Friday, June 05, 2015

David Hales - On My Own

Independent Label

   Regional rocker David Hales pulls together a smattering of styles for this his second independent album and he does so in successful fashion. Indeed, "Drama Queen" a hard rocking number and "Waiting" have both garnered radio airtime in the Knoxville area.
   On My Own is at times poetic and thoughtful ("Fairy Tale" and "You Were There") yet maintains a visceral feel in tandem with the more potent and hard rock tunes like "Breadmaker" and "Drama Queen." Hales' textured vocals compliment his diverse collection of tunes and add a quality that is felt rather than heard.
   "Ashley Judd," an unusual bonus track is worthy of mention solely because of its engaging "talking" song style and the story it tells when he encountered the actress.
   Though not a album that will race up the charts it is a worthy listen for alternative rockers.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Back Porch Orchestra - Volume I

  Simply titled Volume 1 the debut album from Back Porch Orchestra is a light and lively romp through fourteen original numbers by this highly talented bluegrass/country group from Burlington, NC. Just as their live performance is an exhilarating display of exquisite musicianship, so too is the wonderful songwriting skills demonstrated on Volume 1.
  Behind the principle vocals of Jeremy Brady and Bonnie Reed each song on Volume I comes to life with vivid clarity against the backdrop of simple intelligent instrumentation. Brady, Chris Reed and Bonnie Reed all offer up wonderful guitar work with Jeremy also providing banjo and pedal steel licks and Chris indulges the mandolin when necessary while bassist Keith Miller adds the bass lines. From "Wherever," the leadoff song, to "Favorite Pair of Blue-jeans" to the almost anthem-like "Who Am I" Back Porch Orchestra has an intoxicating allure, but it is "Gate City Girl" that demands a closer listen as it names familiar places in the Triad.
  This wonderful collection of original songs will leave an indelibe impression and a thirst for a Volume II.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Meghan Shanley - Ready for Love

  Infusing elements of Jazz, Soul and R&B, the music of Meghan Shanley has a wonderfully distinct sound capable of transporting your mind to a cabaret, lounge or a Broadway stage.   Each of the songs on Meghan’s debut album Ready for Love creates an atmosphere all their  own.
  Full of high energy, and exhilarating instrumentation, each song on Ready for Love is punctuated with Meghan’s powerful vocals. Amid the soaring horns and sublime strings Meghan’s voice comes through strong, clear and clean - stirring a joy within the soul.
  The title track kicks this album off with a blues sound wrapped around a jazz flair before nicely transforming into a full blown R&B number that seems to set the tone for the album. Following the opening track the song “One Day” is a driving number featuring horns reminiscent of the group Chicago with Meghan’s vocals providing a strong compliment to the horns.
  From the high energy of “Ready for Love” and “One Day” the album segue’s into a slower tempo. “Break My Heart” could easily be a solo number in a Broadway musical while “Never Will” is pure R&B as is “Mysterious” with it’s horns and synthesizer.
  “Better Left Unsaid” would be right at home in a smoke-filled lounge with it’s heavy Blues flavored R&B qualities in contrast to the sassy “Shake It.”
  The moody “Without You” sets the stage for the final cut “Smile,” perhaps the most emotional song on the album. A tune written by silent film star Charlie Chaplin for his film “Modern Times.” Meghan’s rendering of this classic song is extremely moving, dripping with emotion and will raise the goosebumps on your arms and neck.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Joe Next Door - Open All Night

Joe Next Door Music - 2010
Every song has a mood and quite often an entire album will maintain a mood through each song. Open All Night, the new release from Joe Next Door balances a melodic pop style with the storytelling of a singer-songwriter.
Behind the vocals of pianist Zoo (a.k.a. Michael Rae Zeoli) Open All Night is like a compilation of "slice of life" story-songs with each one a different and unique chapter tied together with a stylistic commonality that speaks of life's seemingly mundane struggles and the quest for a life beyond those struggles.
There is an elemental quality throughout the album that kindles a reflection of great story songwriters such as the late Harry Chapin. Open All Night is an intelligent and intriguing album that invokes a mood that balances between wistful and hopeful.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Hephystus - Burn the Page

Spectra Records - 2011
Burn The Page, the new release by Greensboro based Hephystus is a magnificent album replete with original material that evoke memories of a day when ambitious, sprawling and lavishly produced rock albums were a mainstay of rock radio (YES and Emerson, Lake & Palmer come easily to mind). Make no mistake though, Burn The Page is not a rehashing of 70's rock, instead it is fresh, new, progressive metal and full of life.
With the opening riffs of "Moment of Clarity" the tone of the entire album is set. The album's title track "Burn The Page" best exemplifies the complex musical textures found throughout each cut. "Strength," "Malice In Wonderland," and the aforementioned "Burn The Page" each open with instrumentation that is as unique as it is mesmerizing.
"Legacy Pt. I" is an engaging slow tune that really serves more as an introduction to "Permission to Die" a tune heavy on drum work and which seemingly leads the listener on a journey through a musical tapestry that imparts feelings of both adventure and danger before culminating with a conclusion in "Legacy Pt. II."
"No Compromise" and "Origami" provide an appropriate closing for this original album that utilizes Brandon Miller and Matt Halberg's guitar and Aaron Yow's bass parts heavily layered against the exquisitely melodic drums of Troy Surratt and the surging keyboards of Andrew Pollard.

stratocruiser - Our New EP

New Atlas Digital Recordings
Greensboro based rock band stratocruiser's newest album release, simply named Our New EP, is now available for download and/or streaming from the band's website. EP (or Extended Play) isn't a term you hear much of these days since its roots are from the days of vinyl albums. But, the term is definitely appropriate for this album as stratocruiser has an engineered sound that is reminiscent of the rock albums of the 70's and early 80's. Our New EP is comprised of six original songs including the 2009 single "Kids Hate Rock and Roll" (chosen as Song of the Year by Pop Garden Radio, WMEL), and one cover song - a wonderful revision of "I Woke Up In Love This Morning."
"Freak Flag" is heavy on guitar and the overall sound of the song is like listening to a mix of Jimi Hendrix and early 70's arena rock. "I Woke Up In Love This Morning" (yes, the same song popularized on the 1971 Partridge Family Sound Magazine album), is a driving, foot tapping cover behind lead singer Clay Howard's exciting and well-crafted vocals. The EP's fourth cut "New Glasses," slants towards an early new wave sound that leads into "OK Class" which was previously turned out in 2009 on a limited 300 copies release of OK Class, the Best of stratocruiser and more. "OK Class" starts out with a guitar riff that brings to mind Meatloaf and the Bat Out of Hell album.
"Slush" starts off with heavy organ instrumentation that segue's into a Beatles-esque sound reminiscent of the band's psychodelic period.
The final cut on the EP, "That Phone Call" was also contributed to the indie horror film Hellphone as the films end title track. You can view the video to the song below. In all, Our New EP is an enjoyable listen and full of riff's & sounds and engineering that brings to mind an era of rock & roll most of us grew up in. Yet, the EP manages to bridge the gap between then and now and is comfortably at home in the new millenia.

Dreamkiller - Sleepless Dreams

Dreamkiller Music
  Melodic rock concept group Dreamkiller's debut full length album Sleepless Dreams is a compelling and artfully crafted work that imparts a vision splendid, the music itself seemingly transporting you to the dream itself.
  Singer/songwriter/actress/model/business woman Christy Johnson takes the helm of this musical journey that feels at once like a pilgrimage through a mystical landscape. Sleepless Dreams is a concept album that fires on all cylinders with characters Lyrik, Theone, Cliché and Dreamkiller.
  Christy's vocals are clear and powerful, punctuating each song and providing the mystical quality the concept requires.
  The opening tune "Lyric's Battle" sets the stage for the album with it's protagonist vs. antagonist theme which is made more poignant by the compelling narrative that precedes the song itself and which is also found throughout the album.
  No song on the album is more chilling though than the third cut "All or Nothing" which could easily feel at home in a James Bond movie (indeed, everytime I hear it I see the opening graphics of that movie franchise playing in my mind).
  While Christy's vocals and the lyrics illuminate the music, it is the exquisite dynamic instrumentation of the band - Tian Garcia (guitar), Erny Galvan (bass), and David Lanning (drums) that propels the listener into a mystical place.
Dreamkiller's Sleepless Dreams can be purchased on in MP3 format for downloading or the CD can be purchased at Dreamkiller shows while supplies last.

Lisa Manning - Gravel Road

  Burlington native Lisa Manning left the confines of the small town and made her way to Nashville. Today Lisa makes a living as a fiddler and vocalist in Whispering Bill Anderson's band but the former North Carolina resident is also an accomplished songwriter which is borne out in her 2009 CD Gravel Road - a tour de force of old style fiddling and stalwart bluegrass vocals.
  Ten of the twelve songs included on this wonderful album were written by Lisa and seven of those were co-written with her husband Derek Deakins who is also a renowned fiddle player in his own right having played with the Osborne Brothers and also Blake Shelton.
  For Gravel Road Lisa pooled the talents of several other bluegrass genre greats for both playing and singing duties. Former Shenandoah front man Marty Raybon provides lead vocals on "You'll Come Back On Your Own" while Blake Shelton lends a hand with lead vocals on "The Tractor Song." Bluegrass phenom Cia Cherryholmes also lends her vocal talents with a turn on lead for "Forecast of My Heart."
  Lisa handles fiddle duties or harmony fiddle on all twelve songs and provides harmony vocals on the three aforementioned tunes as well as "While We Can," "Smiling Down On You," "Black Raven," and "What Could've Been" and with the exception of the three instrumentals - "Climbin' the Castle," "Piper's Reel," and "Stop-N-Chat" Lisa's delightful voice takes the lead.
  Gravel Road is an incredible album that exemplifies the very best of a modern bluegrass

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Rhonda Vincent - All American Bluegrass Girl

Rounder Records
    Perennial bluegrass favorite Rhonda Vincent’s eleventh album All American Bluegrass Girl is largely a by-the-numbers contemporary bluegrass romp. Overall an enjoyable album, Vincent seems at times muted, especially on numbers such as “Rhythm Of the Wheels” a tune that holds a lot of promise but is lack-luster in its execution. Vincent has also has jumped on the patriotic bandwagon with two songs, both of which miss the mark, so much so that the first “God Bless The Soldier,” which she wrote, falls flat on its face and is totally uninspired. The second, “Till They Came Home,” fares only a little better.

    The spiritually themed songs are the saving grace for All American Bluegrass Girl, in particular “Jesus Built A Bridge To Heaven” is infectious and hard not to join in and sing along with. “Don’t Act,” another spiritual song is a toe-tapping, fast paced tune that does a wonderful job of showcasing Vincent’s sonorous vocal abilities.

    When all is said and done, All American Bluegrass Girl will be largely forgotten though Ms. Vincent certainly will continue to deliver quality bluegrass.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

John Cowan Band - New Tattoo

Pinecastle Records

In the 1980's and 1990's if you were looking for the future of bluegrass, the field was fairly limited. Alison Krauss and Union Station and the New Grass Revival with John Cowan and Bela Fleck were at the forefront of a generation of artists seeking to drive bluegrass into the new millennia. While traditional bluegrass will forever be a mainstay, artists like Nickel Creek or the John Cowan Band are taking up the mantra and breathing new life into bluegrass.

With the release this month of "New Tattoo," the John Cowan Band heralds a sound that is both old school and new, building on the foundations he and NGR laid in the last century.

Fronted by Cowan's magnificent tenor vocals "New Tattoo" rolls through a bevy of new material at breakneck speed. "Carla's Got A New Tattoo," sets the pace for the album, which also includes the traditional flavored "New Mine," "Misery & Happiness," a lament featuring harmony vocals from Patty Griffin, and the closing song, an auto-biographical piece titled "Drown" that explores the dark subject of sexual abuse and child molestation. Cowan explains, "for men this has become a taboo is a source of shame for us." "Drown" stands in stark contrast to the swift speed of the rest of the material. Even though the subject matter deserves recognition it might have been better served to be included on another album that might have a more diverse tempo and feel.

Even with the downer feel of "Drown," "New Tattoo" is a rollercoaster ride that is one continuous thrill until the end.

Tab Benoit - Brother To The Blues


The Blues is a difficult genre to master, especially for an artist who isn't blessed with black skin, a dirt poor background or a drug infested environment. Tab Benoit is the exception and his recent release Brother To The Blues is the testament to his domination of the genre. Mix in some special guests like Jim Lauderdale, Billy Joe Shaver and Waylon Thibodeaux, virtuosos all, and this album becomes one of the best blues albums to be released this year.

"Pack It Up" a Texas Blues number in the vein of Stevie Ray Vaughn kicks off the album, highlighted by Benoit's Cajun vocals and electric finger work on the guitar. Benoit and company do a decent job covering Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me" and Jimmy Davis/Hank Williams' classic "I Heard That Lonesome Whistle." "So High" is a breathless rock-tinged blues number while "Why Are People Like That?" relies more on rock than it does blues. "If You Love Me" returns to the slower mid-tempo flavor Blues before leading into the Cajun country flavored "Comin' On Strong" featuring Shaver's honky-tonk vocals and Thibodeaux's fiddle work.

Brother To The Blues is the kind of album that goes great with a beer from the fridge and sitting on the porch swattin' fly's on a sultry summer evening.

Jeff Black - Tin Lily


Once in a while an artist comes along that just begs for a further listen. Their music is engaging and pleasant yet simultaneously challenging and poignant. Jeff Black manages to capture your attention with Tin Lily, an album of all original tunes that evokes comparisons to artists as far ranging as Elton John and Randy Newman. Tin Lily as a whole is magnetic in its appeal with radio friendly numbers like “Free At Last” and “These Days,” or thought provoking tunes like ”Hard Way Out,” “Closer” and “Hollow of Your Hand.” The anthem-like “Libertine” draws you into the fabric of the music, making you want to get up and wave your Bic lighter.
What is lacking in Black’s music is a few more definitive hooks in his music and lyrics to take him to stardom. Even so, Tin Lily is a beautiful album with a feel and texture you can almost reach out and touch.