All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Video: Garrison Starr and P.J. Pacifico - Gin & Juice

Some things defy explanation.  Just watch.  Garrison Starr and P.J. Pacifico offer up a wonderful acoustic cover of Snoop Dogg's "Gin & Juice".

Learn more about Garrison Starr at

Learn more about P.J. Pacifico at

Peter Calandra - Inner Circle

Inner Circle

Peter Calandra - Inner Circle
2014, PCM Music

Peter Calandra is a composer and pianist whose work has been featured in over 40 films and countless televisions placements. Also active on Broadway, Calandra wears many musical hats both as a performer and composer. Last year, Calandra reaches Ashokan Memories, a brilliant solo piano cycle that was among the best solo piano albums of 2013. This spring Calandra follows up with Inner Circle, a 13 song cycle that runs the gamut from the renaissance to a modern day dance club.

Inner Circle opens with "Clyde and the Pearl", featuring a plucky piano/synth lead and a quietly funky arrangement. There's a low-key aesthetic here, but Calandra balances it off with tremendous energy and charisma behind the keys. "Dine's Waltz" creates interesting tension through the use of well placed major-minor key changes. The result is a plaintive bit pretty number that sounds like it should be part of a larger musical score. "The Wayfarer" dances into the pop realm, suggesting a lead that never entirely materializes. This sounds somehow incomplete without a vocal, but Calandra has an ear pleaser on his hands.  "Better Angels" is a quiet charmer with a very pretty melody that will come back to you in the days after listening. It's a gentle ear worm you won't want to push away.

A delightfully darker turn occurs on "Inner Circle", with Calandra using strings to bring more depth to the energetic and undisciplined piano "voice". This is a family play where notes become words, ideas and inflections through masterful skill.  Calandra sets an incessant tone in "Faith", setting apart that dogged determination with dancing lead lines from instruments such as piano, violin and flute, perhaps suggesting influxes of inspiration or spirit.  "So Much to Say" is a pensive meditation on piano that is among the loveliest compositions on the album. The resolutions here are beautiful, and Calandra writes with a distinct pop ballad sensibility.

"A Quiet Spark" finds Calandra meandering his way through a musical meadow, accenting gentle curves on the piano like the wind sparks waves in grain. The beauty here is stunning, yet the effect is subtle and soothing. "Nightwatch" on the other hand is dreamy and diffuse; stumbling along like a wayward brook through much of its length. The final rush of the piano suggests a change in approach; an impending destination. This leads into epic slow build of "The Dreamer", much of which is filled by a minimalist musical dark matter. The leads that flash in and out of the darkness are stark and beautifully crafted, carving the metaphorical night like meteorites.

"Whispers in the Dark" is a solo piano piece that plays like a ballad. Full of melancholy undertones, there is a stoic beauty here that is proud and will not be ignored.  "Reflections in the Sky" carries the varied pacing of a monologue from a musical, perhaps something by Jason Robert Brown or William Finn. Calandra says goodnight with the soaring grace of "Chorale".  Special guest Joy Askew provided multiple dubbed vocal tracks to suggest the dark tones of a madrigal resonating off the stone walls and columns of an ancient cathedral.   This is a moment of true beauty.

Peter Calandra shows incredible depth and range in composition on Inner Circle. Calandra worked with a very talented group of musicians to bring his song to life here, and the effort and talent that went into the recording are very obvious. You may find yourself longing for the fuller sound of an orchestra on some of these songs, but the versions offered here offer a distinct vision of Calandra's muse.   In Inner Circle, Calandra has created a vibrant collection of original instrumental works that should win him many awards.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

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Joe Tripp and the Hops - 6 Songs

Joe Tripp and the Hops - 6 Songs

2014, Joe Tripp and the Hops

When we last heard from The Hops it was 2011 and they were promoting their EP Won’t It Be Fun.  With an interesting sound built around instrumental interplay, the band was going somewhere.  They went on to be named one of Chicago’s top bands in 2012 (Illinois Entertainer), as well as garnering Best Indie Rock song (“The Walk”) on in February, 2012.  In the time since, The Hops have undergone a major personnel transformation, with original vocalist/bassist Patrick Tinning and guitarist Cullin Kress (Endeavor) departing.  Drummer TJ Walker met up with Joe Tripp, and the two have carried on as Joe Tripp and the Hops, and have a new EP entitled 6 Songs. 

The EP takes flight with "Signs", an energetic mess of funk, pop and classic rock. The full bodied sound could be cleaned up a bit, but there's an exuberance in the music that makes this easy to overlook.  The vocals are layered with distortion and effects, which detracts from the enjoyment a bit, but on the whole it's a solid start. "Let Go" is a fit-to-form pop song with Lo-Fi sensibilities and a wonderfully variable rhythm structure. Joe Tripp and the Hops slow things down for the pining ballad "Heart Cries Out". The vocals are a bit rough here, and combined with the pacing make this a bit of a challenge for the listener. The pace picks up on "There's Something", a catchy, rough-hewn rocker with a memorable chorus. "Who Knows" suffers from its own pacing and a lack of precision in both the lead and harmony vocals. There's little in the way of tonal cohesion here, and there's little effort for the vocalists to sing together. 6 Songs winds down with "Fantasma", 'a catchy rocker that perhaps should have led off the EP. Your feet will move of their own volition.

Joe Tripp and the Hops show a wonderful pop sensibility on 6 Songs, but struggle with issues of production and vocal tone. This is not an issue of talent but of training and is easily addressed. The music is enjoyable, and the vocal lapses aren't as much of an issue in the upbeat tunes, but the ballads greatly expose this weakness however, and may turn some listeners away.  This obviously isn’t the same band that rocked the Chicago Region in 2011-2012 but there’s still some great potential here.  

Rating:  3 Stars (Out of 5)

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Leslie DiNicola - Some Greener Yard

Leslie DiNicola - Some Greener Yard
2013, Leslie DiNicola

Leslie DiNicola is a New York City-based singer/songwriter who writes soul-baring lyrics with a universal perspective.  Over time, DiNicola has receiving comparisons to such divergent artists as Janis Joplin and Alison Krauss.  She’s worked with the likes of Ron Allaire (Keith Richards, Madonna, David Bowie, Shakira); Julian Coryell (Aimee Mann, Leonard Cohen, Jewel, Alanis Morisette) and others.  DiNicola’s latest EP, Some Greener Yard, is her second with Coryell at the helm, and features some of her most personal songwriting to date.

DiNicola launches with "Shaky Wire", an aptly titled lead considering DiNicola is skating a fine and uncomfortably navigated line between country and rock here. The music is adeptly crafted, but there's a bit too much vibrato and tonal uncertainty in DiNicola's voice for this to be convincing. The vocals are much more stable on "Give Me Away", a middle of the road country/pop number full of melancholy. "Stay" shows more energy and a memorable chorus, but the vocal issues noted in the opening track return as DiNicola moves into her upper register. "Weight" tries to be a heart breaker, exploring the self-exploration following heartbreaking in reciprocal loops. The melody is pleasant enough, but the musical recidivism is tiring. DiNicola closes out with a meandering ballad that pales at its own energy and pacing.

Leslie DiNicola displays an affable voice with manageable weaknesses on Some Greener Yard. Unfortunately she tends to choose slow, languorous ballads that highlight the weaknesses rather than material more appropriate to her sound. The EP is fraught with slow, low energy moments that just don't do DiNicola justice.

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Lara James - Why Wouldn't I [EP]

Why Wouldn't I - EP

Lara James - Why Wouldn't I [EP]
2014, Lara James

Lara James grew up writing songs.  The fact that she was never exposed to pop music until her teens not-withstanding, James grew up on a mix of church music, jazz and old Broadway musicals.  In spite of her musical desires, she never pursued them until after she’d been married and had kids.  You’ll be glad she made the leap of faith, as James has a voice worth waiting for.  Her latest EP, Why Wouldn’t I, explores sparse and simple arrangements that allow her voice to shine. And shine it does.

James kicks off with the wonderfully sultry jazz number "Tick Tock", wielding a voice that could melt butter in a freezer and a fun energy. The energy remains high for "Why Wouldn't I", a carpe diem tune with a memorable chorus and a very danceable arrangement. In the hands of the right producer this song becomes a mega hit, but the electronic enhancements added in that process would detract from the simple beauty of James' composition.

James gives Garth Brooks' "The Thunder Rolls" a confessional/cabaret feel, but the quiet suspense of the arrangement is a perfect complement to her voice.  "Love Worth Fighting For" is a delightfully stripped down ballad with a melancholy feel, yet is full of a vibrant energy that's impossible to ignore. James is entirely on her game here, owning the moment the way a leading lady owns the stage. James bows with "Untouchable", a son of unrequited love that's stark and martial in its construction. There's a distinct pop sensibility here in spite of the stripped down arrangement.

Lara James can work with songs with sparse arrangements because she has a voice that fills up that sonic space. While perhaps not a belter, she shows a warm, full voice on Why Wouldn't I that runs from affable to sultry; with a quietly commanding presence that cuts to the heart of each every song. Some producer is going to get hold of James and make a huge star out of her with glitzy pop songs, but this musical milieu is where she shines brightest.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Charlotte Sometimes - By Request

By Request

Charlotte Sometimes – By Request [EP]
2014, MRI Associated

Charlotte Sometimes, AKA Jessica Charlotte Poland, is a NYC-based native of New Jersey.  Her singing and songwriting talents have seen her as a featured performer on The Warped Tour and a contest on Season 2 of The Voice.  Get beyond the popular acclaim, however, and Charlotte Sometimes is a fairly talented singer and songwriter.  Afflicted with Condylar Resorption during her teens, Charlotte had her jaw bone replace by two of her ribs.  None of this seems to have had the least effect on her voice on By Request

Charlotte opens with “Magic”, showing off an intriguingly full-bodied voice full of unusual and interesting timbres.  This is a great introduction; a catchy-folk/rock number with an urgent chorus.  You could imagine Charlotte as something of a cross between Chrissie Hynde and Dolores O’Riordan and not be far off the mark.  “Paint The Sky” finds Charlotte exploring more of a country flavor while describing love as a difficult road.  There’s a plaintive sort of hope that underlies the text here.  It’s a great bit of songwriting, fractured with insecurities and question marks and a delicious musical sensibility. 

“Pumped Up Kicks” is a disturbing musical monologue that would fit nicely in a post-modern off-Broadway production.  Charlotte offers up a powerful vocal performance punctuated by an almost violent disaffection, making a defining impression in the process.  “Losing Sleep” is a complete 180, with Charlotte exploring an intimate vocal style with compelling intensity.  This is not a pretty song, per se, but it’s beautiful in its loneliness and distinctive sound.  When Charlotte goes into her belt she’ll blow most any room away.  This is a powerful musical attempt at becoming featuring just voice and guitar – A “wow” moment.

Charlotte Sometimes shows off many facets across the four songs on By Request.  You’ll be left wanting more, regardless of where your musical mores take you.  By Request is a break out effort that should (in a perfect world) make Charlotte Sometimes a nationally known performer.  Spread the word.  Down the road you can remind everyone else when you first told them about Charlotte Sometimes.

Rating:  4 Stars (Out of 5)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Heather Fay - Cherish The Broken

Heather Fay – Cherish The Broken
2013, Heather Fay (The Scrape Knee’d Girl)

Heather Fay writes from the heart and the mind, blending the two into a coherent read on humanity and her life experiences.  Fay’s distinctive storytelling mien integrates factual and emotional styles akin to artists such as Tom Waits, Carole King and Fiona Apple.  Fay is a regular in Connecticut and New York City (The Living Room, Rockwood Hall), but also performs regularly online via Google Hangout.  Fay’s latest album, Cherish The Broken, is a dynamic collection of songs spanning the genres of folk, pop, country, bluegrass and Americana.  Fay’s style is unadorned and straight from the heart, but shows real intellect and understanding of the world.

Cherish The Broken features stripped down arrangements that allow Fay’s songwriting and voice to shine.  Leading with “Drive You Out Of My Mind”, Fay begins a cycle of emotional breakdowns and breakthroughs.  Here she is trying to move on after a heart break.  She keeps things simple here with a stripped down arrangement and a sweet, unaffected voice.  “Autumns Chill” is lovely still life in song, carved from the bedrock of folk tradition.  “Breaking My Heart” moves back to a country sound with an ironic monologue to the man who is breaking her heart telling him just how good he is at it.  “Scrape Knee’d Girl” is a holdover from Fay’s first album.  It’s offered here in a gorgeous, stripped down arrangement.  A song of insecurity that grows into strength, this is one of Fay’s finest songs.  The autobiographical number is a gorgeous, plain-spoken piece of poetry about being yourself no matter what, told in the parallel story of a mother who set on making life better for her daughter than she had herself.

“I Would For You” is a speculative, questing love song.  The organic arrangement is decorated by the occasional flourish, highlighting the simple and elegant beauty of the songwriting.  It’s easy to imagine this song covered in a fuller arrangement and turning into a radio hit.  “Stay” is a mellow love song with outstanding instrumentation including strings, guitar and mandolin.  The song is utterly gorgeous; lush in spite of its simplicity.  “I’ve Been Known” is a song full of resignation, delivered in a counterintuitive snappy rock arrangement.  The song is extremely catchy yet understated, building into a solid chorus with a memorable melody.

“Life Is Beautiful” finds just Fay and guitar waxing eloquent on the important things in life.  This is the artist at her most heartfelt and real, and sounds like it was cut live in the studio in a single take.  “Where We’ll Meet Again” is sad yet hopeful, a sweet remembrance with hope for reuniting one day.  The song is pretty, simple and sweet.  Fay closes with a surprising cover of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, a unique folk/country ballad.  It works better than you might expect, due in large part to Fay’s unpretentious approach.

Heather Fay turns in an incredibly nuanced and artful performance with Cherish The Broken.  With simple adornment and an utter lack of calculation, Fay’s songwriting and earthy voice carry the day. Fay uses modern technology to continue to create music and delivery live performances while keeping family as the center of her life.  It’s a laudable approach.  It’s also easy to see how Fay could be a huge star one day.  Fay is one of the leaders of the new model for delivering music to the masses.  She’s successful because she’s real, honest, true and talented.  Cherish The Broken is brilliant.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

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New single alert: Katie Buchanan - Casting Waves

This is an intriguing new single from Katie Buchanan entitled "Casting Waves".  Buchanan is a blues singer/songwriter who appears to be taking a gritty roots/pop turn.  Her voice is full of unusual timbres, and the song is a great listen.  Check it out below!

Learn more at

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Video: Rob Cantor - All I Need Is You

Tally Hall's Rob Cantor takes an amazing song, "All I Need Is You", and develops a thoroughly artful and brilliant video to go with it.  Check it out below!

"All I Need Is You" is from Rob Cantor's new album, Not A Trampoline, which drops of April 14, 2014.  Learn more at

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Corduroy Suit - Revisions

The Corduroy Suit – Revisions
2014, The Corduroy Suit

The Corduroy Suit is a band basking in personal anonymity, playing loud music even when no one is listening.  They are like the new kid in school: They stick out like a sore thumb, but no one knows much about them.  Rather than start at the beginning, the walk up to you with their latest EP in hand, Revisions, and… no, never mind.  The Corduroy Suit is too cool for that.

Revisions opens with "May Day, Son", an upbeat rocker that won't sit still (and neither will you). The vocal lead swings some heavy charisma behind the mic, demanding attention with his voice and style. The Corduroy Suit eschews standard song structure for a seemingly free/form arrangement that's very much more planned than it might, at first sound. "Left to Survive" is a post-apocalyptic anthem that underscores humanity as its own individual and collective worst enemy. All of this is highlighted by the concept of unrequited love and the survival of the species. There's a dry wit running through the whole affair, holding hands with a sense of the truly bizarre. "Giant Neptune" is a spacey and spaced out rocker full of angst and isolation. Think Bowie gone pop and you're in the right ballpark. 

"Pushing Me Around" is oddly inaccessible, using punctuated rhythms to drive a confused and obfuscated personal narrative. The arrangement is clean and radio ready, but the lyrical constructs simply do not fly. The Corduroy Suit closes with "To Be Shaken" continues the sociopathic storytelling style noted above. The band sells it like they’ve lived it, but the sound is increasingly inaccessible.
The Corduroy Suit live on a musical edge that is hard to come by and harder still to tune into.  There’s no doubt some significant talent in the band, but they spend so much time in the spacey end of the spectrum without any real sense of constructs that make this exploration interesting.  Even with that in mind, Revisions offers some serious glimpses of the band’s ability and potential.  Don’t be surprised if, an album or two down the road, you have an ‘a-ha’ moment about the band.  There’s something real afoot here.
Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more at

Monday, April 7, 2014

Gena Perala - Exactly Nowhere

Gena Perala – Exactly Nowhere
2013, Gena Perala

Gena Perala is a modern renaissance woman.  Raised on the carnival circuit, she developed a keen insight into the human condition, and the artful storytelling style of a life-long performer.  Perala broke into music by way of her award winning poetry.  She has published three books to date and released two albums of original music.  Her debut album, This Ain’t Pretty, won Perala rave reviews. Her follow-up, Exactly Nowhere, finds Perala taking things to the next level.

Perala opens with “Living Proof”, bringing elements of classic 1960’s girl pop.  There’s a rock-a-bye feel to this tune, and while Perala is a bit verbose, the vocals are exceedingly easy on the ear.  “Fine” is an interesting take on a relationship where her partner makes her feel good about herself while spiraling downward himself.  There’s a sort of helpless fatalism here that’s palpable, and the song is gorgeous in its sadness.  “Hip Hop Cartoons” is rife irony.  The seeming anthem of living life on one’s own terms has a distinctive slacker element that’s more about simple existence than living or learning. 

“La Fin” is a dark waltz that is sung primarily in French with English interjections.  Perala is in her element here with a compelling mix of raw animus and madness.  It’s a moment that will haunt you into listening again and again.  “Exactly Nowhere” is theatrical in approach, sung seemingly in post-relationship shock.  Perala’s composition is masterful, right down to the string accents.  The lyrical caricature is as artful as the music, and in case you didn’t know it already, Perala is showing off some serious songwriting chops here.  “Superstar Nova” finds Perala in a more straight-forward pop approach, completed with elemental synth and a dance beat.  This is too busy as a relationship song and a bit too self-focused.  “Fat World” is a catchy garage/punk number that may be stuck in your noggin for days for its musical proclivities and for Perala’s enthralling voice.

"Hoopla" finds Perala lampooning women who fulfill themselves by digging for gold and living off the success if others. The campy atmosphere of the song, which alternates between reverb soaked simplicity and alt-rock excess, is reminiscent of Meryn Cadell. "On Second Thought" is a memorable piece of musical theater that tracks the internal ups and downs of a fickle minded suitor. Her writing is brilliant, incisive and funny yet somehow utterly mortal. The transitions from navel gazing pastiche to manic hope are perfectly conceived and executed.  "My Match" focuses on a repeat hookup offender who laments not finding permanence. It's a humorous and sad caricature that will likely remind you of someone.

"Life Is Hard" is a gorgeous, string-laced monologue from a character who is her own worst enemy. This worldview is dark and full of pessimism and yet utterly familiar from someone you know. Perala's light touch makes this more accessible and believable. "Tell It To The Stars" is an upbeat dialectic on seeking external guidance from the stars. Perala is eminently likeable here as she speaks from the heart in an upbeat, country flavored arrangement that will have you tapping your toes.

"See Myself" is a gently rolling piano ballad that's deftly orchestrated to build the emotive strength of the song while keeping Perala's superb vocals front and center. There's something of a secular sermon feel to this at times, with a distinctly inward focus built of insecurity as the concomitant strength it breeds. "Every Man" starts out in Perala's signature confessional style, but struggles to escape its own weight. She recovers nicely, closing with the brief, yet hopeful "Neverland".

Gena Perala’s musical and lyrical brilliance shines through on Exactly Nowhere.  There’s a theme of disaffection based on a mistrust of human intentions that runs through the album, but Perala also has a sense of humor.  In essence, Exactly Nowhere is something of a catalog of musical defense mechanisms that lead to the album’s title.  Perala deconstructs, perhaps, her own defenses with humor and grace and a fantastic sense of musical theater.  She takes tremendous risks and even when things don’t quite work out they’re certainly interesting.  Exactly Nowhere finds Gena Perala distinctly somewhere wonderful.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Blast From The Past: Denise Culhane - Love And Understating

Denise Culhane – Love and Understating
2000, Denise Culhane

There are classic Indie albums that everyone has heard of, and then there are the ones that never got on many people’s radar.  These usually happen because a really talented artist in a small local scene never gets the right breaks, or life circumstances gets in the way of taking things to the next level, or any one of another hundred possible reasons.  Today, as part of a new monthly series spotlighting classic Indie albums, I would like to introduce you to Denise Culhane. 

Culhane was part of a burgeoning music scene in the Albany, New York area in the late ‘90’s and early-aughts, along with folks like Mother Judge, Marcus Ruggiero, Matt Smith, Rosanne Raneri, The Figgs, Sirsy and seminal children’s act The Zucchini Brothers.  Culhane came to prominence on a locally produced television series Sounding Board, featuring live local music circa 1999 on television station WRGB.  Culhane was then promoting her debut album, Love and Understating.

Love and Understating was a low-fi affair cut on a shoestring budget.  Culhane herself acknowledges that there is more she would have done with the songs if the money had been there, but the sound is part of the charm of the album.  Love and Understating is an intimate affair, like a house concert among good friends.  The album begins with “Garden Party”, an intentionally cliché-filled song of partially unrequited love.  Culhane engages in wordplay both brilliant and mundane to capture the ambivalence of a relationship where only one party is invested.  The muted pop/rock arrangement fits the lyrics, and Culhane’s voice is a perfect match – invoking emotion and pure craft for an imperfectly perfect performance.  “Conflict of Interest” is driven by a powerful pop/rock arrangement and may well be the epilogue to “Garden Party”.  Culhane is getting ready to take flight here, and is beating him to the punch in the process.  This low-key, lo-fi effort is a very effective and emotive piece of song craft.  “Fly” takes a more introspective route, ruminating on love, loss, indecision and first steps.  It’s one of the deeper bits of songwriting on the album, and is a quiet gem.

Culhane is just getting warmed up, however.  The next three tunes are among some of the finest songwriting you’ll find in Indie rock from that era.  “Mirror Mirror” could be the anthem for every Indie artist of any era, a self-portrait of an artist trying to make it and dealing with her own self-doubt.  The upbeat pop arrangement will get stuck in your head and stay there.  “Torpid Heart” wins the award for best use of the word ‘torpid’ in a pop song ever.  That aside, this is a brilliant piece of songwriting about trying to pick your way through the minefields of love.  The lyrical constructs here are a bit awkward at times, but it is an honest awkwardness born of the uncertainty of love, and serves to make the song all the more genuine and charming.  The highlight of the album is “Just Hold My Hand”, which might possibly be the best pop song released in the mid-1990’s.  It’s a simple appeal for love and affection that is universal in its appeal and the song is an absolute piece of ear candy. 

“Rain Falls” is another universally themed number dealing with the inherent tendency for things to go wrong in relationships.  It’s well written, and Culhane’s voice is in top form here.  “Awry” is an utterly gorgeous vocal performance, with Culhane showing off the breadth and range of her sound.  “Outcast” is an energetic rocker that could use a bit more fleshing out but is well written.  The concept of relationships as a minefield recurs.  Culhane closes things out with “Run Away”, a solid closer that’s a bit on the downside, but aurally appealing nonetheless.

Denise Culhane’s Love And Understating is a brilliant effort from a then young songwriter trying to understand the ins and outs of relationships.  The songwriting is intelligent with a rough hewn but full of a distinctive melodic pop sensibility.  With the right budget and the right producer, this album would have launched Culhane into the stratosphere of popular music.  As it is, Love And Understating is an overlooked gem.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Ten Ton Man - Chunk of Change

Ten Ton Man - Chunk Of Change
2014, Ten Ton Man

Ten Ton Man is Paul Livornese (vocals/guitar); Paul Dugan (bass); and Paul Triff (drums).  The trio stirs a unique blend of rock, blues and soul with dark lyrical pretexts and from the gut stories of death, decay and redemption. 

Ten Ton Man opens with "Chunk Of Change", a blues waltz that sounds like Johnny Cash interpreted by The Smiths. Lyrically, the song never really makes a connection with listeners, playing like an internal dialogue offered entirely out of context. "Fine Line" is an acoustic blues number with a droning feel. Ten Ton Man crafts an intriguing sound here, but the lassitude of the vocal line confounds the sound. The energy improves some on "What To Do", and the stumbling feel of the vocal line is almost an artistic parallel for the lyrical constructs used. 

Ten Ton Man has an anachronistic voice that's almost conversational in tone. That sound works in the rough hewn songs on Chunk Of Change, but the energy will need to improve to carry listeners much further than a 3 song EP. This is, however, an interesting start. 
Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)
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Friday, April 4, 2014

Matt and Shannon Heaton - Tell You in Earnest

Matt & Shannon Heaton - Tell You in Earnest
2014, Eats Records

We here at Wildy’s World first came across husband and wife duo Matt and Shannon Heaton back in 2009 when we reviewed their album Lover’s Well.  Their unique blend of traditional Celtic folk sounds and modern sensibilities make them an absolute treat to behold.  The Heatons are at the Center of Boston’s Celtic music community, and have become favored performers throughout the Northeastern U.S.  This week they return with their 5th album as a duo, Tell You in Earnest

The album begins with the traditional sounding Celtic ballad "Cruel Salt Sea".  The ballad of love and loss is a thing of beauty. The instrumental arrangement here is smooth, yet full of vibrant Celtic energy, and Shannon Heaton's lead vocal is beautiful, lyric and warm. "Gallant Hussar" is a vibrant double jig with a happy ending. The Heatons keep it simple, and the song works on many levels. "Mon Rak Dawk Kam Tai" takes Thai lyrics and places them in the context of a Celtic/folk arrangement. The mix seems like it should be awkward, but Shannon Heaton pulls it off with aplomb in a dreamy sounding arrangement. Matt Heaton takes the lead on "Easy Come, Easy Go", an entertaining tale of love lost and found, foolishness and even cross-dressing. This elaborate bard's joke in song is captivating and fun.  

"Demon Lover" is Keatsian in its poetry, and equally refined musically. This is a beautiful, if reserved moment you won't want to miss. "Mantle of Green" is about love unrequited and love lost, a tragic love triangle built around two comrades and the woman they both love. There's a sorrowful lilt to the song, and The Heatons bring it alive with a special energy you can't ignore. "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" is an interesting story song about a dangerous love. The arrangement and pacing here run at a slow, sputtering space for the first 2 1/2 minutes before acquiring more urgency. Once the transition occurs the song is a much easier listen.

"Edwin of the Lowlands Low" is a tragic love song sung in simple yet stark tones. The elemental presentation is raw and full of a painful beauty. Matt Heaton takes the lead on "Mrs. McGrath", a stark take on the wages of war (sometimes sung as "My Son John".). While dated by references to the King of Spain, the message of the song is as powerful and prescient as when it was first crafted in the early 1800's. "Lovely Annie" starts out as a sweet ballad and then transitions into a flawless take on the reel “Richie Dwyer’s Favorite” (also commonly known as “The Fox on the Town”. This turn helps to close out the album on a high note with great energy that will beckon listeners back again and again.

Matt and Shannon Heaton are world class musicians each in their own right.  Together they have a special chemistry that is impossible to fake.  Tell You in Earnest finds the Heatons at the top of their game in spite of the occasional slow moment.  The blend of voices and instruments on Tell You in Earnest is other-worldly, and Shannon Heaton has perhaps one of the finest voices in Celtic music.  This is certain to be a favorite in your collection.

Rating:  4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Breanna Kennedy - She's Falling

Breanna Kennedy - She's Falling
2014, Breanna Kennedy

Breanna Kennedy is a 21-year old singer/songwriter with a knockout voice and an old soul.  Growing up in a musical environment, Kennedy took the muse to heart.  Managed by Johnny Vieira (Vanessa Hudgens), Kennedy has already worked with some pretty impressive songwriters and mentors (Danielle Brisebois, Jimmy Harry, Billy Steinberg, etc.), and has even shared the stage with Pete Townsend. Kennedy’s latest single, “She’s Falling” is set to garner the young artist some serious attention.
"She's Falling" is a powerful tale written about Kennedy's sister, who took her own life at the age of 23. The catchy, folk/pop arrangement is appealing to the ear, while Kennedy's lyrics tackle observing the descent of someone you love. The song is brilliant in its honesty and meticulous construction, and Kennedy sells it all with a wonderfully sensuous and smoky alto. Don't be surprised if "She's Falling" becomes a sort of licensing grail for 2014. 
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
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Margot MacDonald - Canvas

Margot MacDonald – Canvas
2013, Margot MacDonald

Some folks spend a lifetime figuring out what they are called to; others begin to excel before others are even through puberty.  Margot MacDonald is that sort of artist.  Margot began singing with the Washington National Opera at the age of 10, and released her first album of original material at the age of 12.  In the past ten years she has released a total of four original albums, in the process winning the Washington Area Music Association’s Artist of the Year award (2012).  MacDonald’s latest cycle, Canvas, runs the gamut from dreamy pop to rock, with MacDonald’s amazing vocal orchestrations as the star of the show.

Canvas opens with “Speed Of Sound”, a gorgeous vocal tapestry in the form of a rock and roll song.  MacDonald’s sound is reminiscent of early Sarah McLachlan but with a bit more force.  This song is built on meticulously crafted swells of sound, and MacDonald’s voice is amazing.  “Straight Talk” is a catchy piece of pop/rock songwriting with a memorable chorus.  The hook here is infectious, and will stay with you long after the song has stopped spinning.  “Feel Free” is a catchy, frenetic rock arrangement.  Strings and voices fill out the top over pure rock instrumentation, creating an intriguing sound and style to complement MacDonald’s enigmatic voice.  “Beautiful Strangers” changes vibes in an esoteric song of longing.  MacDonald recalls a young Kate Bush here, but with a more powerful and evocative voice. 

Margot MacDonald is breathtaking on “Call”, creating amazing textures between the layered effects of her voice and the existing instrumentation.  “To The Ground” mixes musical essence and form, with an arrangement not unlike rolling waves.  Amidst this reciprocal rhythm is the cool, clear voice of Margot MacDonald, and the effect is stunning, a true “Wow” moment.  “Changing Times” seems to break the zone that MacDonald has been in thus far on “Canvas”.  It’s a solid enough piece, but perhaps is just not up to the level of the rest of the material on the album.  “Bubble Wrapped Heart” is a speculative and sweet love song.  MacDonald is plainspoken and ultimately real against a gorgeous, full-bodied arrangement.  A key moment here is the interplay between voices and electric guitar on the extended bridge. 

“Pretty Little Cage” is a dreamy ballad about sorrow, recovery and moving on.  The broad and beautiful palate of the arrangement accents the unusual timbres of MacDonald’s voice.  “Someday/Monday” is a melancholic ballad with a bit of bounce to it.  It’s a nice change of pace and highlights the breadth and depth of MacDonald’s growing talents as a songwriter.  Next up is “Colorblind”, an ambitious rock arrangement with tremendous build.  This is perhaps not as accessible as some of the other material on the album, but fortifies the sense that MacDonald’s songwriting strength is still being explored.  This is breaking new ground for MacDonald, and it comes off surprisingly well.  MacDonald closes with “Teardrop”, an eerily beautiful attempt to move on that accents MacDonald’s prodigious lead with a vocal chant underneath.

Margot MacDonald may owe her musical niche and explorations to the like of Kate Bush, Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan, but her sound is very much her own.  While basing herself in the accessible world of pop and rock, MacDonald takes border crossings into other sounds as a matter of course, following wherever her many-armed muse may lead.  Canvas shows an artist who is perhaps not scratching the surface of what she can do, but is just beginning to explore the complex depths of her talents.  This is one exploration that should be a thorough joy to witness.

Rating:  4 Stars (Out of 5)

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Video Premiere: The Smoking Flowers - "Pistol Whip"

There's just something about the two voices and garage-y eloquence of The Smoking Flowers that gets under your skin.  Wildy's World brings you their latest video: "Pistol Whip".

Beatles Reunion Tour Announced

AP, London - The rumors, it appears, are true.  In a hastily called press conference this afternoon at Abbey Road Studios, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr announced the holy grail of concert tours.  This summer, in select cities across Europe and throughout the United State, The Beatles will reunite for one last time.  Entrepreuneur Alki David and the surviving Beatles are planning a concert tour utilizing holograms of John Lennon and George Harrison culled from thousands of hours of existing video footage and the latest in real animation technology.

David made a splash earlier this year by announcing a posthumous world tour by the image of Amy Winehouse, and apparently has not stopped working behind the scenes to bring other artists back to life.

News of the Beatles announcement has been dogged by the fact that the press conference was held on April first, traditionally known as "April Fool's Day".  Several major media outlets have refused to cover the story, but a press release from David's office counter signed by Sir Paul himself insists it's all true.

Dates and venues are currently being negotiated, but early word is that there will be approximately 10 dates across Europe and 25-30 across the United States and Canada.