monoblogue music: “True Dimension” by Seneko

December 2, 2017 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comment 

This is one of those situations where the cover doesn’t define the book.

Behind this somewhat plain brown wrapper – at least in a metaphoric sense, anyway, since it’s a deep blue – is a sophomore EP, released just weeks ago in October, that is brimming with possibilities for the artist in question, Seneko. (Outside the studio, this Connecticut-based musician goes by the name Stan Olshefski.)

I say this because the six-song EP straddles a line between country and adult contemporary pop that can have a broad appeal. I’m not going to say Seneko’s blazing any new trails here, since as I listened I would think of comparisons based on my musical background as a rock listener like Tom Petty, The Eagles, or even a smidgen of U2 in some of the arrangements. But then I could hear in my mind’s ear a song like You To Save Me as a more straight-line modern country song with some instrumental tweaking.

The thought on Tom Petty came from the second song on the EP, Pierced Lip Smile. While some may argue the fuzzed-out alternative sound of the lead title track may be the better single, I would contend Pierced Lip Smile is the more appealing song. While I liked the sound of True Dimension, the song’s flaw to me was a muddy-sounding mix. I know that’s done intentionally at times, especially to create that sort of sound, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Another thing Seneko will learn as he hones his craft is how to shape songs better to his voice. I saw Mind The Violets as a bit of a missed opportunity in that regard, but it is still a song that would appeal to the adult contemporary crowd.

Still, there is a lot to like about this EP. There’s the playful little song My Little Curioso as an example of just going against type and enjoying it, and the closing song Take Me Indigo is a good, moody wrapup to the set with excellent instrumentation, particularly the organ parts. This is not a long EP by any means – the entire thing runs less than 20 minutes – but if you are into the intersection of country and pop I think you will like this one.

The only things you may not enjoy when you listen for yourself (as I always encourage you to, don’t just take my word for it) are the annoying Spotify commercials. Or check him out on social media if you wish.

Postscript: After reading through Seneko’s social media, I guess his local alternative radio station is agreeing with me: they are playing Pierced Lip Smile as the single.

monoblogue music: “Light Years Away” by Paul Maged

November 18, 2017 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on monoblogue music: “Light Years Away” by Paul Maged 

I have been doing music reviews for about 3 1/2 years now and I thought originally this would mark a first: the first time I’ve reviewed the follow-up to one of my #1 albums from a particular year and it had a shot to be back-to-back #1’s. You probably remember that Paul’s last full-length “Diamonds & Demons” impressed me enough to be my top album reviewed in 2014, and I was led to believe that a Maged single I reviewed last March called The Wild was a prelude to this new work.

So I was a bit disappointed in two respects with “Light Years Away” but heartened in another. First was the fact that I opened the website where I listen to music for my review and found only seven songs there, which as a whole went off on some tangents I wasn’t quite expecting from the earlier work. (It’s one of those things that’s a bit jarring at first listen but oftentimes grows on you as you adjust.) But then I learned the reason there were only six full-length songs (the seventh is a reprise of a portion of the song Moment of Strength) is that this release is part of a planned trilogy that will comprise the three legs of his follow-up to “Diamonds & Demons.” That means I get another 10 to 12 songs, give or take, to judge this album by before I see whether it will be a number one release next year. (By the way, that approach is not unprecedented: the album Maged barely edged out for top honors in 2014 was put together the exact same way.)

So what is there to like about “Light Years Away”? I think Paul makes a great first impression with the humorous but radio-friendly PC Police. All he needs is a lyric video because I suspect some people may find the song laugh-out-loud funny. (Considering Paul’s background in stand-up and sketch comedy, it’s no stretch to figure out he can write humorous lyrics – and the riff of the song is pretty good, too.)

In that same musical vein – maybe a touch more on the heavy side – but with less controversial lyrics is the title track of the EP, which is the third song. Placed in between is the aforementioned Moment of Strength, which flows through several shades of a rock/funk fusion which I later read Paul described as “Billy Joel meets The Killers meets Michael Jackson.” I can buy that – in fact, the bridge with the female background vocals seems a little too derivative of the King of Pop – but they sometimes seem to meet in the most unusual ways and tempo changes. This tune is one which may grow on you, though.

Song number four represents one of those significant tangents I warned you about. When I first heard the harmonica in the opening bars of Ashley Jane, I was expecting more of a blues number. Instead I got a song I honestly wasn’t quite sure how to peg until I reread the review for The Wild and saw at the time he was working on a song he called “quite Beatlesque.” “I’ll bet this was the one,” I thought to myself.

The upbeat mood of the EP, which began to slide back on Ashley Jane, really goes away with the somber Half Moon. But once you get over the change in attitude, it’s a very good song that actually could be at home on some radio playlists where serious songs are played. That’s another one which is growing on me pretty quickly.

Paying tribute to the late Chris Cornell, Paul takes the Audioslave song Like A Stone and makes it uniquely his own. Everyone has a particular vocal and musical style and tone, and Paul did a masterful job shaping the arrangement of the song (and playing the instruments) to his. I’m not sure why Paul chose to follow that with the short reprise of the chorus to Moment of Strength (or if that snippet will make the final LP version) but Like A Stone may be better suited to just be the final song.

Just going by what’s here I couldn’t say with certainty that Paul would defend his “title” but there are 10 to 12 songs to go and it is a promising start. This little album has a couple of the best songs I’ve heard all year. But don’t take my word for it – just listen for yourself and see.

monoblogue music: “A Sequence of Waves” by Patrick Grant

November 11, 2017 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on monoblogue music: “A Sequence of Waves” by Patrick Grant 

This is one of the more unique selections I’ve come across in recent months because there are so many categories involved, not to mention the fact it’s almost entirely instrumental. But don’t let that scare you.

Let’s start with something somewhat familiar, even though it doesn’t begin the album: rock fans would find Breaking Butterflies Upon a Wheel the most accessible song, but there’s a prog rock flavor to Driving Patterns. Nor is Butterflies too far from the rock/jazz fusion of the even more uniquely titled To Find a Form That Accommodates the Mess. On the flip side of that is a number that’s called Primary Blues, which is a very classically-minded treatment of the blues – as I said a week ago, rock’s only been ripping off chords and progressions from them forever.

Or let’s say you like your songs as a trilogy. Okay, this trio isn’t one in the classic sense but the three songs do play off each other sound-wise with an old-timey feel (although the last one is more ’60s modern to me) and since they are titled Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms there is no coincidence here.

Grant works in a more classical direction on some songs as well, with the best examples being the aforementioned Primary Blues and Lucid Intervals. I could even count the guitar-based preludes (called as such despite the fact they are over 2 1/2 minutes apiece) Prelude I and Prelude II as classically-influenced, too.

But just when you thought this compilation was stuffy, you find a lot of technical wizardry as well. Sometimes it’s a bit much, like all the sampling on One Note Samba, but Grant can do it right, too. The best case in point is the vocals on Seven Years At Sea, which were recorded originally from a trio of sisters in 1930’s rural Louisiana and are in the public domain. Grant overdubbed them on the track to a superb, nearly haunting effect.

Another song which begins in a desolate mood and ends up borrowing a bit from electronic music is Lonely Ride Coney Island, a track that has drawn the most attention of the thirteen songs on the CD, which came out back in August. This is the type of music that isn’t going to have the chart appeal that others do, but it is a well-crafted piece of work. And you don’t have to take my word for it – just listen for yourself.

monoblogue music: “World Gone Mad” by Kris Heaton Band

October 28, 2017 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on monoblogue music: “World Gone Mad” by Kris Heaton Band 

Kris Heaton has been around the world and back again, sporting the voice to prove it. Over the summer he put out this appealing album, at least if you like your music on the power-pop end of the musical world.

And a world gone mad is a theme of the bookend songs of the album, at least. Take the opener Who Let The Bullets Fly and the title track, which lament the state of the world, as does the penultimate track Way of the World. So what would he do about it? Listen to the last song, Better World, which exploits the old “if I were king for a day” theme.

But the eight songs in the middle generally come across as having a pop base with a variety of influences, mainly the synth rock that had its heyday in the late ’70s and early ’80s along with the power ballads that “graced” the end of the decade of Reagan and Rubik’s cubes. Particularly reminiscent of that time is the song I Want You, which is the heaviest and hardest of the lot, although the dabbling in a reggae-style sound that started in that era continues here with the track The Moment.

You can understand the sound of the record even more when you learn of Kris’s previous collaborations and incarnations. Originally a member of the band Control Group (a five-piece band not to be confused with a more recent trio out of New York called The Control Group), Kris played with them for nearly a decade before taking time off to raise his family. After that hiatus, Heaton apparently felt called back to the studio and has since put out a series of albums over the last eleven years, of which this is his seventh – and fifth after dropping the “Blues” from the Kris Heaton Blues Band name in 2009. (Heaton actually has a better voice for blues than rock, in my opinion. The description I read later on of “whiskey-soaked” seems most appropriate.)

A longtime collaboration with The Brandenberg State Symphony Orchestra continues on this album on the track Something New, although the group doesn’t get front cover credit as it did on 2016’s Heaton release called “Stand Up,” A previous one which perked up my ears, so to speak, was The Smithereens lead singer Pat Dinizio, who helped out on Heaton’s 2012 album “Law of the Jungle.” There’s some of that pop-alternative feel to this one as well.

There are two members credited for this album: Heaton and “long time bandmate” Ace Foster, who handles percussion, as well as a few guests not necessarily credited, such as the female vocalist on Better World. So these two, as well as another guitarist they keep for live performances, play a variety of shows and benefit performances around Connecticut, where Heaton calls home. (One staple is a regular event the KHB headlines called Hopefest, which had its twelfth incarnation earlier this year.)

Overall, I liked this one for the most part, although it would be interesting to hear these with a different singer. And here’s a little of the social commentary, which fortunately doesn’t clutter up the whole album regardless of how you feel on the issues.

Otherwise, I encourage you to do as I always tell you: listen for yourself – but be advised Spotify will sneak some ads in on you. That can be rectified by just buying the record if you really like it.

monoblogue music: “Further!!” by Revolushn

October 14, 2017 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on monoblogue music: “Further!!” by Revolushn 

It’s a good thing I listen to the music first before I read the profile, because I would have judged this record differently based on the stage names and political persuasion of the participants in this San Francisco-based band.

What I actually listened to, though, was a band that really would have been at home in the 1970s. Take for example the opening track Dinosaurs, which begins like a acid trip, gets heavy, and ends on that same acid trip note. Listening about halfway through to the progression of chords I was transported back to that great album rock of a bygone era when people who weren’t into disco were treated to heavier stuff like Deep Purple or Blue Oyster Cult. The River also has that same vibe.

On the next track, Wierd Little Mind (not sure if the misspelling is intentional, but that’s how it’s listed) I began to wonder: how did they find so many strange notes and chords yet make the song go together in a halfway-coherent fashion? Things get a little more conventional on Man Who Knew Everything, but that transitions into the the dreamy You Will Go. It’s almost like rock on Quaaludes. It gets even a little more strange (and brassy) with Dog Gets High.

Again reverting back to reality, you get All Is As It Should Be before the hypnotic title track kicks in. The album wraps with a neat if slightly overmodulated song called Time + Travel = Time. This is definitely one you should listen for yourself before you judge. Or you can start by watching this:

So this is the band that doesn’t do things the conventional way. It makes for a bit of a challenging listen, but doggone it I enjoyed most of the songs, the first two in particular. In my mind’s eye I was taken back to my room in the early 80’s listening to my boom box on low to the deep cuts the local rock station would play at night. The music had that sort of feel to it.

But I didn’t think those bands were this strange. Revolushn is one of those bands that is strange, or perhaps one may call it unique. Either way, it’s worth a spin.

monoblogue music: “Northern Cities Southern Stars” by Phil Lomac

October 7, 2017 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on monoblogue music: “Northern Cities Southern Stars” by Phil Lomac 

After a long string of reviewing actual bands – even if they were only created in the studio – I return to a DIY effort in this seven-song EP from musical nomad Phil Lomac. On his latest release, which came out a few months ago, Lomac takes the experiences he’s had with a number of bands and ends an eight-year hiatus from recording his own music to put this album out. Lomac plays all the instruments on this except for programming the drums.

(That’s one of the few downfalls to this album, as the drum parts don’t always seem to work out just right with the rest. Since I listen to the album then read the liner notes now I can understand why and it makes me wonder how this would sound with a full band.)

The semi-title track Northern Lights starts this one like a house on fire. It’s upbeat to start yet after the bridge it moves in a direction that’s almost haunting. And fans of a wailing guitar (like me) will like the payoff at the end. (“Southern Stars” is referenced in the lyrics of the final song, Don’t Give Me Those Lines.) And once you get past the lengthy intro of World of Pain, you find a song that straddles the imaginary line between adult contemporary and active rock. It’s funny, though, that the long buildup comes to an abrupt end.

“Northern Cities” turns more melancholy with Read the Message, a slower song that almost has a country feel to it. That’s the letdown you need (so to speak) for the downbeat and emotional pair of tracks Don’t Know What Love Is and No More Troubles. These songs might just break your heart, particularly the bluesier Don’t Know where Phil wails, “I don’t know what love is/I just play the game.”

Talking to Myself brings us out of that mood a little bit, but it comes across as a complex song which begs to be stripped down a little bit. That may be a casualty of literally self-producing the album rather than the standard model of running it by the band and then having the producer carve it up or add other pieces, depending on what the band and market may want.

This brief (a little less than 25 minutes’ running time) set closes with Don’t Give Me Those Lines, which makes for a rousing rockabilly closer and an outro that lets Lomac play for a bit without singing in his world-weary voice.

The title would likely be influenced by Lomac’s oscillating between two places as he recorded this in Chicago, the home of his most recent previous band Lovely Tyrants, but now calls North Carolina home. On the whole, I thought this was a solid effort but wonder how it would have gone with an actual band behind him to help out. But you don’t have to take my word for it, listen for yourself and see what you think.

monoblogue music: “Not About Nightingales” by Eric George

September 30, 2017 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on monoblogue music: “Not About Nightingales” by Eric George 

The thing that struck me about Eric George is that he’s an increasingly prolific songwriter. Now that may not be as hard to do when you’re an aspiring folk musician whose songs are relatively simple compositions and can be completed with just a little bit of instrumental help, but then the question becomes whether the quantity is translating to quality. In this case, the unevenness of George’s fourth album in three years (and second full-length this year) leads me to say no.

In listening to “Not About Nightingales” I had the impression that Eric writes and records when the mood strikes him, nor is he limiting himself strictly to a particular genre. While many of these ten songs would be at home categorized as acoustic folk, he takes Thought You Had A Home to electric mode yet veers into weeply old school country with Friends With Silence. Frankly, though, I wasn’t sure what to make of the last song Some Times and it’s not the impression I would have wanted to leave with a listener.

And it’s not just the musicianship: consider the nursery rhyme-like lyrical quality of Cure For The Soul or the hymnlike title track as departures from a vocal style and range that compares to Dylan and the Guthrie family.

In case this seems a little harsh, I took the time to go back and listen to his self-titled 2014 release. The genre is still the same, but those songs seem to be more muscular and thoughtful. Granted, this would have been through a much longer period of introspection and polish, but there’s also something to be said for experience, and some people can fall out of bed and write a good song.

That leads me to something interesting I read on Eric’s social media: “I decided to go with the wind on this project, and rather than record songs already written, I’m going to write and record a song each day, guided by the Storycards (a friend of his) found at a yard sale.” So it sounds like the next album is already in the works, and perhaps Eric is going for the hat trick this calendar year (as this release is about a month old.) But will the songs be very good?

Obviously some musicians enjoy writing music and even if those songs don’t bring them success they are enjoying life regardless. I looked at Eric’s roster of upcoming shows and apparently there are people who want to hear him perform around his home state of Vermont because he’s booked quite a bit in the coming weeks. So perhaps I’m not getting the full story (as always, don’t just take my word for it: I encourage you to listen for yourself) but this one simply didn’t come across as well as others I’ve reviewed recently.

monoblogue music: “Waltz To The World” by Giant Flying Turtles

September 23, 2017 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on monoblogue music: “Waltz To The World” by Giant Flying Turtles 

If you were in a record store and received this CD today as part of the new releases, the thing you may have a hard time doing is picking a category for placing this one. At times a folksy, country shuffle but a song or two later a blues-based rocker or jazzy adult contemporary number, you may just have to file it under new releases and hope for the best.

I’ve had pretty good luck over the years with bands and performers who hail from the Big Apple, and this Brooklyn-based quartet is no exception. “Waltz To The World” is the kind of album that, particularly in its first half-dozen numbers, careens perilously close to self-destruction on their songs only to patch it together and save the day. I don’t want to say it’s rough around the edges because the musicianship is very taut, but there were a few facets of this diamond in the rough that could have used more polish.

But from the opening bars of No Turning Back, an inspiring song a little reminiscent of U2, Giant Flying Turtles takes you in many different directions. They get a little bit funky with Stay Out Late, then veer off at a double-time sashay with The Devil And Me. Yeah, it’s like that through most of the first half of the record. The more conventional One Of A Kind sets the listener up for a slowdown with River Runs Dry, only to be rocked anew with Train Song, a track that would have been at home as a deep cut on a Blue Oyster Cult record. They were always a little bit quirky in song structure, and this was too.

As it turns out, a slightly different shift comes out in the next three songs: Three Shades of Blue is the quick-step song, but then things are turned down for Hold The Flag and, in an almost jarring whipsaw, back to a country-flavored turn with Banjo. My cynical favorite Good To Be Alive is the penultimate song on the record, which concludes with the title track. If variety is the spice of life, you get that quality in spades here.

I had thoughts of suggesting the next album be called “Box of Chocolates” because you never know what you’ll get, but after thinking about it a little you really do know what you will get because all the songs are good in their own way. Maybe they’re not your cup of tea in terms of style, but in terms of musicianship I had very few minor complaints.

I think this is the second time I had the happy accident of scheduling the review for the release date, so you can get this hot off the press. But as I always say, don’t take my word for it. Listen for yourself and if you like it be advised this is their second album and the first is there as well.

monoblogue music: “Remember the Alamo” by Free Willy

September 16, 2017 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on monoblogue music: “Remember the Alamo” by Free Willy 

This may be one of the most upbeat albums I have ever reviewed, and certainly one of the least pretentious. Hailing from the hill country of east Texas, these mainly veteran musicians are their own sort of jam band, and they don’t take each other too, too seriously.

While they fit neatly into the bluegrass/alt country/Americana category – and how can they not be in the latter with their rather unique rendition of the Star Spangled Banner that employs musical breaks from America The Beautiful – Free Willy has an unusual way of developing their music that they describe thus:

W. B. Jones had a vision to create what he calls the “Free Willy Sound” which involves the lead instruments playing “over top of each other” on the breaks, rather than having the instruments “take turns”, and to inject lead breaks throughout the songs, including during the vocal parts.

As far as songwriting and arrangement goes, by no means am I a musical expert. Any resemblance I have to one of those highbrow music reviewers is purely coincidental and far more likely than not accidental. To borrow one of their song titles, my reviewing style is that It’s Good If You Like It. So whatever they did technically to make their sound isn’t as important as the fact that I was impressed with the musicianship and the arrangements.

The band also has a very uplifting lyrical style, without the slightest hint of angst. In fact, I would say that unlike many artists who pine about lost love, Jones is one who writes more about found and lasting love. Take the lyrics of Not Your Everyday Love Song or a song he wrote years ago for his wedding, Meant To Be, as examples. There’s also touches of humor in tracks like Amazing Gracie, God Has A Name, the homage to working people Another Day Another Dollar, and the requisite road song Get in the Car or “train song” Down The Track. Even the bittersweet title track doesn’t make you feel bad. Heck, there’s even a song based on a poem (As A Man Thinketh) and an instrumental called Sugar Baby to hold the listener’s interest.

It’s a collection Jones describes as favorites of his written over the last 40 years, so apparently all he needed was a group to play them out. That story reminds me of a band I reviewed awhile back called Tumbler, which performed a catalog of songs written over years of family jam sessions (and a good one at that, since it landed in that year’s top 5.) It’s not far-fetched to think this one could be so honored this year because it’s one of the more honest, hardworking, and fun records I’ve listened to in some time. Pretty good for a band that was “born” in a recording studio last fall.

Finally, the band states that they are looking to record a follow-up this fall, although who knows about that timetable with the recovery needed from Harvey. If you want to help them out, listen for yourself (note they are using Spotify, though) and if you like it snag a copy.

By the way, it looks like my musical hiatus is over as I have “stacks of wax” to go through now. This is the first of five I’ll be doing in the coming weeks.

monoblogue music: “Push On Thru” by Rich Lerner and the Groove

August 5, 2017 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on monoblogue music: “Push On Thru” by Rich Lerner and the Groove 

If you were to ask me just how to categorize this latest release from this North Carolina-based group, which they put out in May, I would just have to shrug my shoulders and say “I dunno.” It’s not really country, not really rock, has some elements of blues and even a touch of brass, but honestly comes across more like just what the band felt like playing at the particular moment in time they were writing the song.

That doesn’t make this a bad album at all – just one where the reviewer has to think a little bit. My first impression upon hearing the title track that leads the album was that these guys wanted to sound like the Grateful Dead. Nothing wrong with that, they were a trailblazing group for many a jam band. But then that wasn’t the vibe I got when She Kept My Room Warm began playing, because for some odd reason that brought me back to thinking of that sort of pop-country hybrid that was popular for a bit back in the day when I was a kid and my parents had the radio on.

Since I wasn’t the greatest fan of that genre, I was relieved to hear the classic call-and-respond blues-rock styling of It’s Always Something, a hard-luck tale that has a nice lick and coda to it. Lyrically it finds its mirror with the second song afterward that I’ll get to in a moment, but instead the band follows up with a more piano-based bluesy slower jam called Lord Have Mercy. Then it’s You Can’t Keep A Good Man Down, which is a musical kitchen sink of sorts with plenty of piano and sax thrown in (each gets its own bridge) and some fuzzed-out vocals added for good measure. It’s one of the two songs on the set that runs over six minutes; with the exception of She Kept My Room Warm and the final track Lemonade Blues, all of the songs run over four minutes.

The band gets just a tad funky to start the back half with the quirky Love Monkey, and has next perhaps its biggest misstep of the bunch with Soul Sistah. Normally I’m a fan of backing harmony, but in this song it just doesn’t work well. I think it’s because the lyrical runs seem too short, so the repetition on the harmony comes too quickly. I see why it was done on this song (which is the only one with a female backing vocal) based on concept, but it could have done without.

They redeem themselves on the next track, though, which I think is the best of the set: an inspirational tune called On The Mend. I really loved the great chorus line where “I looked the Grim Reaper in the eye/And I told him ‘Nice try.'” This leads into a song called West LA Fadeaway. It starts and ends with a lyric line, but in between it’s sparse patches of (sometimes quite strange and obscure) lyric between some very nice bridges that make up the bulk of the six-minute-plus song.

Finally, we come to the last simple acoustic number called Lemonade Blues, which is just vocals and guitar and runs only about 2 1/2 minutes. But I can just see Rich sitting on a barstool in a club singing this as the break song for the rest of the band during a three hour show. (He got his break on the last song with all the bridges.)

There are some people I can think of who would probably be big fans of these guys, who don’t seem to be the touring type anymore but are in the promoting business around their home base of Greensboro. (Case in point: they headline a charity event they call Groove Jam, which will have its sixth rendition in September. Years ago I posted about how musicians are often the most willing to give their time and talent, and it’s not just here on Delmarva.)

As I always do, though, I encourage you not to take my word for it, but listen for yourself. (Spotify doesn’t bite, I have it on my laptop.) You may take it or you may leave it, but you will find it rather interesting.

monoblogue music: “Shake The Cage” by Freddie Nelson

July 29, 2017 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on monoblogue music: “Shake The Cage” by Freddie Nelson 

Freddie Nelson - Shake The CageWhen I went to check out this just-released album from Pittsburgh-based rocker Freddie Nelson, for three minutes and 55 seconds I was transported back to 1987. Back then you could have taken a tape of the lead song on this CD, called Turn You On, to any A&R guy in the country worth his salt and he would have given you cash money to take you to the band’s next show.

There are a lot of great hooks like that on this 11-song set, a collection where Nelson plays everything but the drums, piano, and keyboards (but does handle the B3 organ.) Just take two back-to-back examples buried farther within the compilation: My Girl and Let You Go are both the catchy-type songs that made rock and roll what it was back in its heyday.

And if you have a lot of older rock albums, like I do, you realize there is a bit of a formula to put them together. Nelson stays fairly true to this successful way of doing things, putting in the bluesy ballad called The Show, the somewhat more mellow and acoustic song Monster In My Room, and another bluesier homage called Keep Running. It seemed like every good rock album had a few songs that departed from the norm in some little way, just to prove the artist could do it – almost as if he’s playing around with the listener, not taking this too, too seriously. After all, this is supposed to be fun here, isn’t it?

You see, this is where a highbrow music reviewer might say you can’t write a song called For Those Who Die and make it upbeat. They would whine that All Night Long exhibits too much of the alpha-male, testosterone-fueled bravado that was so wrong about hair metal, or that Light is a little too derivative of Freddie Mercury and Queen at its best, or that Never Fight Alone uses the trickery of sampling to ask the question, “Whatever happened to decent music?”

Well, guess what? I’m not that reviewer and I happen to think this IS very decent music, the way rock and roll is supposed to be. As Nelson noted in a statement accompanying the release, “The record is called Shake The Cage, because I feel that a lot of music has become one dimensional with tools such as pitch correction and formulated songwriting.  There is no substitute for hard work and honing your craft, and it’s time to challenge mediocrity.” Damn straight it is.

This is the latest video from the album, a song called Hey Doll, which leads me to one more observation.

Just listening to the arrangement and the lyrics, I would make a bet that if you worked in a banjo, changed the key, and had someone like Luke Bryan sing it, this song would sell by the truckload. To me it veers in a rockabilly, country-rock direction, and that’s not unusual for someone based out of that region.

So I think my friends and neighbors should get over their animus about all things Pittsburgh (aside from Buxy’s in Ocean City) and check it out – but don’t take my word for it, go listen for yourself.

monoblogue music: “The Drifter and the Dream (Part One)” by Matt Townsend

May 20, 2017 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on monoblogue music: “The Drifter and the Dream (Part One)” by Matt Townsend 

Matt Townsend - The Drifter and the Dream part 1I’m going back to a monoblogue music alumni on this one.

Back in 2014 I reviewed Matt’s effort, done with a band he called the Wonder of the World. In it, I noted that Townsend had an unmistakable vocal resemblance to Bob Dylan, but added, “fortunately for this listener, it’s really only the voice which is reminiscent of Bob Dylan because Matt forges his own musical direction.” (He also contributed to a more recent album I reviewed from the Asheville Symphony Orchestra.)

In some respects, that musical direction remains true with this release but I also think it’s a far more politically-pointed effort. I normally don’t read other reviews before I do my own, but I couldn’t help noticing on Townsend’s Bandcamp page as I was listening to the five songs that make up part one of what is supposed to be a two-part effort that he’s being compared to Bruce Springsteen and Woody Guthrie – both noted leftist icons. That leaning is unmistakable in the opening song, called The Great American Madness, later on in Freedom Is Calling Again, and it’s also a little bit there in Came Down From The Mountain if you listen between the lines.

And listening between the lines is something you really need to do with this EP. With the exception of the final song, Katie, the other four songs are well-composed, complex arrangements. Townsend obviously spent the 2 1/2 years between “Wonder of the World” and “Drifter and the Dream” honing his musicianship and songwriting ability, as he has learned well how to craft songs in a style that suits his voice and the genre he’s choosing to work within. (I should say, however, that Katie is not a bad song by any stretch – it’s just a far simpler acoustic number with guitar, harmonica, and poignant vocals.) This ability shines the most on Roaming Twilight, a ballad which I think shows Matt at his best.

I wasn’t originally aware that this EP had been out for a few months (it was actually released back in December) so once I noticed that I got to wondering how work on part two was going. To be honest, I couldn’t find out much about that but I did learn that Matt was (obviously) successful in raising the $12,000 he needed to bring this project to life through crowdfunding and maybe had enough initial success with sales (or enough ambition) to do a quick tour around Florida and Georgia earlier this year. (He has only one show on his current docket at the moment, fairly local to his North Carolina home.)

As a bottom line, if you were to look at the evolution and growth as an artist and craftsman of song between his 2014 release and this more recent one, you would see from Matt a serious upgrade and dedication that is reflected in the work. It’s music that is invigorating and refreshing in its honesty. I don’t have to necessarily agree with the lyrical content or the politics of the singer to appreciate the music, so (knowing the political composition of my core audience) baffle the other side and listen for yourself with an open mind, too.

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