Thursday, January 23, 2020

Anna Rose Beck - Glass House In Outer Space

Anna Rose Beck - "Glass House In Outer Space"
—A review by Charlton Wiggins

  Anna Rose Beck is to me quite literally an angel. Her voice is angelic, supple yet teeming with depth and feeling. Her guitar playing is malleable yet strong.    
  I suppose I should by way of disclaimer state that I was introduced to Anna and her music at a juncture in my life when I was quite low and in the hospital after serious surgery. As a volunteer at Duke University Hospital in Durham, NC. she roams the halls to rooms where she is invited to play and sing songs for patients as part of their music therapy. I was privileged and blessed to have her come through my door twice and her voice lifted my spirits to great heights. So maybe this review is a little prejudiced but I don’t care for I feel it also to be accurate.
  Glass House In Outer Space is Anna’s second album and available for purchase in CD format on her website - The nine tunes on the album are cohesive in tone, each sounding and providing a feel of being a building block on the one before it.
  The first and last songs on the album, Bandaid and Carolina Moonshine are dissimilar in tone from the rest of the album yet nicely bookend the other seven songs included.
  Bandaid introduces the album with the intricate sounds of a classical guitar played with a Spanish flair which adds to the sad theme of the lyrics which speak of the chasm between two lovers who “lay alone in the dark” and psychological abuse when “every stone you have thrown leaves a scar.”
  Carolina Moonshine on the other hand is plaintive song relying solely on Anna’s lucid vocals and a simple piano. Just as you get comfortable with the sound Anna throws a curveball when she joins in as her own vocal accompaniment.
  My favorite song on the album is the second tune “Where The River Ends.” When in the hospital I enjoined Anna to play an original tune (she was performing mostly covers as I’m sure that was what most patients identify with) and this was the song she played and sang. It is such a beautiful song and for me is a superb example of her music.
  I suppose next to her vocals, it is the imagery that appears in my mind from the lyrics in Anna’s songs that enthralls me most. Her songwriting paints images and the images gathered together paint a story. The poetic beauty of her writing and singing is reminiscent of the wonderful works of Tish Hinojosa, a Hispanic singer/songwriter.
  Am I prejudiced towards Anna’s music? Absolutely. Am I wrong about her music? No. No I’m not. Buy her album and see for yourself.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Jimmy Fortune - God & Country

Jimmy Fortune - God & Country
by Charlton Wiggins

When the Statler Brothers’ Lew Dewitt had to step back from the group in 1983 due to health problems, it was Williamsburg, Virginia native Jimmy Fortune who stepped in to fill the vacancy left by Dewitt. Fortune filled that vacancy so well he remained with the group until the other members retired in 2003. But he wasn’t done with his career and immediately continued on as a solo artist releasing seven albums between 2003 and 2017. Now with the recent release of God & Country, his eighth solo effort, Fortune continues to build on his catalog of work. Previously Fortune had released religious themed songs however with God & Country he takes it a step further by combining popular hymns with classic American patriotic tunes.
What better way to start a patriotic album off than a medley of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and the Woody Guthrie staple “This Land Is Your Land.” “Battle Hymn of the Republic” utilizes sparse instrumentation and instead focuses on Fortunes clear crisp vocals before segueing into “This Land Is Your Land” with a rousing tempo punctuated with fiddle and banjo - always an excellent combination.
The religious tunes are dispersed throughout the album with the beloved “The Old Rugged Cross” being the first of the more traditional gospel tunes which also includes the solemn and heartfelt “In The Garden,” “Because He Lives,” “Softly & Tenderly,” a very poignant “It Is Well With My Soul.” One that holds a special place in Fortune’s heart - “It Is No Secret” is preceded by a spoken word explanation of why it holds that special place. “I Love You More” is a more contemporary religious tune which expresses the love God has for us, especially when we are at our lowest points in life.
But the title is “God & Country” and while “Country” can be representative of the genre it is more indicative of the patriotic  tunes scattered throughout the album. In addition to the aforementioned “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “This Land Is Your Land” Fortune includes a rendition of “Battle of New Orleans” with an opening riff that brings to mind Jerry Reed before transitioning into a very enjoyable foot-stomping tale that memorializes the famous battle of New Orleans from the War of 1812, which actually occurred after the war was won. 
“Meet Me At Arlington” is a tear-jerker story with modern relevance that tells the tale of a parent who has lost a son in war. In the same vein of current relativity is “More Than A Name On A Wall,” which reflects on the life of a son lost in battle and the parents’ memories of times past and how he is missed, especially on holidays. 
In a day and time when it seems our nation has turned it’s back on God, “In God We Trust” defends those who seek to put God first and trust in Him to lead our nation and extols our citizenry to not forget our freedoms and He who gives them to us.
The final patriotic tune is a heart-felt rendition of “God Bless America” combined with “America the Beautiful” which features complimenting vocals from Sonya Isaacs.
Clearly with the patriotic tunes Jimmy Fortune has tapped into a genre of music missing from todays popular music landscape that has a need to be revived. Gospel tunes have a loyal following, and the ones included on this album will be much enjoyed even as they greatly compliment the patriotic songs.

I found this to be a wonderful album to listen to on Sunday mornings especially to help put me in the right frame of mind as I get ready for worship. I’m sure it will find a place in your day or week just as easily.

Celeste Kellogg - Keep It On Repeat

Celeste Kellogg - "Keep It On Repeat" EP
—A review by Charlton Wiggins

  Celeste Kellogg has been on my radar for a couple of years now and the quality of her music has remained strong, her vocals crisp and clear. I get the impression Celeste was born a seasoned musician, songwriter, vocalist and performer. The persona that comes through her songs make you believe she is strong yet vulnerable but always a genuine happy person. In fact her music is just like her vocals - both are perpetually smiling and you can’t help but smile back when her songs play.
  The title track of the EP, “Keep It On Repeat” and in fact the entire EP itself, is full of sass and attitude, attributes that make it clear Celeste is the heir apparent to many artists including Taylor Swift and Shania Twain. 
  “There’s a Beach Somewhere” not only mentions country artist Kenny Chesney in the lyrics but seems to channel the spirit of Chesney’s music with a dash of Alan Jackson for seasoning. With wonderful instrumentation “Beach Somewhere” is a great summertime tune that hints at innocent mischievousness and will definitely make you look for your sandals and sunscreen and get away to the waves, wind, sun and sand.  
  “Carolina,” in contrast, is a wistful tune with lyrics to match that bemoan the waning of both summer and summer love that ends with the approaching fall. The song speaks of the desire to not be forgotten but to always hold onto the memories of a Carolina summer.
  “Last Chances” has poignant direct lyrics that reflect the angst of a love that has come to an end. The song along with “There’s A Beach Somewhere” and “Carolina” were all co-written by Celeste and Aaron Goodvin.
  “La Di Da Da” is a song Celeste wrote in 2016. When Celeste played it for EP producer Sal Oliveri he wondered why she had never recorded it. Celeste likely wondered the same thing once the track was completed. The tune begins with a sound that brings pop superstar Lady Gaga to mind but quickly melts into pure Celeste, again complete with the same sass and attitude that is prevalent throughout Celeste’s music.
  It would be neglectful if I didn’t also mention that Celeste plays the guitar like a master artist but she did have abundant accompaniment on this EP. In addition to producer Oliveri (who has produced for PiNK and Stapleton), Danny Rader, guitarist for Keith Urban, and Jenee Fleenor, fiddle player for Blake Shelton, also added their touch of perfection to the EP.
  Perhaps it is wrong to liken Celeste to superstars like Taylor Swift, Shania Twain, Kenny Chesney and Lady Gaga. Perhaps. But then again this young lady has the talent, the twang, the charisma and the stage presence to stand along side each of those great names as an equal and quite possibly far superior to them. “Keep It On Repeat” is an EP that in years to come will be referenced as the point where Celeste Kellogg made the music world stand up and take notice.