All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Uncle Devin - Drum Tales

Uncle Devin - Drum Tales
2012, Uncle Devin Productions
Uncle Devin, also known as Devin Walker, is a renowned percussionist who uses his love for rhythm to educate children.  While music is the focal center of The Uncle Devin Show, Uncle Devin’s target audience also learns about personal safety, making healthy choices and character education points such as honesty.  Uncle Devin has an easy-going air that at times risks being too casual, but he seems to have a genuine interest in helping children to learn and grow.  Uncle Devin’s debut album, Drum Tales, tackles a wide range of kid-friendly topics in interesting and sometime awkward fashion.

Drum Tales gets rolling with the "Uncle Devin Theme Show", a catchy song/speak tune with some funk in its roots. This is very low key and lo-fi compared to a lot if children's show themes out there, but speaks from the heart about learning, having fun and being the most you can be. The response parts, presumably by kids and their parents sound a bit canned, and this gives the song a hokey feel. "I Like Onions" finds Uncle Devin waxing poetic about his favorite vegetable. The song is lyrically awkward, and Uncle Devin has significant issues with pitch. The Green Eggs and Ham paraphrase used here just serves to illuminate the rough edges in Uncle Devin's own words. "Africa" delves into an Afro centric metaphysics while emphasizing the rhythms and geographic highlights of the continent.

"Drum Roll Call" teaches about Latin rhythms and the instruments used to create them. "Me And My Drums" plays on the same theme but with a more generic beat in mind. The plaintive arrangement is repetitive and gets lost in its own sense of ennui. "Good Health" implores Uncle Devin's young listeners to adapt healthy habits, from washing hands to eating healthy to avoiding bad things. The extended introduction here is likely to lose out to the attention span of his audience. Likewise, the generalizations here serve as well intended but may not have a lot of impact with his intended audience.

"The Victory Horn" implores students not to give up no matter how bad things get. It's a great message, but the repetitive nature of the song and banal lyrical approach make this a tough listen. "Don't Put Your Business on the Internet" is a drudging chant against the dangers of putting personal information on the net "because people will research you and try to hurt you." Once again, the thought behind this is great, but the presentation is tough. "Just One of Those Days" bemoans a morning where nothing goes right. There's a catchy element here, as Uncle Devin gets a nice flow going. The awkward transitions are still here, but the overall presentation works. Uncle Devin closes with "Tell the Truth". The song starts with a brief skit and then moves into an overly repetitive spoken word/rap. Once Devin gets beyond the repetition there's sort of a "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" feel to the song. It's a great moment for Uncle Devin and is likely to play well with the under ten crowd.

Drum Tales is a heartwarming, beautiful in its intent and often messy.  Uncle Devin does best when sticking to his talk/sing style.  Notes just don’t come out as they are intended more often than not.  The lyrical content is hit or miss, depending on whether Uncle Devin prizes creativity or structure within the framework of a specific song, but his heart is always in the right place.  This is a fun album for kids.
Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

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Keznamdi - Bridging The Gap

Keznamdi – Bridging The Gap
2013, Keznamdi
Keznamdi is an ambassador, of sorts.  You see, the man was born to make music.  His parents, the co-lead vocalists of international reggae band Chakula, immersed their children in music from a young age.  Keznamdi came to the United States to attend college for the opportunity to broaden his musical experiences and opportunities and to play Division I soccer.  Both opportunities served him well, and Keznamdi is now building the foundation of his own career in music.  Keznamdi’s debut EP, Bridging The Gap, shows an artist who overcomes genre and misunderstanding in one fell swoop.

Bridging The Gap kicks off with “Darkness”, a message to the politically and powerfully way placed that they will not get away with exploiting the poor.  It’s a pre-revolutionary message that is powerfully in simplicity.  The message will carry well in the current day and age, and Keznamdi builds around it an arrangement that’s equally fitting for a dancehall or a radio playlist.  Kabaka Pyramid lends his talents here.  “My Love For You”, featuring Chronixx, is a radio friendly love song that mixes Reggae, pop and R&B.  Keznamdi is convincing and charismatic here, and the song works on several levels at once.  “I Don’t Wanna” is the sleeper on the album, but with just voice and a rhythmic acoustic guitar.  This was a pleasant surprise, and may ultimately be the most radio friendly track on the album.  Give this the right remix and it will be a dancehall hit the world over.
“Weekend” is a mooning ballad that gets stuck under its own weight.  This is perhaps the weakest track on the album, but Keznamdi manages to sell it anyway.    “Just Vibe” works on the simplest level.  It is a clear reflection of what the artist wants to find.  From a songwriting perspective it’s passable, but doesn’t have the strength of its convictions to make it all happen.  Keznamdi closes with “I Don’t Wanna”, a wonderfully catchy mix of reggae and folk that you won’t be able to get out of your head.  Once again, with the right remix this could be a major hit.

Keznamdi brings a positive vibe to Bridging The Gap, exploring love and social justice amidst generally well crafted and occasionally catchy songs.  There are rough spots, of course, but Keznamdi overcomes with a gentle force of personality and presence.  Bridging The Gap does more than its name; it redefines the boundaries for reggae in the popular Rome.
Rating:  4 Stars (Out of 5)

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Monday, April 29, 2013

Harmonic Blue - Villa Borghese

Harmonic Blue - Villa Borghese
2012, MondoTunes

Harmonic Blue is the coming together of Zach Field, Gabe Bustos, Anthony Ajluni and Sam Balcom, for very distinctive musicians with varying musical backgrounds.  This unsung super group creates some of the most lushly crafted pieces of musical experimentation around. Harmonic Blue’s latest efforts are documented on the album, Villa Borghese.

Harmonic Blue kicks things off with "Hey", a needful tune looking for a tryst. The vocal line is a bit bland and a bit too low in the mix, but there's some fantastic guitar work going on behind the scenes here. "NO8DO" is a brief finger style guitar instrumental that sounds as if it wants to be part of a song. It's an incomplete idea with potential. "I Go, She Goes" follows the path of a relationship that is all in the mind. Once again, the vocals are passable, but the guitar work is inspired by some of Hendrix' more melodic work. The compositional style here is complex and longitudinal, like one of Sting's post-jazz transitional pieces.

"Silver Spoon" rests firmly in the angst of an adult child with an overbearing parent. Vocalist Zach Field sings with a passive air of being trapped in the perceptions of others while bemoaning his fate. The music is worth digging into, even if the vocal is stretched a bit thin. "Subreality" is an expansive musical exploration at nearly six and a half minutes. Guitarist Anthony Ajluni has some of his finest moments here, waxing poetic on six strings like an artist in thrall. "Villa Borghese" picks up the unfinished thought introduced in "NO8DO" and carries it to its logical conclusion, which turns out to be none at all. Instead we are left with a musical epigraph that fades in and out like the very rhythm of life. Harmonic Blue closes with the evocative and expansive sounds of "Sturgeon Moon", winding down on a melancholy and decidedly disarming note. The same musical dynamics found throughout the rest of the album are present here, with Zach Field reaching to the edge of his range and Anthony Ajluni laying down a lush sonicscape on which he can play.

It is the proud stoic musician who can stand up to the slings and arrows of pop music without flinching.  Harmonic Blue is lucky enough to have four such musicians in one ensemble.  The result is a world class sound, with four instrumental voices mixing in angelic fashion.  The lead vocal is stretched a bit thin at times, but the band makes it all work out in the end.  Villa Borghese is a memorable experience.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)



Sasha Papernik - Victory

Sasha Papernik – Victory
2012, Sasha Papernik

It was 2011 when I first heard of Sasha Papernik.  Her album with Sasha & The Indulgents, Love In A Box was one of the biggest surprises of the year.  The classically trained, first-generation Russian-American singer/songwriter showed a depth of musical and human understanding that was breathtaking.  A lot has changed in the last two years:  Papernik is now billing fully under her own name, and her depth and maturity as a songwriter has grown.  Papernik now writes with the confidence of an established star, and her muse seemingly knows no boundaries.  Papernik’s latest album, Victory, is an eye opener.
Kicking things off with the title track, Papernik uses a pop-noire sound to call out a man who played her.  The dark undertones in “Victory” are straight out of Russian musical heritage, and give the song a wonderfully complex musical flavor.  “Kiss Me Fast” is an impetuous entreaty written in a 1960’s girl pop sound.  It is a memorable tune that will return to your mind at odd moments.  “Oy Moroz, Moroz” is a wonderful little blend of blues, rock and folk, with Papernik singing in both Russian and English.  Try to keep your foot still, as Papernik and her band work through the incredibly catchy and tight arrangement. 

Papernik will delight listeners with “Solitude”, a singer/songwriter piece underwritten by a deliciously sly little tango.  It’s just piano and voice this time around, but Papernik leaves the stunning impression of an impresario at her best.  “Whispering Tree” is a nice change of pace; a swaying cabaret-pop number with dark undertones that’s simply gorgeous.  It’s time to waltz when Papernik launches into the Russian folk song “Tonkaya Ryabina”.  You’ll be seduced by the three-step rhythm, and lulled by the utterly beautiful arrangement Papernik has built around it. 
Papernik shows off a bit of a country flavor on “Polina”, a bit of musical counsel to a friend who has fallen off the marital path.  Driven by a pure singer/songwriter pastiche, “Polina” is an enjoyable side trip.  “Wrong Side Of Twenty-Five” is the sort of character sketch in song that is among the most difficult to write.  Papernik is working out the kinks of the process here, but it is a solid effort and bodes well for the future.  She goes Baroque on “Luchina”, a classically-themed pop piece with a pretty melody you’ll want to repeat.  “Wildwood Flower” is a catchy little tune that that takes you by surprise.  You may not take particular notice of it the first time you hear it, but it quickly grows on you. 

“Peter’s Letters” is am ambling and ambitious reminiscence, but is too weighty for its own good.  It’s the only song on the album you’ll be tempted to skip, but Papernik is so engaging even here that you’ll stick with her through the tune.  Papernik has one more star turn in her, however, as she shows on “Take It As It Comes”.  This is pure singer/songwriter material, encompassing styles including country, pop and a touch of Baroque classical.  Papernik then bows with the gentle piano-pop of “Tall Grass”, which leaves the listener with an endearing image and sense of peace.  It’s a solid closer that’s a bit anti-climactic, but not a bad choice. 
Sasha Papernik embraces her classical roots on Victory, writing a genre-bending album with distinct pop sensibilities but a master’s sense of melody, harmony and precision.  Papernik is also a credibly story-teller, engaging listeners with tales and sketches in song that draw in as they color the musical landscape.  Papernik’s voice is a joy to listen to, and she is a consummate performer.  Victory is aptly named, and turns out to have been one of the finest releases of 2012

Rating:           4.5 Stars (Out of 5)
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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Maria Dunn - Piece By Piece

Maria Dunn – Piece By Piece
2012, Distant Whisper Music
Maria Dunn is perhaps one of the finest folk singer/songwriters Canada has to offer.  The Scottish-born performer who makes her home in Edmonton has one Juno nomination (2002) and two Independent Music Award nominations (2013) under her belt. Her songs have been covered by such artists as Niamh Parsons, Bob Bossin, Aengus Finnan and The Outside Track.  Dunn’s fifth album, Piece By Piece, documents the story of immigrant textile workers at Edmonton’s GWG factory.  Stark, lonely and beautiful, just like their protagonists, Maria Dunn’s songs shine like the gems that they are. 

Dunn begins by documenting the act of leaving home to make a better life in “I Cannot Tell You”.  She gets all sides of the story here, from the love of those who send a child off to greater opportunity to the loneliness and determination of the one who moves on.  Dunn captures the beautiful rough edges of humanity in song here, with a voice that is as wonderfully hand-crafted as her songs.  “Speed Up” deals with the plight of the worker, of whom more is always expected without the commensurate rise in recompense.  What starts as a challenge to improve becomes a race to keep up, else opportunity is lost.  “Blue Lung” documents the malady of textile workers in a denim factory.  Dunn’s arrangement is perfectly fit to the tale of an inevitable conclusion for those who (quite literally) give their life to the factory.
“Assunta’s Song” covers the worries and hopes of the wife of a World War II soldier who is working while he is away.  Gypsy violin dots the soundscape here, intermittent to some haunting vocal harmonies.  Dunn finds a perfect moment in song and seems to live it as if it were her own experience.  This is a powerful voice, and Dunn’s voice is absolutely gorgeous.  “Shareholder’s Reel” is something of a social revolt amongst workers against the big wigs.  The push for more and more is stopped dead in its tracks by people rising up in their own interest.  It is the spirit that led to organized labor in the U.S. and Canada that inspires this song; A spirit that was needed for a time when workers rights were thoroughly trod upon by robber barons and thieves.

Dunn finds another moment of perfection on “Immigrant Dreams”, with her voice carving out of the either the eternal reach for a better tomorrow through hard work, love, dedication, and a sense of honor that is an afterthought today.  For all that has come before, there is little to say or do to prepare the listener for “Lullaby”.  Dunn finds a moment of musical transcendence in a simple arrangement that is haunting and beautiful.  If you aren’t moved you simply aren’t listening.  Dunn closes with “Farewell”, a solid end to a memorable album that serves as balm and reminder of the struggle documented herein.
Maria Dunn blends Celtic, folk, bluegrass and old school country in wondrous ways throughout Piece by Piece.  Her songwriting is exquisitely crafted, underwritten by a keen storyteller’s sensibility.  It’s not uncommon to find storytellers who are fair songwriters or vice versa, but Dunn is the complete package.  Her arrangements, simple or otherwise, are as expressive as her words.  For all of this, it is Maria Dunn’s voice that makes the sale.  Beautifully imperfect, and full of the haunting qualities of loneliness, love and pure will, Dunn’s voice rings true of conditions both human and divine.  Maria Dunn is one of a kind, and Piece by Piece can be nothing other than a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc.  This one’s an instant classic.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)
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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Myloe - Empty Out Your Mind

Myloe - Empty Out Your Mind
2012, Myloe
Myloe is an enigma.  Originally formed by Berklee student Fred Mubang in 2012, the band has grown to include Mubang on guitar and songwriting duties; Alan Hokom on vocals and guitar; Tom Shani on bass and Zach Mullings on the drums.  The style and sound on Myloe’s Empty Out Your Mind evokes thoughts of the progressive era of classic rock, as well as jazz, new wave and even a touch of reggae.  Unusual song structures and occasionally even time signatures show up in the music, and the musicians in the crowd will be intrigued. Andy Warhol fans will even be enamored with the themed cover art.

Myloe kicks things off with the energetic pop/rock title track, which laments the state of a world in decay. Vocalist Alan Hokom is memorable and vibrant, and the band manages to rock out for five plus minutes on big hooks and even bigger pretensions. The reggae bridge is stylish and an intriguing turn, but actually saps the song of some of its vigor. "Paradox" features more of a droning alt-rock style and is dressed in darker musical undertones. The energy is still very much there, and Hokom works the lead like a classic front man. "In Your Eyes" explores the bounds of insecurity and insecurity as impediments to a life fully lived. Myloe works a prog rock archetype sewn with melancholy in the inseams for a wonderfully melodic and dark anthem.

On "Sidetracked" Myloe plays to all constituencies, incorporating elements of pop, classic rock, funk, jazz and bossa nova in a wonderfully varied and yet cohesive arrangement. "Standstill City" opens with a bass riff reminiscent of Jethro Tull before turning into an angular rocker with dynamic harmonies and a driven, stream of thought style vocal line. The guitar work here is stellar, and Myloe appears to be hitting on all eight cylinders. Empty Out Your Mind fades out to the expansive and guitar driven meditation "What Is Paradise". There is a weighty angst around this song that's built of disillusioned beliefs and dashed dreams. It's quite a listen, and will have the guitarists in particular out there trying to recreate some of the wonderful textures in the arrangement.
Myloe certainly has something interesting cooking on Empty Out Your Mind.  From the deliciously angular guitar work at the outset to the well-crafted arrangements throughout the EP, Myloe is a musical force to be reckoned with.  Add to it the precise songwriting of Fred Mubang and the high energy performances of vocalist Alan Hokom and you have a recipe for grand success.  This is the sort of EP that can break a band in a big way.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Oh, Jeremiah - Tall Tales and Tiny Fables

Oh, Jeremiah - Tall Tales and Tiny Fables
2013, Jeremiah Stricklin,
Jeremiah Stricklin is a singer/songwriter who hails from Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  He plies his trade as “Oh, Jeremiah”, with a solid blend of Americana and pop at the roots of a vibrant Americana singer/songwriter sound.  Oh Jeremiah’s first EP, Tall Tales And True, shows an artist with a flair for understated, honest delivery and some real songwriting chops.

Oh, Jeremiah kicks things off with the story/ballad "Better Man". The character developed in the bounds of the song is humble and real. Jeremiah Stricklin voices the song with the quiet confidence of the downtrodden that refuse to give up. It's a great musical introduction. "Circles" is an intriguing song full of imagery and half meanings. There is a quiet beauty here that's hard to trace to source, but something about the song sticks with you. "Happy Now" looks back on a relation from which both parties have moved on. It's a gentle wish that one day they can be in touch again delivered in a hook-filled rock arrangement. "Mississippi" is a love song written for home. Built around a pretty melody, the song is a smooth ballad with the rough edges of homegrown craft work. Oh, Jeremiah wraps with the mid-tempo folk/pop of "The Scariest Thing". Fear of the future and the unknown is presented here in lush handiwork with strings and the melancholy pragmatism that is Oh, Jeremiah's trademark.

Jeremiah Stricklin sings with the easy feel of one with an army behind him  on Tall Tales and Tiny Fables.   In the process, he lays bare a heart that’s both dramatic and understated, crafting songs of love and love lost against the gentle melancholy of perspective.  Tall Tales and Tiny Fables is a strong introduction to Oh, Jeremiah.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Sirsy - Coming Into Frame

Sirsy – Coming IntoFrame
2013, Funzalo Records
Sirsy is one of the hardest working bands in rock androll.  The Albany, NY based duo hastoured relentlessly since their inception in 2000.  Along the way, Sirsy has opened for such actsas Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Maroon 5, Blues Traveler, Collective Soul,Cheap Trick and Lifehouse.  Fully independentuntil their signing with Funzalo Records in 2010, Sirsy has the distinction ofbeing the only Indie band to crack Soundscan’s Top Ten.  Last month Sirsy released their first albumcompleted while under label influence and 10th overall.  The title, Coming Into Frame, suggests a band coming into their own.  The truth is not quite as clear as theimplication.
The fact that is that one of the qualities that has madeSirsy so appealing to fans over the past 13 years is their raw rock and rollsound.  Coming Into Frame takes that edgy appeal and puts a fine polish onit, under the watchful hand of producers Paul Kolderie (Hole, Belly, The MightyMighty Bosstones) and Sean Slade.  Thatfine polish curdles the sound a bit, however, as the pure personality of frontwoman Melanie Krahmer gets waxed over for the first time in the band’scareer.  The soulful sneer of the openingtrack, “Cannonball” is whitewashed in this setting.  Likewise the bluesy touch of “Lionheart”,which ends up much less vital than it should be.
Sirsy gives in to label sensibilities on tunes such as “BraveAnd Kind” and “Lot Of Love”, which don’t have the raw edge of their earlierrecordings.  Melanie Krahmer still hasstar power with a voice that shows shades of Chrissie Hynde and Joan Osborne,and guitar/bass man Rich Liburdi helps to keep the ship steady.  There are some fine moments here, such as thecatchy pop/rock of “Red Letter Days” and the memorable “Killer”, but Coming Into Frame just doesn’t seem tohave the same spark and fire as earlier Sirsy recordings.
Rating: 3 Stars(Out of 5)
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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Andy Palmer - Hazard Of The Die

Andy Palmer – Hazard Of The Die
2013, Andy Palmer
Andy Palmer has been making music all of his adult life.  As front man of Colorado folk/rockers Grub Street Wine and as a solo artist, Palmer has earned critical and commercial accolades.  Palmer was named to’s Top-20 Independent Artists for 2011 and 2012.  His debut album, Sometime Around, won a Best of Denver Award in 2011.  This month the former Brooklyn public defender returns with his sophomore effort, Hazard Of The Die. 
Palmer opens with “The Monk”, an intriguing story song with heart-beat like rhythm and syncopated beats.  This arrhythmia lends interesting texture to a bit of observational songwriting that is off the beaten track.  Palmer’s voice is enigmatic and full of muddy timbres that give him a world-weary feel.  It’s an effective presentation that will stick with you.  “Heart Of Colfax” is a bluesy, angular rock tune with a bit of funk in its roots.  It’s a fun tune with a bit of a twisted sense of humor running through its veins.  The character perspective plays like an urban style Randy Newman, and the tune is ultimately catchy.  “Broke Down In Bellevue” is a down-tempo ballad steeped in blues chords and a lightly swung chanson style.  Palmer is a disaffected narrator here, laying out the pin points of desolation on a musical map for all to see and hear.
“Good Son” finds Palmer opening up the arrangement into a more pop-friendly rock sound.  The spoken-word vocal works well in the wide open sound of the song, with Palmer surfing his way through the song on an enigmatic vocal performance.  “Moreya” is a solid piece of balladeering pop.  It’s a bit bland and reserved compared to what’s come before, but is a solid album track.  Palmer goes bilingual (English/Spanish) on “Hay Algo Muy Mal”.  Palmer struggles here, as the song is cut from the same low-energy cloth as “Moreya”.  He recovers his energy and musical quirkiness on “The Defendant”.  The song is understandable repetitive, but the repetition does become a bit much.  At the same time, Palmer offers up some of his best guitar work on the album her.  Hazard Of The Die takes a bow with “Fancy That”, an energetic and funky rocker that will have your toes tapping and your hips grooving.  Love becomes its own economy of scale here, and the story is irresistible. 
Andy Palmer won’t sit well with everyone.  He’s voice is definitely off the beaten path, but Palmer uses his instrument to best effect on the eight songs presented on Hazard Of The Die (Think Leonard Cohen meets Tom Waits).  Palmer continues to use stories and ideas from his career as a public defender in his songs and the result are an entertaining and eclectic collection of character based songs ala Randy Newman.  Palmer’s composition style jumps around a bit, but the angular guitar work seems to be a trademark.  Hazard Of The Die will certainly catch your attention, and if you’re a listener of lyrics and a fan of story-based songs, then Andy Palmer will be right up your alley.
Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)
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Monday, April 15, 2013

Sunday Wilde - He Gave Me A Blue Nightgown

Sunday Wilde - He Gave Me A BlueNightgown
2013, Sunday Wilde

Sunday Wilde goes from the back woods to the top of the Blues charts with hernew album; He Gave Me A BlueNightgown.  The follow-up to 2010’s What Man!? Oh That Man!!! sticks withthe earthy and elemental blues sound that is Wilde’s trademark, but also showssomething of a softer side.  The earlyreturns are in: He Gave Me A BlueNightgown hit #1 on Airplaydirect’s Global Blues Charts, and has been aFeatured Pick To Click on BB King’s Bluesville (SirusXM). 

What works sowell for Sunday Wilde is that she doesn’t just sing the Blues; she lives andbreathes the essence of the art. Surrounded with primarily acoustic instrumentation, you could easilyimagine Sunday Wilde in the early days of the blues in Chicago, Memphis, oranywhere else that heartbreak and hard times reign supreme.  Wilde shines on songs such as “Captured Me”, “Sunday’sLoverman”, “Tell Me To Hush?” and “I Guess I Didn’t Hear You Right”.  She shines, yes, but there are moments whereWilde exceeds a simple shine in an elemental explosion.  One such moment is “Shaken Down”, where Wildelaments getting taken in by something of a con man.  This number has a rock and roll feel, and isdelivered with whip smart intelligence and a theatrical flair. 

“He ThrillsMe Up” has a similar energy and presence, and is carved from Wilde’s emotionalbedrock.  “Joy Can’t You Shine” plays asimilar pastiche, this time as hope mixes with sorrow.  Wilde saves her best for last, however.  “Amazing Grace” is drawn from the fundamentof The Blues, and riven raw emotion. Such gets deeper on “Blue Spirit Blues”, where the floodgates comeloose.  Sunday Wilde sings and howls fromthe very depth of a broken soul, getting back to the very elements that make upthe human heart.  The core of sufferingparlayed into song is deep, dark and yet somehow still full of hope.  The moment is utterly elemental and real, andSunday Wilde wields it like a monument.

He Gave Me A BlueNightgown is worthy of attention. Indeed, it is worthy of the chart position it has attained thusfar.  Don’t be surprised if Sunday Wildebreaks out bigger than she has thus far with her latest work.  He GaveMe A Blue Nightgown shouldn’t surprise anyone with a Juno, or perhaps evena GRAMMY nomination. Sunday Wilde is the Queen of the Blues.  

Rating: 4.5 Stars(Out of 5)

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Camera - The Panic And The Permanence

Camera – The Panic And The Permanence
2013, Camera
Art rock might not be the right term to describe Camera’s third album, The Panic And The Permanence, but you might be hard pressed come up with another moniker that fit quite so well.  Camera approaches every song they touch with a hint of punk attitude.  Their off-kilter pop sensibilities can be jarring at times, and the band has no pro-forma conceptions about song structure.  What they do have is an eclectic rock sound that’s a mix of the B-52’s, The Bogmen and Green Jelly.  Highlights include the dark, catchy gem “Grazed By Bullets”, “Pop Radio 101” and “Buried Alive”.  Camera can be maddening at times as well, falling into musical mood swings that leave the listener out in the cold, wondering what just happened.  Despite this, The Panic And The Permanance charms with its rough cut humor and ‘tell it like it is’ attitude.
Rating:  3 Stars (Out of 5)
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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Anthrax - Anthems

Anthrax – Anthems
2013, Megaforce Records
Anthrax might just be the most storied metal band to ever come out of New York City.  Contemporaries of Slayer, Megadeth and Metallica, Anthrax have been a heavy metal force over the past 30+ years.  With ten albums and numerous world tours under their belt, entire generations of metal musicians owe at least part of their musical lineage to Anthrax.  The events of the past few years have been surprising, not the least of which is the return of long time front man Joey Belladonna to the fold.  Anthrax is currently preparing for their eleventh album, to be released later in 2013.  For now the band has released an eight song EP entitled Anthems, comprised of six classic rock covers and one original song in two versions.
The idea of a cover project seems anathema to a band like Anthrax, but in the end it turns out to be a rather pleasant surprise.  The EP kicks off with a vibrant cover of “Anthem” (Rush).  Anthrax treats the song with reverence, kicking it out with energy, power and a distinctive precision that does the original proud.  “T.N.T. (AC/DC)” is a rollicking good time.  Things get a bit surreal with the cover of “Smokin’” (Boston), with Anthrax quite possibly bettering the original.  And while they don’t quite surpass the originators of “Keep On Runnin’” (Journey), they certainly give the current formulation of that band a run for their money.  Cheap Trick’s “Big Eyes” gets a wonderfully dark reading, and “Jailbreak” (Thin Lizzy) is full of all the mischief of the original.  Anthrax winds up with the original tune “Crawl” in its original form as well as in the “Orc Remix”.  The song is well-crafted and much more pop oriented than previous work by Anthrax, but positions them well for a potentially huge comeback in 2013.
Anthrax is surprisingly supple and graceful in covering some major hits of 1970’s and early 1980’s rock and roll.  Anthems is a cover project, but Anthrax manages to show off some very subtle yet distinctive changes in musical personality.  Anthems is thoroughly enjoyable, and Joey Belladonna’s voice is amazing.  Hard core fans of the band might be a bit taken aback by the sound of Anthems, but there is no doubt that this metal for the masses.
Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)
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Saturday Video Brunch: Sunday Wilde - Show Me A Man (live)

Sunday Wilde is a talent.  We'll be reviewing her new album here very soon.  In the meantime, this will give you an idea of the raw talent and presence she commands on stage.  Hold on to your hats.

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Saturday Video Brunch: Jon Patrick Walker - Hope Song

Straight from the silly little love songs file comes Jon Patrick Walker with a tribute to his wife, actress Hope Davis.  Something like this might normally be a pass, but this song is so over the top, and so drenched in classic rhythm and blues that it simply can't be ignored.

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Saturday Video Brunch: Kindlewood - Give & Take

We get requests on a daily basis to check out or feature new video releases.  We try to cull through all of these and bring you things that look and sound interesting as time permits.  Today, we present to you Kindlewood's "Give & Take".  There is a stark feel to this folk/pop number; a sort of desolation brought about by trying to hold on to the good in an ever-changing world.  That desolation is perfectly reflected in the stunning voice of Kelci Smith.  The video was directed Cory Pampalone.  Enjoy!

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Saturday Video Brunch: Abbot & Costello - Who's On First

In honor of the beginning of the Major League Baseball season, we share Abbott & Costello's classic comedy sketch "Who's On First".  Nothing more need be said.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Wise Girl - Wise Girl

Wise Girl – Wise Girl
2012, Wise Girl
Wise Girl is the latest project for New York native Abby Weitz.  The former front woman of punkers The Lookaways, has previously been featured in such NYC clubs as Sin-E, Lit Lounge, and CBGB’s as well as playing the Van’s Warped Tour.  Wise Girl has been a mainstay in clubs since their inception in 2010, and will soon be featured on Beta TV, which reaches over 100 million homes.  Wise Girl recently released their dynamic self-titled debut EP.
Wise Girl is a tight musical outfit, but Abby Weitz is a tour de force.  She takes control from the opening notes of “Roles Are Reversed”, a delicious mix of rock and country.  Weitz is eminently affable, and you’ll have a hard time getting this tune out of your head.  “Set In Stone” is a catchy, rhythmic rocker with a hook-filled chorus that screams hit.  This exploration of low-scale heartbreak that builds over the years is infectious and smart.  Wise Girl goes for a classic pop/rock sound on “Wishful Thinking”, using big guitars and a swaying feel to hook you and pull you in.  This song has it all, a full sound, big harmonies, and a dynamic star turn from Abby Weitz.
Wise Girl is the real deal.  The musical composition and presentation on Wise Girl is top notch, but Abby Weitz is a star in waiting.  The full range of pop and rock and roll is represented here with even a bit of country flavor on the opening track.  Wise Girl has major commercial potential.  Don’t be surprised if the names Wise Girl and Abby Weitz are everywhere one year from now.
Rating:  4.5 Stars (Out of 5)
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Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Lift - The Lift

The Lift – The Lift
2013, The Lift
The last we heard from actress/vocalist Amber Ojeda was her 2008, self-titled demo recording.  While impressed with her ‘dusky alto voice’, the material she was working on at the time was a hum-drum mix of pop and R&B that didn’t allow her to stand out.  Things have changed.  Ojeda has since had several songs placed on various television shows and has found commercial success in Japan with a light pop/R&B style.  Ojeda also recently began working with Davy Nathan (Christina Aguilera, Toni Braxton, Colby Callait, The X-Factor).  The duo, also known as The Lift has a decidedly different take on style when working together.  Their debut EP, The Lift, is due this spring.
Nathan brings out a darker side to Ojeda’s voice, and it is the breakout she needed.  Treading a fine line between the melancholic obsession of Mazzy Starr and the smooth pop sensibility of Norah Jones, Ojeda’s voice comes to desolate life over the five songs on The Lift. Desire and confusion create an emotional wasteland in “Lost In The Middle”, but Ojeda’s voice shines out of that darkness like a star.  “Why I Stayed” explores relationship detritus in song.  The exploration goes on perhaps a bit too long, but Ojeda’s vocals are strong, and Nathan’s arrangement enhances the sense of desolation the narrator feels.  “Make Me Believe” has a memorable melody, and Ojeda makes the most of it.  If it’s possible, the song is perhaps too deep in the emotional blue, but Ojeda and Nathan make it work in spite of this.
“Love Lost” laments a tendency to fall in love and get hurt.  There’s a certain, lonely beauty in this moment that Ojeda conjures from within.  The song itself runs a bit long, but the image it creates is stark and distinctly human.  The Lift closes with “In The Night”, a gorgeous exploration of loneliness.  The beauty here is in the sadness, carved from each note like a work of art.
The Lift manages to find beauty in heartbreak, sunshine in darkness, and warmth in the desolate landscape of loneliness.  Amber Ojeda is a revelation here, and Davy Nathan crafts wonderfully well-fit arrangements around her voice. If there is any room to improve here, it is in not belaboring the songs.  Several of the songs on The Lift overstay their welcome, and risk crossing the border from vibrantly dark and lovely performances into the outer reaches of monotony.  Finding a way to pare down without losing the image and element of the songs would complete the picture.
Rating:  4 Stars (Out of 5)
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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Gift Of Tongues - Gift Of Tongues

Gift Of Tongues – Songs Of My People
2013, Gift Of Tongues
Performance Art is one of the most inscrutable subjects in the art world.  There are those who swear by its pure, creative powers, and those who scoff at the very idea.  Words like “legitimate” get thrown around in arguments over what performance art is or should be.  These discussions are moot, in any case.  The mere fact that these discussions happen in such heated fashion is proof of value, so to speak.  Nevertheless, when performance art and something structured, such as music, become one, there are going to be fights.  That would seem to be the challenge of Gift Of Tongues’ new album, Songs Of My People.

Gift Of Tongues is the musical outlet of performance artist David E. Johnston.  Collaborating with a host of talent New York City musicians, Johnston manages to carve out a sonic space that’s part electronic, part dance and part neo-folk.  Gift Of Tongues runs the gamut, from invective-laden stream of conscious songs to kitschy story-teller style tunes.  Johnston drives through the entire set without remorse or hesitation, occasionally perhaps unaware of the spectacle he leaves in his wake.
Gift Of Tongues kick things off in surreal style with “Preamble”, a spoken word gem from a mecha-musical overlord whose thematic grace is right out of George Orwell’s 1984.  “The Universe” is a rambling rumination on the concept of “use it or lose it”.  Gift Of Tongues create an interesting musical air here, like the theoretical middle ground between Fatboy Slim and Nine Inch Nails.  “Home” makes intriguing use of organic and found sounds in its musical construction.  While initially intriguing, the song does fall into a repetitive loop that becomes impossible to escape.  “Big Bad Wolf” is quite catchy and full of atypical sounds.  Extensive vocal effects are used to here to create a sort of steam punk-electro feel.

“Glory Hole” is an adolescent day dream out of the dark ages.  There’s a definitive electro-dance feel to the arrangement, but there’s also a subtle perversion that runs through the sun that’s disturbing.  “I Am A Large Man” appears to have several potential interpretations, each of which is somewhat disturbing.  This is all delivered in the guise of a modern love song that may very well be what it appears, but forgive yourself a few doubts along the way.  “Gift Of Tongues” refers to the Pentecostal practices of snake handling and speaking in tongues.  Johnson addresses his cynicism in subtle sarcasm and a tasty dance beat.  “Dahmeresque” is the very definition of a Freudian oral character magnified through the lens of psychosis.  Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the song is the 1980’s new wave/dance arrangement (think Mike & The Mechanics).  The juxtaposition is almost comical, but will definitely get your toes tapping.
“I Was A Soldier” has a dark and hopeless feel to it.  It’s an intriguing sound but not something you might feel inclined to listen through on a regular basis.  “Cock-a-Roach”, on the other hand, is catchy and entertaining.  This has potential club hit written all over it, from the catchy, incestuous beats to the whimsical subject matter.  “What’s Mommy Getting Up To?” has a complicated but workable dance beat.  The lyrical flow feels a bit forced however, and the chorus is a bit too repetitive for comfort. “10050 Cielo Drive” starts out sounding like soundtrack material from a horror movie.  The arrangement is something of a sonic mess, and overcomes anything else that Gift Of Tongues is trying to accomplish.  “America (The Beautiful)” reverts to the electro/steam punk style we heard early on from Gift Of Tongues.  This settles down into a rote dance beat before it’s done, but Johnson’s vision is vibrant and clear.  Gift Of Tongues says goodnight with the eminently catchy and country flavored dance pop of “Long Way Home”.  This will definitely get your feet moving, and may tend to sunset listeners in a positive light.

Songs Of My People is eclectic and fun; occasionally maddening, and ultimately listenable in its complicated simplicity.  As a listener you’re never entirely sure whether Daniel E. Johnston is writing from a serious place or just leading you on into the nebulous mind of the character.  Either way, the trip is entertaining.
Rating:  3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ciera Oulette - Bad Feelings

Ciera Oulette – Bad Feelings
2013, Simply Grand Music
Ciera Oulette is a native Tennessee, and grew up with country music to the soundtrack of her life.  It was also one of her earliest inspirations. The singing bug bit Oulette at the tender age of five, and she describes music as a life necessity on par with water and air.  The dedication Oulette has shown over the years is paying off.  Oulette’s new EP, Bad Feelings, is making waves on iTunes and across various digital outlets. 
Bad Feelings is a vehicle that will establish Oulette as a presence.  She has the ability to hold a listener captive, particularly when she stays in her vocal safe zone.  Trips outside of the zone can become perilously pitchy, as seen on the final track, “Waiting For You”.  Nonetheless, Oulette is a solid interpreter of song.  Her takeoff tune, “Bad Feelings” is catchy (though a bit repetitive), and shows off the best aspects of Oulette’s voice.  This is pretty standard country pop fair, but has an authentic commercial flavor that should play well to radio.  “If I Could” is a feel good love song.  The song is very catchy and radio-friendly, but Oulette spends too much time in her lower register, and the tone suffers accordingly.  “Don’t You Worry About Me” starts off as an old school country tune and turns schizophonic.  The lyrics are a bit rushed at times, and the song never really settles into its own groove.  We do get to hear Oulette show off the prettier party of her range here, however, so the song is something of a mess with a nice payoff.
Ciera Oulette has a nice voice, but song selection has the ability to derail her.  It’s a question of recognizing where your weaknesses and strengths are; avoiding the former and playing to the latter.  The songs on Bad Feelings aren’t terribly well crafted to fit Oulette’s range.  There’s a rough nature to the songwriting at times, but production has worked out some of the kinks and wrinkles.  Oulette has talent, and once she learns to rig the game in her favor she has the potential to do some big things.  Bad Feelings is a solid initial foray that shows off Oulette’s potential.
Rating:  3 Stars (Out of 5)
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Monday, April 8, 2013

Optic Yellow Felt - Optic Yellow Felt

Optic Yellow Felt – Optic Yellow Felt
2011, Catapult
You have to say one thing for Optic Yellow Felt, they are certainly original.  From the name, to their sound, there isn’t a great deal about Optic Yellow Felt that you can pin down to someone else.  Except for their vocalist, that is.  Fans of the Rheostatics and Martin Tielli will be very curious to hear lead vocalist Victor Nader, whose vocal sound is eerily similar to those of Tielli.  Optic Yellow Felt took over a year to record their self-titled debut album, working closely with producer/sound engineer Roy Cicala (Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan) to bring the band’s original sound and style out in the recording.
Formed by brothers Victor (vox, guitar) and Lino Nader (bass, backing vox) while living in the United States, Optic Yellow Felt has grown to six members.  Nando Morsani (piano, vox); Ricardo Pires (sax, vox); Eduardo Marson (guitar, vox) and Tiago B. (drums, vox) round out the lineup.  The songwriting style is rough at times, but there is a certain charm in Optic Yellow Felt’s music that is hard to ignore.  Victor Nader writes in stumbling style, almost as if he is falling into his thoughts than thinking them.  This comes to light on the opening track, “Captain Of The Seas”, a perseverating love song that goes in logical circles.  This leads into the ambient singer/songwriter air of “Close To Sadness”.  While Nader has a similar sound to Martin Tielli, he doesn’t appear to have the breath support that leads to good pitch and tonal control. 
The album becomes a study in intriguing and sometimes chaotic arrangements, and a well-meaning but ill-trained vocalist with an enigmatic sound but poor fundamentals.  Optic Yellow Felt likes to experiment with multi-part song structure, but on more than one occasion kills off a song before it even gets going with extended introductions.  Like most bands with potential Optic Yellow Felt manages to pull off one track late in the game that really reflects what they are capable of.  “Talkin’ N Talkin’” is a solid love song with some real potential.  It’s easily the best composition on the album, and gives you a hint as to where Optic Yellow Felt might go in the future.    
Much of the rest of Optic Yellow Felt is the audio document of a band trying to figure out who they are and what their sound is.  The songwriting is uneven and rough (but not without its little golden moments).  Optic Yellow Felt is sort of a hipster act; messy and still figuring itself out, but purveying an original sound that has yet to have the rough edges worn smooth.  Don’t be surprised if Optic Yellow Felt becomes something of a phenomenon down the line.  For now, there is still work to be done.
Rating:  3 Stars (Out of 5)
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Sunday, April 7, 2013

Lisa Bell - The Italian Project

Lisa Bell – The ItalianProject
2013, Lisa Bell
Colorado based singer/songwriter Lisa Bell has been offeringup her brand of original, positively-themed music for more than a decadenow.  While empowering others is at thecore of what she does, there is no denying that Bell is a talented songwriterand vocalist.  Bell got her startinterpreting Jazz standards, but quickly moved into the realm of originalmusic.  Her musical travels and travailshave seen her working with artists such as Bill Payne (Little Feat), Nelson Rangell, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach and Machan. Along the way she’s also opened shows for Christopher Cross, StanleyJordan and Oleta Adams.  Lisa Bell’sfourth album, The Italian Project wasborn of collaborations from new friends and colleagues gained over recent toursof Italy.
Lisa Bell is not one to be nailed down to one particulargenre, but she does sound most at home in that particular mix of rock andcountry that Bonnie Raitt did so well. There are even vocal similarities between the two artists.  Bell is her own creation, however, and flitsfrom genre to genre as she sees fit.  Herlyrics are positive and pragmatic, working to build rather than to teardown.  She gets things rolling nicely on The Italian Project with “Bring The Love”,a meat and potatoes mash of rock, blues and country that is very catchy.  This is one of those moments where you can’thelp but compare Bell to Raitt.  “Come MyWay” has a wonderfully variegated guitar part that adds nice texture to thesong.  This is eminently radio ready,with a memorable pop chorus you won’t escape.
Bell goes for a late 70’s/early 80’s soul sound on “OneFace, One Race”, and includes some backing vocals sung in Italian.  Whether in English or Italian the message isclear; we are all one.  “A Brighter Day”allows Bell to show off her dulcet alto over a light samba that she wear verywell.  “Walk With Me” is a love song,displayed in a catchy, blues/rock arrangement. There’s a distinct sensuality here in Bell’s voice, but it seems more ofa natural element than an affectation.  Bell’s "Love Hurts” pays homage to the Nazareth tune of the same name, but is otherwise original.   She imbues the song with an energy and spunk that make it thoroughly enjoyable. 
With “Quilt”, Bell returns to the theme of people beinguniversally connected.  The allegory forfinding a way to bind us all together will not be lost on the listener, andBell manages to protect a maternal air in the process.    Bell’s only stumble is “From The OutsideLooking In”, which just doesn’t seem to have the energy of the rest of thealbum.  The song is essentially its ownallegory.  “The Best Of Me” is a solidcountry anthem about making the most of your dreams.  It’s a great message, and Bell is in her bestvoice here.  “I Can Be Anything” followsin much the same theme.  The words hereborder on cliché, but Bell pulls it off with panache a genuine belief in whatshe has to say.  The Italian Project closes with “Set It Free (The Boomba BoombaSong), which seems to be a sort of children’s tune with a Caribbean feel.  It’s a fun little closer that’s more noveltythan anything else, but works to show a lighter side to Lisa Bell’s creativetalents.
Lisa Bell crafts eleven original and empowering songs on The Italian Project.Bell’s positive focus is a breath of fresh air, and her blends of rock, countryand blues are aurally appealing.  Bellwill be compared to Bonnie Raitt extensively, and it’s not an unfair simile,but Bell is very much her own artist who just happens to share some traits withone of the greats.  Listen to The Italian Project and you’ll behooked.  Lisa Bell is the real deal.
Rating:  4 Stars (Out of 5)
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Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Death of the Music Industry?

The album format is dead.
That seems to be the growing consensus in the music industry.  And by ‘music industry’ I mean the universal set of labels, independent artists and those who fall somewhere in between.
Several reasons are cited for this, but the most common ones are listed below:

·         Declining attention spans from music fans;

·         The cost of studio time; and

·         The “death” of the CD.

I’d like to tackle this in reverse order, if I may.
Much has been made of the death of the CD, and it’s true that there has been a tectonic shift in music sales over the past decade but as of 2012 physical media still made up 50% of all music sales, with the bulk of these being on CD.  And while much has been made of the resurgence of vinyl, the old LP accounted for only 4.6 million units in 2012. That’s less than ¼ of 1% of all sales (1.86 billion units worldwide).

But it seems quite likely that this statistic is misleading.  According to industry reports, approximately 88% of all music sales were from major labels.  This is a record, historically.  It seems somewhat odd that at a time when music fans have greater access to artists than ever that the music industry’s monopoly on sales is growing rather than falling.  This would seem to go against all logic and reason, and would make one question why so many artists are now choosing to go it alone.
One possible explanation is that independent CD sales are grossly under-reported.  Anytime a fan downloads your album through Amazon or iTunes or another such service on-line, the revenue from that sale will be counted somewhere in year-end sales figures.  But as an independent artist, who do you report those 5 or 10 album copies you sell at a show?  I am certain that large, established Indie artists have avenues for reporting such things, but there are also benefits to under-reporting such figures (i.e. income taxes).  It’s impossible to judge the overall impact of this on sales numbers, but it’s worth considering.

The fact is that there will always be individuals who want to have the physical product of an album, whether on CD or vinyl.  Some of this is generational, but some of it is simply common sense.  Hard drives and clouds fail.  CDs can certainly become scratched, and if you have one of the early European produced discs you might lot your music to oxidation (the dreaded pinhole effect), but you can rip that CD as many times as you want.
This is why the industry (this time the Big-4) cheers the supposed death of CDs. If music is digital, and if people become more reliant on streaming, it ensures a constant source of revenue.  Why work under a model where you pay for an album once where much of the revenue is eaten up by distributors and retailers, when the industry can get you to pay for the same music over and over.  It’s simply an expansion of the same method that’s been used since the 1970’s.  Keep re-releasing the same album with new bonus material so that die-hard fans will buy it again and again.  Only under the digital model, nothing new needs to be offered.  It’s simply a matter of time before something fails and you’re looking to replace what you have.

Ultimately, the losers in this are the listeners, and believe it or not, the artists.  Independent artist revenue from streaming services is a pittance.  It is certainly a way to be heard, but it’s arguable whether this translates into significant sales.  The tried and true method still works: live performances with product available for sale on your way out the door.
The cost of studio time is certainly a concern for most independent artists, but in the day and age of cheap recording equipment and home computers, almost anyone can record anything pretty much anywhere.  Unless you really know what you’re doing you’ll need to involve an expert at some point in the process, but this problem is not as daunting as it was even 20 years ago.  And with the advent of crowd-funding it’s even less of a concern (although we’ll talk about the dangers of crowd funding another time).

The declining attention span argument has been around for every generation since World War II, but has been particularly dominant since the advent of MTV.  The argument seems to be that people just don’t pay attention for a full album anymore.  The age of music videos and quick downloads and numerous devices mean people have less time to dig into an album.

The beauty of an album is that you don’t need to listen to the entire thing at one sitting.  You can, and it may enrich your experience, but all relationships are different.  And that’s what an album is; it’s a relationship with your fans.  It’s a musical dialogue; a series of intellectual, artistic and emotional exchanges that can be subtle or profound depending on the combination of artist and listener.  A single is nice, but it’s the equivalent of a single dance at a nightclub.  One shot and it’s over.  You won’t find too many people who will remember where they were the first time they heard Debbie Gibson’s “Out Of The Blue” or Hanson’s “Mmm-Bop”, but there’s an entire generation of folks who can tell you where they were the first time they heard “The Wall” in its entirety.
Besides, art is not meant simply to cater to the whims of the lowest common denominator.  Art has always been about rising above the human condition; a way to allow people to stretch and grow.  As an artist you want to be a part of that process, don’t you?

I am afraid it is not the physical media that is dying, but the art form itself.
We have become a consumer driven economy.  There are still artists out there who would write and sing songs for free if it came down to that, but they are more and more in the minority.  We have become a culture obsessed with celebrity; we all want our 15-minutes, please.  What gets lost along the way is the art and the humanity.  Who profits?  The record labels.

That’s what you want out of your music, right?