", even with the afterthought of "Epilogue". Curiously enough, original Jean Valjean Colm Wilkinson was cast in the film version as The Bishop. While Wilkinson easily has the finest voice in the cast, he is stuck in a role here where he never gets to use it fully. It's a nod in homage, but to put him anywhere else would have upstaged the rest of the players.

It's sad, really. Sad to see a majestic show with a soaring musical score cynically cast by a major corporation more interested in fielding eye candy than real talent for musical theater. Hugh Jackman has been playing on his appeal for years, but it simply doesn't carry the weight here. Anne Hathaway and Eddie Remayne are both solid but would be hard pressed to carry their roles on stage. Russell Crowe is just plain awful here, creating a distinct list in the balance of power of the movie.  The real talents here are stuck in smaller roles where there is less risk of upstaging the principals. Samantha Barks, Isabelle Allen and Aaron Tveit shine brightly, if briefly, and Colm Wilkinson's sublime voice is never truly heard.
Even the one original song (“Suddenly) offered here seems as if it was added more for Oscar consideration than anything else, and is pretty well bludgeoned by Jackman in any case.   If you've spent the past 20 years or so waiting for the magic of Les Misérables to grace the silver screen, you've longer still to wait. Finding a local or regional stage production of the show might be more fruitful.

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)
You can learn more about the film at  You’d be better off sticking with the musical though, at 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mara And The Bitter Suite - Unspoken

Mara and the Bitter Suite – Unspoken
2012, Adam Waite & Mara Davi
Mara and the Bitter Suite plays on the combined talents of Broadway actress/singer Mara Davi and composer/conductor Adam Waite.  Davi has graced the stages of the Great White Way in productions of The Drowsy Chaperone, A Chorus Line and White Christmas.  You might also have seen her playing Bianca Sanfino in Blue Bloods.  Adam Waite is the Co-Artistic Director and Resident Conductor for Lyrica Chamber Music.  He’s worked with dozens of Broadway Casts as a musical supervisor, and serves as a Director for Broadway’s Carols For A Cure.  He’s also won several ASCAP awards for original compositions.  The Tonawanda, NY native has been lauded by the L.A. times for his work, and has performed on Good Morning America, as well as at New York’s Birdland and at the opening Gala for the Walt Disney Concert Hall.  The fact is that Mara Davi can flat out sing, and Adam Waite has an ability to craft arrangements that fit perfectly to her voice.

Unspoken unfurls with uncertain opening strains of "Solo", with a stumbling guitar walking Davi along. On the second pass things become more certain. It's a wonderfully artistic expression of finding oneself again on the other side of a relationship. The quiet strength that grows here is inspiring, wrapped as it is in an essential goodness that is palpable. "Playground Song" uses hand rhythms and the unfettered dreams of youth to sketch out a carpe diem vision of the future. The arrangement is a perfect mix of simplicity and complexity, with Davi's voice bridging that gap in precarious and pretty fashion.

"Walking Thru Water" is built on a contemplative melancholy vaguely reminiscent of early REM. The difference, of course, is Davi's gorgeous voice full of quiet accusations and even quieter hopes. This number ends in ethereal folk fashion, with voices layering and creating beautiful echoes that are both there and not there. "Hurricane" opens as part of an incessant if unobtrusive dance beat but turns into a new age pop number. This is relatively unsatisfying even in spite of Davi's voice.

"Clover And Clementine" finds Mara & The Bitter Suite at their very best in a song about personal heavens and perfect moments. The light, airy feel of the song is sweet, and you could imagine this being a surprise hit on commercial radio. On "Lighthouse", Mara and the Bitter Suite" delve into the lonely quiet of the heart of a woman whose love is at sea. Whether taken figuratively or literally this is a thing of beauty, and when Davi wails in her anguish toward the end, you can feel the unwinding of her heart strings plucking one by one.

"Unspoken" is about the strings of memory that tie old flames together. In this case it's a shared melody that will never mean anything to anyone but them. This quiet meditation is aesthetically lovely but carries a universal weight that is hard to ignore. On "Lay Your Battle Down", Davi offers up her edgiest vocal work of the album. The darkness here is underwritten with a gritty sort of hope, with beauty just a swipe of the hand away. Unspoken closes with "When I". If there has ever been such a thing as pure poetry on the form of a quiet pop song then this is it. Davi waxes poetic about movie stars such as Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. This is a tear jerker; a moment of utter aesthetic bliss brought to you by a flawless arrangement and the angelic voice of Mara Davi.
Mari Davi and Adam Waite would seem to be a perfect match, as evidenced by their collaborations on Mara And The Bitter Suite’s Unspoken.  There are perhaps a couple of slow moments but not a stumble is in evidence, and there’s a certain chemistry within the songs that speaks of connections that are deeply musical and bordering on spiritual.  Unspoken wants to be an alternative pop/rock experience, and manages to get there but relies on some artfully theatrical songwriting.  Davi handles all of this with the aplomb of a seasoned veteran of the stage, and a voice that stops people in their tracks.  All the while Waite is behind the curtain pulling the musical strings that back her up.  The result is a brilliant mix of talents and sounds.  Unspoken is well off the beaten path, and very much worth the detour.
Rating:  4.5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more at 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Tchiya Amet – Celestial Folk Music

Tchiya Amet – Celestial Folk Music
2012, Tchiya Amet
Tchiya Amet is a musician, healer and teacher with deep thoughts about the direction of the world.  Her sophomore album, Celestial Folk Music, runs the gamut of musical styles and sounds while Amet waxes poetic on the human footprint and healing.  Amet’s voice is intriguing, though not fit to every song and situation.  What is abundantly clear is that Amet is invested in trying to make the world a better place.

Amet opens with a blend of reggae, pop and classic R&B on "Esho Funi". A slickly produced arrangement is paired with Japanese philosophy and comes out sounding like a commercial for the United Nations. The repetitive nature of the song and the chant like nature of the vocals more preachy than informative, and the song is unlikely to sway anyone's thinking. "Keep Chanting" builds on the concepts of interconnected was and transcendence. Once again, the composition and production are solid, but the song wears a bit thin before even a single cycle is completed. "Master Of Desire" returns to the reggae vibe for a messy and disorganized musical oversimplification of Lao Tzu.

"Love & Joy" takes a lackadaisical pop approach to desire, a seemingly out of step subject up against the prior song. "Egyptian Blues" mixes African rhythms, middle eastern sounds, and no sense or sound of the blues in a misnamed but otherwise sonically appealing song. Amet's voice is perfectly placed here. "Ast-Maat: R U Sirius Enuff" contemplates the need to free oneself from evil in order to enter the gates of heaven, and applies new age principals to classical religious themes. This is all done against the backdrop of a tremendously subtle groove.

Amet gets stuck in a rut mid-album, slowing to a crawl on "Po Tolo". The musical malaise continued throughout "Where The Dog Ran" and "Fire Water", with the latter brings to light existing gaps in Amet's breath control. "Equinox" shows at least a partial revival, with a quiet groove finding its way back into the mix. "Precession Of The Equinox" is a solid musical composition that is highlighted by the blocky, child-like piano style that greets your ears.

"No Kwi Siga" is bland and nondescript until you get into the compositional structure. Music theory buffs will enjoy picking this one apart, but those benefits will be lost to all but the most learned readers. "F#@%ed Up System" is a call to arms without any teeth, a banal call to action that is more about class warfare than a socially conscious effort to fix a thing. Tchiya Amet closes out with a cove of Louis Armstrong's "Wonderful World", blending in a bit of Bob Marley's "One Love". This blend works to a degree, but there's something a bit uncomfortable about the marriage that's difficult to identify yet impossible to ignore.
Tchiya Amet brings a sense of world-wise grace to Celestial Folk Music.  Whether you buy into her ideas or not you’ll develop tremendous respect for her talents as a writer and arranger.  As a lyricist she gets stuck in the occasional rut, and there are a few weak spots, particularly pertaining to breath control, that get exposed at times throughout Celestial Folk Music.  On balance, however, it’s a solid album with some highs and some lows.  Tchiya Amet has enough here to keep listeners interested and coming back for more.
 Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more at

Friday, December 21, 2012

Matt Rod/The Rubix -The Rubix EP

Matt Rod/The Rubix – The Rubix EP
2012, Matt Rod
Matt Rod, AKA The Rubix, is a South African born songwriter and producer now living on the West Coast of the United States.  The Berklee College of Music graduate thinks outside the genre box, recognizing that many people don’t listen to distinct genres or styles of music anymore.  Rod writes to the schizophonic market tastes brought on by the breaking away of the industry from traditional album formats.  This break is readily apparent on Rubix EP, which is really a collection of songs done in collective style.  Matt Rod writes, produces and plays guitar on each track, but he brings in talented musical friends to fill out the sound.
The Rubix’ latest single is “Someone To Hold My Hand”, featuring Mario Jose (Pitch Slapped) on vocals.  The swaying Bossa Nova pop love song is a treat for the ears, and Jose’s voice is smooth like butter.  Matt Rod’s starry-eyed lyrics combine with the rest to make this perfect mix-tape fodder.  “I’m No Lady” is an incredibly catchy dance/pop number that features the killer pipes of Christina Brehm (think Heart’s Ann Wilson as a pop diva and you’ll get the picture).  Also featured is Vice V, about whom we’ll talk more later.  This number will get your feet moving and your heart pumping.  “Days Of Our Youth” features the aforementioned Vice V and his distinctive rhyming style on a catchy, mid-tempo hip-hop vibe with definite flow.  Matt Rod has built a cool yet persistent hook into the arrangement that you simply cannot escape.  The chorus, in particular, will set up shop in your brain for days.
“Like A Record” features the edgy, sexy voice of Hannah Juliano (Pitch Slapped, Delilah, Musae).  This is the darkest piece on the EP, an alterna-pop gem that imprints itself on you immediately.  This is one of those melodies you’ll be humming for days.  If one track from the EP were to be picked for major distribution at commercial radio, this would be it.  That’s not a knock on any of the other songs here, but “Like A Record” has that extra something that marks a hit.

Fans of NBC’s The Sing Off, and in particular of acapella groups Pitched Slapped or Delilah will find a lot to love on The Rubix EP.  Rubix is Matt Rod, as noted above, but it is also the expression of his songwriting by the friends and colleagues he has surrounded himself with. The Rubix has the potential to be a veritable hit machine, attacking radio and sales charts from all angles, directions and genres.  The Rubix EP is a brilliant introduction to a top notch songwriter coming fully into his own in an era where heterogeneity of songwriting styles is welcomed with open arms.  The fact that he has surrounded himself with such brilliant purveyors of his songs is the gravy that makes the meal.
Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more at

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Dolls On Fire - Ladies and Gentlemen

Dolls On Fire - Ladies and Gentlemen
2012, Dolls On Fire

Kansas City quintet Dolls On Fire is about as post-modern as you can get.  Influences range from The Rentals to Neon Trees and Feist to She and Him.  With an irreverent disregard for traditional pop slickness, Dolls On Fire manage to crank out deliciously catchy pop songs that are just off-kilter enough to make you uncomfortable, but with big enough hooks to drag you along for the ride.  Check out the seven songs on their debut EP, Ladies and Gentlemen, and you’ll be hooked.
Dolls on fire kick things off with the low key synth punk of "Give Me A Reason To Love", a catchy and sinuous rocker with a decided dark side. This is a great start, riven with real energy and vitality. This energy is maintained on "Hosanna (On The Radio)", the story of a childhood friend; a wild child turned rock star. There is a definite sour grapes feel here, but the song has a solid vibe. Things get a bit shaky however between the growing vitriol and the unfortunate use of a vocoder.

Rachel Jaggard takes over vocals on "Minotaur", a soulful riff on hidden violent natures. This has a dark quasi 1970's soul/rock feel that wears on you. "GFY (300 Hands)" is an amusing little posthumous kiss off song. Once again there is an inherent musical darkness here that is intriguing. "A Boy Like Me" maintains this feel, but pares the darkness with a buoyant melody that grows into complicated minor keys and pointedly messy vocal harmonies.  Dolls On Fire find a bit of twisted pop magic on "Jem Vs. The Volcano". The vocals click here, and the arrangement will keep your feet moving even if you actively resist. The EP comes to a close with "No One Will Love You Unless You're A Man", a dark and messy pop gem that combines Dolls On Fire in characteristic pop genius with their deconstructive melodic sensibilities.

Whether you dig what Dolls On Fire have going on or not, you'll be forced to admit they are certainly original and interesting.  Musical precision is occasionally sacrificed at the altar of art on Ladies And Gentlemen, but most listeners will get it and be delighted or at least intrigued at the casual rebellion displayed by Dolls On Fire.
Rating:           3.5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more at 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Jeff Black - B-Sides and Confessions, Volume Two

Jeff Black – B-Sides and Confessions, Volume 2
2013, Lotos Nile Music
Jeff Black brings old school, road-warrior attitude into the digital age.  No stranger to the highways and byways, Black also uses his podcast, Black Tuesdays, to connect fans and try out new things.  The result is that Black has one of the most fervent followings in the alt-Americana genre.  Acknowledged as a top-notch songwriter, Black has had songs recorded by artists such as Alison Krauss, Waylon Jennings, Dierks Bentley, Sam Bush and Blackhawk.  Jeff Black returns on January 15, 2013 with B-Sides and Confessions, Volume 2, and just like a train with cargo to deliver, Black shows no signs of slowing down.
The confessions begin with “All Right Now”, a musical monologue for a man who has gone through hell and come out the other side.  The folksy-blues arrangement is subtle and not overdone, allowing Black’s rough-hewn voice to hold sway.  It’s a compelling opening salvo. “Molly Rose” takes on the expected Celtic air in a tragic song of love and valor.  It’s a reminder that sometimes when you win you lose, and sometimes when you lose; you win.  Black’s deft handling of the vocal/story-telling is a master-class in the art of the singer-songwriter.  “Avalon” is about a man willing to forsake all for a magical world.  This quixotic quest plays out in spite of loved ones at home, and listeners can argue over whether the quest is noble or ill-gotten, the picture of a man obsessed to move heaven and earth to find a dream is crystal clear.
Black next settles into the plaintive tones of “Impala”, a quiet contemplation featuring Black’s voice intermingled with piano and guitar.  This ‘down’ moment has the air of quiet reflection, a moment not generally open to the air revealed here in song.  “Alice Carry” is a quiet reflection on love; marriage, family and a life full of memories.  Black brings the character of Alice alive here as a living, breathing person full of the spark of life.  Memories flow like laughter and tears, and the characters and places Black describes are palpably real.  “Days On End” has a listless feel – not the song but the character; a deep melancholy and fatalism descend over the song like a pall.  Artistically and musically this song is striking, though one of the quieter moments on the album.
“Miss Me” has a sort of trouble beauty to it.  It’s a song of apology from a man who went away and is finally finding his way home.  Reasons are hard to come by, but understanding of his needs descends all the same.  It’s a song full of human frailty and need from a man who is still trying to figure things out, but finally understands where he belongs.  Black gets down to an old-time country/folk feel that’s reminiscent of Bob Dylan in “A Evil Lesson Is Soon Learned”.  This entertaining number has a free-form feel that’s catchy, but Black doesn’t sacrifice an ounce of his story-teller’s pastiche in the process. 
“Good Old Days” is a song of wisdom, reminding listeners that these are the days we will one day look back on.  It’s a carpe diem message of sorts; a reminder to make the most of the moment so that when you look back to here one day it’s not with regret.  Black’s gritty vocal is the perfect match to a minimalist arrangement that nevertheless explodes with quiet energy.  “True Love Never Let Me Down” is a Springsteen-esque declaration of simple truths.  Black explores the song’s backwaters with a tumbling arrangement that seems to accentuate the thought behind the lyrics, but the declarative nature of the song and its repetitive theme lend power to the message.  “Remain” is another quiet reflection on simple truths.  Love and the ties that band are the powerful magic in this song, and Black navigates them as a man who never truly understands but appreciates the magic nonetheless.  B-Sides And Confessions, Vol. 2 closes with the contemplative strains of “Sunday Falling”, nicely wrapping the song cycle with memories of an idyllic Sunday afternoon.  Black paints pictures with words here that are hard to ignore.
Jeff Black brings gritty beauty and grace to a collection of memories, stories and observations on B-Sides And Confessions, Vol. 2.  If we’re never entirely clear on where the lines between memory, reverie and hope stand then nothing has been lost.  Black paints over the edges in seamless fashion, allowing the listener to suspend disbelief for an hour or so and simply be in the music.  This is, perhaps, a musicians’ greatest gift to his/her fellow man; the ability to transcend, suspend and simply be.  Black plies that gift, that talent, to perfect here.  B-Sides and Confessions, Volume 2 is nothing less than a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc.
Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)
 Learn more at

Friday, December 14, 2012

Antje Duvekot - New Siberia

Antje Duvekot - New Siberia
2012, Antje Duvekot
It might not surprise you to learn that some pretty talented musicians worked with Antje Duvekot on her third studio album, New Siberia.  Like talent draws like talent, and Duvekot’s band have played with the likes of Paul Simon, Rosanne Cash, Jewel, Chris Botti, Levon Helm and Jonatha Brooke.  The musicianship is indeed first class on New Siberia, but what’s surprising is that Duvekot enhances her already prodigious reputation as an outstanding songwriter and performer with an even more nuanced and mature cycle of songs than her previously critically acclaimed work.

Duvekot opens with the whispering, silky cadences of "Into The City", a song of impending, preventable heartache. Duvekot's voice is absolutely entrancing, smoothly caressing the melody while placing her melancholy assessment of the facts in literate, flowing imagery. "Ballad Of Fred Noonan" recounts the Amelia Earhart tragedy from the perspective of her navigator. Duvekot proves her credentials as a songwriter and story teller in an incredibly nuanced performance. "The Life Of A Princess" is a straight forward and moving statement of being from a young woman who will not be trapped within the boundaries of a fairy tale. The simple approach is affecting, powerful and ultimately beautiful.

"Phoenix" is a plaintive and lovely song about what might have been. Duvekot has a gentle touch here, traversing the gulf between heartache and strength with surprisingly subtle grace. "New Siberia" is best described as atmospheric folk; Duvekot meanders through this song of searching almost aimlessly in a rare miss. "Glamorous Girls" speaks to all those who feel marginalized because they aren't the popular girls. Wisdom and perspective predicts that each will find their time to share in a sentimental little ballad that's sweet and well-written. "Noah's Titanic" is a quietly frenetic story song that's disturbingly wordy. The stream of conscious Duvekot utilizes here is intriguing and almost frantic at times.

"Four Stitches" is a beautiful, imagery driven piece of songwriting that is impossible to shake. New and innocent love is the theme here, and Duvekot sketches her memory here in gently flowing poetry and gorgeous melody. On "Sleepy Sea Of Indigo And Blue", Duvekot invites love from a gentle hand. This is a lovely piece of songwriting that's full of quiet beauty.

If you need affirmation of Duvekot's songwriting finesse make sure you stick around for "The Perfect Date", where everything goes wrong on the way to going write. The light pop arrangement is note-perfect, and Duvekot delivers the story and melody like they were written for her by the universe itself. New Siberia winds down with the quietly lovely "Juliet"; a moment between friends etched in time and song.

Antje Duvekot is a name I have heard over the years spoken in reverence and awe, both for her unerring sense of melody and her sense of timing as a storyteller. It's good to report that New Siberia is strong affirmation that Duvekot has not been oversold. Listeners may not connect with every song on the album, but there is consistent quality and subtle grace in Duvekot's songwriting that is impossible to ignore. New Siberia doesn't bowl you over, but it is the sort of album you'll find yourself returning to again and again. Don't miss this one.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (out of 5)\
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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Eric EQ Young - Just 4 You

Eric EQ Young - Just For You                         
2012, Eric Young

Eric EQ Young was born to make music. The singer, songwriter and bassist from the San Fran Cisco Bay Area has been playing the big time for two decades now. A Quincy Jones recording artist, Young has affiliations with The Dazz Band and Radiance, but is perhaps best known as the bassist for Con Funk Shun. Young steps out on front with the release of his solo EP, Just For You. Don't worry Con Funk Shun fans; the band is also planning a new release with Young firmly in the fold.

Young kicks things into gear with the sensuous, slow funk of "Why You Funkin'". This is great stuff if you're dancing, even if the incessantly repeated lyrical loop is a bit overdone. "Dance With Me" has a much fresher feel, recalling Lethe energy and vitality of Michael Jackson in his 1980's prime. "Ooh Baby Yeah" heads for the sensual slow jam territory, leaving any sense of subtlety or panache dangling at the door. The arrangement is well constructed and flows like pure poetry.

Young heads back to the dance floor with the vibrant pop/funk groove of "Let's Ride". There's an ultra-cool feel here reminiscent of DeBarge, and Young is absolutely lethal on the bass guitar. "Never Stop Loving" is repetitive and trite, lyrically, but builds its sound on majestic vocal triads that help the song to soar in spite of unimaginative lyric-craft. Young settles in for the night with "Just 4 You", a pure piece of 1980s radio-friendly R&B/pop. Jazz triads in the vocal harmonies give this a classic sound, and the groove is as solid as anything you'll find on pop/urban radio nowadays.
Eric Young brings the noise and the funk on Just For You, as well as a little bit of good old fashioned musical joy.  Young wears his influences well, but makes them sound fresh and exciting rather than dated and old.  Twenty years into a great career, Eric Young just can’t sit still.  When listening to Just For You, you won’t be able to either.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Hollyfelds - Title Stealers

The Hollyfelds - Title Stealers
2012, The Hollyfelds
Don’t get me wrong, The Hollyfelds are a band of incomparable musicians with an all-star at every position.  But if the band is comprised of all-stars, then it might be fair to say that they have two vocalists who at least get on the ballot for the Hall of Fame.  Kate Grigsby and Eryn Hoerig bring different timbres to the microphone that work wonderfully well on their own; but when those two voices combine the very angels cry in their beer.  The Hollyfelds continue to quietly build their resume as one of the finest Indie country acts in music with their fourth album, Title Stealers.

Title Stealers opens with "18 Years", a jailhouse love song involving half a lifetime spent in prison for another's crime. This incredibly catchy number feels like a Johnny Cash outtake with Loretta Lynn on vocals. "32nd Street" is a vibrant country rocker about the fickle nature of love. The ladies of the Hollyfelds are in their best collective voice, blending their respective sounds perfectly. The Hollyfelds rip things up on the wonderfully dysfunctional "Kill You First". Trying to get this time out of your head once you've heard is about as impossible as standing still while it’s on.

The Hollyfelds take listeners out for a waltz in "You Can't Remember", a melancholy song of unrequited love with a twist. Kate Grigsby is in fine voice in a song with the feel of a classic country ballad and just a hint o modern edge. "My Poor Father" details the struggle between father and son over his son's artistic tendencies. It's a classic struggle over choosing the best path. The ladies of the Hollyfelds put on a vocal master class here. "Handmade Paper" takes a sad story and turns it into a jaunty country number that you'll find difficult to get out of your head. The chorus here is key - absolutely classic. "Without Cryin'" is well written and performed, but falls into an overindulgence of repetition toward the end, ostensibly to underline its point. This may work, but it feels like a weak turn.

The Hollyfelds right the ship with "Your Loving Girl", a classic themes country love ballad about the day to day of two people in love. This is one of the finest pieces of songwriting that the Hollyfelds have produced to date. "We Both Know" has a bit of a pop/country feel, and explores the detritus of a relationship that was doomed from the start. Eryn Hoerig and Kate Grigsby mesh their voices perfectly here.  "Sins" is a wonderfully dark story song that is lyrically and musically compelling. The Hollyfelds outdo themselves here with a tune that should be destined for great things. "Mama Got A DUI" is an entertaining honky-tonk romp that seems a likely love favorite. The Hollyfelds close out with "Thank You, Goodnight!” an erstwhile love song to the band's hometown of Denver, Colorado. It's a nice gentle closer that laments changes but still finds home in the familiar clubs, streets and record stores they know and love.

The Hollyfelds play and sing from that place where those humbled by life live.  Small victories and human suffering color the songs on Title Stealers, while the Hollyfelds wrap their distinctive blend of classic country, pop and rock around the amazing vocals of Eryn Hoerig and Kate Grigsby.  The Hollyfelds just seem to keep getting better with time.
Rating:           4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Seth Glier - Things I Should Let You Know

Seth Glier - Things I Should Let You Know
2012, MPress Records
Two-time Independent Music Award winner and GRAMMY nominee (2011’s The Next Right Thing) Seth Glier is back with his most impressive work to date.  Things I Should Let You Know tackles adulthood; from the shoreline to wading in.  The 24-year old Glier shows a story-teller’s presence and sense of subtlety that speak of talent gilded longer than his tender years.

Glier sets sail with the eerie atmospherics of the title track. Glier's voice shares sonic real estate with former American Idol finalist Paul McDonald, but this opening track sets a pallid tone for the album. Glier finds a solid pop/rock groove on "The Man I Used To Be". The regretful depression of the story song is wonderfully at odds with the catchy arrangement and memorable melody.  A slow but solid beginning jumps into overdrive with "New World I See", a celebratory love song about a northern man who falls in love with a southern girl. Glier finds that personal, self-deprecating humor that drives the songwriting of folks such as Randy Newman and Lyle Lovett while weaving a story that engages you. All of this is done in a wonderfully salty New Orleans style arrangement that is full of life.

"Plastic Soldiers" is a heartbreaking story song that follows one man's journey from playing with plastic soldiers as a child to serving and being wounded in war to watching his son play with the same soldiers. Glier avoids preaching, rather allowing listeners to form their own ideas about the progression. Either way it’s a beautifully sad and moving moment. "The Stars And Glitter" is a cutting indictment to consumer culture and humanity's seeming willingness to enslave themselves for more stuff. The stark arrangement is compelling, and Glier's voice is amazing in this context.

"Down To The Wire" is an infectiously ambivalent rocker about falling in love. This leads into sonic resting space of "Interlude", a moment of quiet musical repose. Up next is "Good Man", which continues the love story from "Down To The Wire". Here the relationship is on, and he is surprised at the feelings in his heart. It's a mea culpa of sorts, an acknowledgement that he doesn't know what he is a doing with a promise to do right. Glier shifts gears with "Avery", a middle of the road pop rocker about a less than ideal friend. The story is well told here, but this track lacks the sort of spark Glier is capable of.

"Too Hard To Hold The Moon" is a touching love song with an unusual object. Glier mixes metaphors here, turning from the image to reality and back at irregular intervals. The song is touching and powerful and ultimately bathed in a sad beauty. "Poppies On The Table" explores a single moment that turns two worlds upside down. Glier offers a dynamic monologue in a catchy, vibrant arrangement while exploring long term mistakes and having the courage to change.  Glier gets contemplative while exploring truths about love and human imperfection on "Everything Beautiful". It's a beautiful, stripped down moment that is deep yet accessible. Glier closes with moral of the story in "I Am Only As Loved As I Am Open". The simple truth sweeps over him on his wedding day in the song, and it will connect with listeners who listen with their hearts.

Seth Glier shows that the sophomore slump is a myth with Things I Should Let You Know. Glier is a musical storyteller on a par with a young Randy Newman or Lyle Lovett. This cycle confirms that Glier's period Grammy nomination was no fluke. Don't be surprised if Glier hasn't shown us everything he's got. This guy just seems to be getting better as he goes.  Things I Should Let You Know is required listening, and a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)
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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Kalen - Falling From The Sun

Kalen - Falling From The Sun
2012, Kalen Lister
First you take a small town girl from Exeter, New Hampshire with a penchant for singing and songwriting.  Next, you provide her fertile mind with an Ivy League education.  Finally, you turn her loose on the streets of Brooklyn to see what happens next.  This isn’t exactly Kalen Lister’s story, but it’s not far off the mark.  Kalen brings an exciting and intellectual approach to song craft on her debut solo CD, Falling From The Sun.

Kalen starts off with "Island", an ethereal pop vocal tune reminiscent of early recordings from Maryen Cairns or Milla Jovovich. The composition is built of complex layers that are realized with surprising clarity over a light dance beat. "Fallen From The Sky" explores how good love goes bad when obsession sets in. Kalen uses an elevation to angry rocker to show growing frustration while layering ghost-like vocal chants over the top. The effect is striking.

Kalen gets gritty on "Rabid Girl", a story song about a young woman's descent into alcoholism and the demons that drive her there. The urgent energy of this tune carries over into "Neda", which reverts a bit to Kalen's more ethereal pop sound. Maintaining a bit of that gritty feel and channeling it into bluesy pop, Kalen's moves on into the dark and spritely kiss off song "Hit The Road". This is the most impressive vocal performance on the album thus far, and hints at greater musical depths that Kalen may not yet have tapped. Kalen strips things down to piano, strings and voice for the closing waltz, "It Takes A Lifetime." This is a wow moment, as Kalen struggles through insecurity and indecision to a nominal understanding that the confusion and fear is a normal part of life. Elements of Tori Amos or Sarah Slean can be heard here, but Kalen really makes the moment her own by singing very much from the heart.

Kalen Lister makes a grand statement in bold hues, subtle rhythms and deftly crafted phrases on Falling From The Sun.  This is a nuanced EP that rewards patience, unfurling new layers with repeated listens.  Kalen’s voice is enigmatic and warm, drawing you out of your listener’s isolation and involving you in the stories she spins.  She’ll leave you wanting more and more.
Rating:           4 Stars (Out of 5)

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Serapicos - Serapicos Is A Town

Serapicos – Serapicos Is A Town
2012, Gabriel Serapicos
San Paolo, Brazil native Gabriel Serapicos claims Portuguese as his native language, but chooses to sing in English to feel more connected to the spirits of rock and roll.  This connection is at times raw and comically out of synch at times on his debut album, Serapicos Is A Town, but they playful heart of the album is ultimately its redeeming factor.

Serapicos gets things rolling with the message, incessant garage rock of “There Is No Satisfaction”.  This retro-post-modern answer to the Rolling Stones is built more from a bemused observationalism than any real sense of angst or disappointment.  You can almost picture the knowing smirk Serapicos is hiding as he sings.  “Blow Me” features the same sort of self-satisfied frat boy smugness and fails to be allegorical in any way.  It’s an entertaining look into the barely post-adolescent male mind with quasi 1970’s Lloyd-Webber flair.  The band comes back to Earth with fairly mundane numbers such as “Artists Are Crazy” and the shambling “Pee Pee Jazz”. 
With “Lucky Numbers”, Serapicos descend into a troubled They Might Be Giants parallel universe where bright airy melodies and whimsical story songs have been replaced by dark, minor key explorations and Smith’s inspired tales of woe.  Jumping into a sound once used by Jan and Dean, Serapicos get completed retro on “Inspire Me”. This fun rocker will get your feet moving, and the messy garage style of play creates a fun environment.  Things roll back downhill for “The Sexiest Girl In The World”.  This amounts to a teen boy drooling over a girl in song without any sense of art or tact.  That being said, there is an elemental cuteness to the song.  “Balloon” finds Serapicos practicing a bit more tact in their wooing techniques, but not much.  The vocal is enough to sink this one, as Serapicos has only a passing relationship with the key.

“The Egg Song” is a catchy little piece of post-pop fluff that one presumes is ironic.  The song is very entertaining, with a frenetic energy that’s impossible to ignore.  This is one tune where it’s best not to think too much about what you’re listening to.  “When Your Husband’s Away” is banal and droning; a difficult listen at best.  "I Just Want To Be Your Friend" has a Doors style groove, but fails on pedantic and repetitive lyrics. "Love Pills" and "Russian Roulettes and Persian Carpets" are equally mundane, although the latter captures a bit of that They Might Be Giants air found earlier on the album. "Sexy Julia" is an unsubtle yet entertaining ode to an object of affection/desire. There is an abstract musicality encompassed in the catchy rock arrangement, and the song is danceable in spite of its slightly messy presentation. Serapicos says goodnight with the title track, a stumbling and inexplicably sad number that is messily thrown together and performed without conviction.
Going it alone on a first recording can be wonderfully freeing as an artist.  It also leaves those who create exposed by the weakness of their own worse natures.  There is a clear influence of 1960’s rock and roll on Serapicos Is A Town, and the utter joy that emanates from music of that era is evident.  Serapicos even manages to create some of the same manic glee, both lyrically and musically, that drove the best of They Might Be Giants’ work.  At the same time, Serapicos struggles against his own sense of cuteness, crossing over at times into wildly banal or even downright unlistenable moments.  There is a lot of good to be mined from Serapicos Is A Town.  A first class producer could reign in Serapicos’ more self-immolating songwriting tendencies and help him find the pure pop gems he seeks here.

Rating:           3 Stars (Out of 5)

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Mickey Finns - Prayers And Idle Chatter

The Mickey Finns - Prayers And Idle Chatter
2012, Mankeltray Music
The Mickey Finns have taken just two albums to be hailed one of the best Celtic rock bands in the world.  Featuring former members of The Prodigals (Ray Kelly – vocals, guitar; Brian Tracey – drums); the former lead violinist for Michael Flatley’s The Lord Of The Dance (Matt Mancuso); and, multi-instrumentalist Eric Kaye (The Prodigals, Clint Black, Marc Cohn, Lucy Woodward), the New York City based quartet gets crowds on their feet early and often.  The Mickey Finns’ latest studio effort, Prayers And Idle Chatter, features the sort of whiskey-soaked vocals that are ideal for Celtic Rock.

Prayers And Idle Chatter kicks off in high style with "The Prodigal Son", a heel turner with great energy and a dancing spirit. "Sweet Clare Girl" has a folk/country feel, filled to the brim with quiet but vital picking and focused vocal harmonies. The instrumental work is top notch throughout, but especially in the bridge. "McGuinness' Mass" is a down tempo drinking song that explores the camaraderie of the neighborhood pub and the form of penance that is brewed or distilled but universal across time and cultures. "Loop Reels" is a frenetic fiddle driven experience underwritten by some seriously motivated percussion. The Mickey Finns quite literally rock out here. "Absinthe (Makes The Heart Grow Fonder)" borrows a bit of rough-edged energy and imbues it with a country/Celtic pastiche. This would be one fun tune to experience live.

"Tanks And Barbed Wire" tells the story of love between a Protestant man and a Catholic girl at a time when such liaisons were dangerous. The outcome of this song is expectedly tragic, but holds a moral about learning to live together. The Mickey Finns take a lighter tone on in “The Jester”, a light and airy tune full of lilting violin and bright, breezy phrasing.  Kicking it up a notch or two, the band launches into the vibrant “Two Jigs For Aoiffe”.  The musicianship is stellar and The Mickey Finns sounds very much in the zone.  “Dark Roll Down The Dawn” represents a dichotomy in The Mickey Finns’ style that is intriguing.  There’s tremendous energy here, and it’s abundantly clear the band is having fun; yet there is a clear sense that they are holding something in reserve.

“Duffy’s Cut” memorializes 57 Irish immigrants who died of Cholera outside of Malvern Pennsylvania in 1832.  Brought to America to help lay railroad tracks, it is believed the workers were denied medical care due to anti-Catholic prejudice.  The Mickey Finns handle this tune perfectly, creating a wonderful melodic sensibility in the Wally Page-penned tune.  The sentiment here is real without sounding overly sentimental.  The Mickey Finns close out with a rockin’ reel, “Be Mine”.  Nothing is left in the studio here, and it’s clear that the impression earlier that the band was still holding something is proven to be spot on.
The Mickey Finns engage in a long slow build on Prayers And Idle Chatter that culminates in a blow-off-the-roof performance in “Be Mine”.  Through the entire eleven-song cycle there is a sense of expectation, of something more.  The Mickey Finns deliver and then some.  Prayers And Idle Chatter captures the energy and pure musicianship of the band.  All of this is tied together by the engaging presence of lead singer Ray Kelly, who is a first class front man with a voice that stops people in their tracks.  Somewhere in the nexus between The Waterboys, Black 47 and Great Big Sea you will find The Mickey Finns.  They’re doing just fine, thank you.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

George Woods - Heartbeat

George Woods – Heartbeat
2012, George Woods

Boston singer/songwriter George Woods explores deep emotions and deeper thoughts on his debut album Heartbeat. Earning comparisons to artists such as James Morrison and Ray Lamontagne, Woods sings with a singular voice about human frailty, insecurity and hope amidst deeply nuanced and often beautiful folk/rock arrangements.

Kicking things off with "Overture/Rewind", Woods makes his introductions through a finely crafted orchestral entr'acte. The non-linguistic vocals create an eerie air that's stark and lovely. "Shake My Soul" is driven by the sort if hopeless urgency that's born of burgeoning and sometimes unrequited love. "Wasn't Enough" is an energetic and messy breakup song that's an interesting mix of darkness and light. There's a distinct pop feel at the heart of this song, an air that is complicated by messy layers and an unpolished sound that's fitting here.  "Stock In The Stars" is an infectiously upbeat bohemian folk rocker about the hopes, dreams and the redeeming power of love. Woods is entirely on here, in one of the most endearing songs on the album. "Marry Me" is just what it sounds like. The funk infused soul pop number is from the heart, and has the potential to become a mix-tape and dedication favorite.

Woods takes a more desolate turn on "Chapter 3: The Moon", mixing voices and strings in a brief bit repetitive cantata that seems incomplete. "Running Away" takes more focus on while exploring an inexplicable draw to flight and how that tendency comes face to face with unexpected love. The song is a disorganized mess musically, but manages to work in spite of this (perhaps because the presentation and the message are so closely aligned). Woods returns to a dark and lonely musical landscape for "You Are The Moon", written from the depths of unrequited love. There is an elemental beauty here, with the distance finely etched into haunting vocals and strings.

"Heartbeat" sinks into morass where lust overcomes love and good intentions. Woods once again ventures into messy musical territory in conjunction with a messy emotional story. "Trying To Get Back" starts out disheveled, but resolves in its final 30 seconds to a bright and airy folk/rock song. "Lucky One" celebrates being in love in joyous terms. The funky folk-rock style has an easy, swinging feel that reflects the carefree nature of the moment captured here. "You Are The Sun" takes a more esoteric look at the same emotions as Woods contemplates having come full circle. This turns into a mid-tempo waltz that is perhaps overly emotive but is generally well done. Woods closes with the requisite happy ending on "The Wedding Song". Wind chimes and stumbling guitar walk guests down the aisle to their virtual seats, while Woods incantation the past ala Sting on "The Secret Marriage". The song is a reflection backward from the mundane give and take of everyday life years later. Woods creates a moment here that is palpable and decidedly real.
George Woods reflects the emotional highs and lows of love in the music of heartbeat, The journey through quiet desperation; falling in love; getting married and into the mundane existence of everyday life captured in words and notes throughout Heartbeat.  The end result is as hard to get through at times as individual moments along the way, but the presentation is wonderfully artistic and real.  Woods does have a distinctive melodic sensibility, and likes to play off the beaten path at times, but he’s a gamer, always gutting out the rough performances but as often as not turning in a gem.
Rating:  3.5 Stars (Out of 5)
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Monday, November 19, 2012

Cara Luft - Darlingford

Cara Luft – Darlingford
2012, Fontana North/Blue Case Tunes
Cara Luft began performing at the age of four, singing and accompanying herself on dulcimer.  By the age of eleven the Calgary native teaching herself guitar, learning alternate tunings and various picking techniques.  Luft soon added banjo to her repertoire, giving her a solid arsenal of instruments to back up her strong and distinctive alto voice. A founding member of The Wailin’ Jennies, Luft has also cut an impressive swath as a solo artist.  Luft came to our attention here at Wildy’s World with her 2007 album, The Light Fantastic, a 4 ½ star gem that still ranks as a personal favorite.  Luft returned in 2012 with her third solo album, a splendiferous mix of folk, Celtic, country and even shades of pop music that is ever so much more than anything she’s done before.

Darlingford begins with a look at salvation in the form of "Only Love Can Save Me", a splendid mix of country and folk sounds that wrap around Luft's singular voice like a blanket. The song is uplifting and joyful, yet full of a stylistic and compositional complexity that is musically satisfying. "Bye Bye Love" is an emotionally and musically mature post-mortem on a relationship lost. Absent the vitriol common in pop/country kiss off songs, Luft makes a much more damning case for moving on by speaking straight from the heart. This is a beautiful examination of love's detritus, complete with gorgeous vocal harmonies that appear from nowhere to accent some of her more poignant discoveries.  Luft's cover of Mike Scott's is powerful to say the least. The melancholy hope of the song grows into a powerful determination that will have you on the edge of your seat. Delving back into the healing process, Luft delivers the powerful slow epiphany of "House On Fire". This testament to the permanence of loss and the healing power of friendship is unforgettable, feeling both decidedly intimate and universal at the same time.

"The Ploughboy And The Cockney" is an interesting diversion that is more than it first appears. The musical performance here is top notch, of course, but Luft proves her talent as a story teller with a light yet knowing vocal touch. Listeners can decide whether there is more to the story in light of the full cycle of songs presented here. "Idaho" is an exploration of new beginnings, new faith and new perspectives. The joyous feel of the song has an almost Paul Simon sound but with definite country flair. Luft is able to rock out a bit here in the midst of a recovery she never foresaw.

Genocide and social responsibility whirl around the story of a man whose heroics are sometimes deemed a failure. "Dallaire" explores the perspective of Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, who oversaw international forces in Rwanda in 1993 and 1994, at the height of the genocide campaign of Hutu extremists. This is a touching and poignant look at how we struggle to do the right thing, often failing even as we succeed. Luft returns to her personal milieu with "Off My Mind". Here we hear some of the anger one might expect post breakup, but the quiet reserve of class that Luft clarifies it all with is refreshing. It doesn't dull the lyrical daggers she throws, but it does make them harder to deflect.

"Portland Town" explores the ravages of war from the perspective of a mother who sees her three sons go off to battle, never to return. The dark Celtic style arrangement gives the song a quiet urgency that matches perfectly to the subject matter, and Luft's voice is fully in the moment with an urgent grace. Luft moves on to reverse prepositions and propositions with her emotive and stunning take on "He Moved Through The Fair". Her voice conveys a story of love with an elemental power that is breathtaking.

Luft takes a somewhat lighter tone on "My Darling One", an incantation to a beloved child or perhaps even to a prospective love. The bouncy feel of this tune marks an emotional turning point, as the scars of loss begin to fall away. That inertia grows on "It's Gonna Be Alright", as faith turns to confidence and ambition to make tomorrow a better day. Darlingford closes out with "Charged!” - a bonus track born of a real life border bust. The song is a fun and entertaining reminder of how quickly things can go awry in the hands of Federal power, and how we rely on the humanity of one another to straighten out the simple-minded grind of political machines.
It might seem a cliché phrase, but Cara Luft weaves magic through every nook and cranny of Darlingford.  In the process she turns a bit of personal tragedy into songwriting gold, exploring themes of love, loss, faith, recovery and choosing a new direction with lyrical aplomb and a near-perfect understanding of musical setting, mood and composition.  Luft’s ability to tell a story through song has never been more in focus than it is on Darlingford, and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine Luft collecting her second Juno Award based on this effort.  Darlingford is easily one of the finest collections to cross this desk in 2012, and can be nothing less than a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc. 

Rating:           5 Stars (Out of 5)
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