monoblogue music: “Keep Meaning It” by Highbeams

The first time I went through this very recent (as in it hit the streets this past Monday) release by the Georgia-based band of brothers called Highbeams, I sort of put it in the pile of, “okay, but meh…”

Luckily for them I listened to it a second time and there I found a little more of the magic that this band can put out when they place their mind to it. Sure, there are a couple of songs that seem on the fussy side, like Mess We Made or I Know A Place, but on the whole this isn’t a bad album if you’re into their sort of sound.

Highbeams is like a lot of other independent bands: they perch on the ledge that exists between folk, rock, country, Americana, and adult contemporary. Employing a heaping helping of harmony, Highbeams has developed a bit of a following in their native area and as I write they are expanding their reach, somewhere on the road between a show they played last night in Cleveland and tonight’s stop in Buffalo – it’s a mini-tour through the middle of the country to promote the new release. Someday is the lead single, which explains the video below.

The songs seem to be very honest, with some of them recorded in such a way that it sounds like they are right in your living room: for example, I could just picture them sitting on my couch doing the song Talking To Myself. Once upon a time I read that Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan used to spend a jillion dollars to get their songs just so in the studio, but these guys probably spent whatever amount it took for the electricity to run the home studio and it’s just as effective.

If I were to have one main complaint about this compilation, I would say they need to stretch their musical wings just a bit. There are 12 songs on “Keep Meaning It,” but none of them are really distinctive – yes, they have the sound they want down, but maybe they need to toss in something that’s more bluegrass-influenced or maybe just a ballad. Perhaps Guilty and Window are the best attempts at breaking the mold, Guilty being the closest to a rock song and Window featuring a heavy dose of female lead, but they can’t quite escape the room.

So I moved a little bit off “meh…” but since it’s the time of year I begin to think about which albums I’ve listened to that would make my annual top 5 list, I can’t say this one is a real contender. You may wish to disagree, and to that end I encourage you to check out the Highbeams website and listen for yourself.

monoblogue music: “Isolated Thunderstorms” by Jared Weiss

As the last in a long run of records I was asked to review, I hesitated to write about such a CD given the summer we’ve had. But this is an isolated thunderstorm you really won’t mind too much because it’s actually rather refreshing.

While Jared Weiss describes himself as folk-rock, the album exhibits a lot more by veering into rockabilly and more of a theatrical feel such as Queen would perform. Combine this with the rather witty lyrics Jared pens (and sings very well) and you have a winner. And unlike many artists just starting out, Jared has written songs that fit well with his rather distinctive voice, one that sounds almost like it should be singing at a Broadway show than slumming in the music industry – but it works.

(As you know, I listen to the album before I read the artist biography and media notes. So what do I read when I look it up?

Jared graduated NYU 2007 with a Bachelor Music in Vocal Performance. He’s worked extensively in the Off-Broadway, Cabaret, NYC Theatre scene and has played numerous roles in regional musical theatre productions.

Explains that one! I swear I did not know that on first listen! And I found out more, as you’ll read on to learn.)

But this tidbit of biography also gives me two insights. One is why this album has a dark lyrical undertone, almost like these songs portray vignettes from a tragedy. But the theatrical influence also explains the dramatic tone of the compilation. The best example of this is on the closing song, Elusive Particle – that’s the one that gave me the “aha!” moment to add the Queen influence to my review. It’s by far the longest song of the eleven tracks, as the album is only 41 minutes long.

Now there are times where the songs indeed sound like they belong in a Broadway musical rather than on the radio, such as on the track Saving Tomorrow (For You), but when he sticks to the more rock-n-roll sound or evokes Bob Dylan with the harmonica like Jared does on Darling, Reni, it snaps back to form. One extra little bit of flavor is the touch of Latin influence present on Annalu (From Monterey) and Can’t Remember Your Name. It’s another touch that helps the album along. The latter song also makes the album more of a whole as it lyrically refers to the previous track Not Everything That Dies Grows Old.

Honestly, after I heard the first rendition of the title track (the album has Isolated Thunderstorms and the completely different Isolated Thunderstorms II for good measure) I thought to myself that I have a hard time believing I’m going to find four more albums in the rest of 2018 to push this out of my top five. This is a well-produced and executed album for a debut effort, which came out in May.

So let’s see if you agree with me that this probably belongs in a top five list somewhere (once again, if you don’t mind the annoyance of Spotify.) Just listen for yourself and see.

And in looking a little farther into Jared I found a couple interesting items to solidify my opinion. First this, from social media:

Buy my record. I’m not the greatest self-marketer. I don’t have an agent, record deal, champion, eager fans, or talent for playing the game and kissing ass. I have an album of songs. I wrote those songs. Writing those songs saved my life. Listen to the music, then please buy my album.

All this is true. In fact, one link I was sent was to a Youtube page, where I had to dig around and find an older version of Elusive Particle. I’m not sure if this is the same “killer band” that performed on the album, but you can see the raw talent.

I guess my question is why it took several years to do this album? Could it be that this is the one older track and the others are newer? (I know of bands that have released the same track on a couple early albums in a row to fill them out.) Anyway, maybe these aren’t the newest songs, but they’re generally really, really good nonetheless.

monoblogue music: Strange Culprits (self-titled)

If there were an award for most appropriate group name, this one may be the winner. Indeed, there are some strange songs on this debut album from the Bay-based group Strange Culprits. (That’s San Francisco’s bay, not the Chesapeake.)

Described to me as “post-punk garage rockers” who state of themselves, “If the band were Canadian, the situation would be likened to musical Poutine,” I was expecting perhaps a little more of an edge. I suppose post-punk is a little more melodic than the original, because that’s what I found in a lot of these songs – most particularly Rootless and Bless The Harlot.

If you took the first trio of songs, though, you could imagine the punk roots are there: the repetitive, three-chord style isn’t lacking in Moonlight, When You’re Away, or Fleeting Moments, with the latter having a pretty cool bass line to go with it. On the flip side, the band branches out toward the end of the CD: was that a cello I heard toward the end of Fades Away? If it wasn’t a stupid guitar trick, it’s a fitting prelude to the chamber music opening for the final track, Concrete In The Rain.

Where this CD is lacking, however, is a somewhat mushy middle. Rootless and Bless The Harlot are okay songs as transitions of a sort, but lead singer Jason Buckingham can’t carry the feeling needed for songs like Let’s or Mija. Since there’s no female harmony on the album, we don’t know if Jason’s bassist wife Samantha (Sami) can sing, but seeing that she’s described a multi-instrumentalist who wanted to try the bass, maybe she can try a few vocals, too. The group just needs something in that department to make it better.

I have to give Strange Culprits credit for trying to extend out simple garage rock that always lent itself to short, two-minute bursts of aggression into more of a jam band feel. I think I would have liked it better with a different vocalist or perhaps songs better shaped to the limitations of his voice, which could come over time. (Concrete In The Rain comes out rather well, for example, but the other two cited are a bit brutal.)

But since I would be the last person in the congregation picked for a church choir because I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, maybe this is the opportunity (if you don’t mind the obnoxiousness of Spotify) to listen for yourself. After all, Strange Culprits do play around their home area and musically they have a pretty cool album with its guitar/bass interplay (you’d think the two were married or something) so it appears there’s hope for them yet. It could be the new stuff they’re doing (at least if you believe social media) works out better – they are definitely in the “wait and see” category.

monoblogue music: “Middle Voice” by Kate Fenner

This relatively new release from Canadian-born, now New York-based Kate Fenner is aptly named if you recall as I do the old format called “middle of the road.” While she describes it as folk, it’s not so in the traditional sense, but more in the getting booed at the Newport Folk Festival for having electrical instruments sense. (There was a reason for that particular metaphor, as I’ll explain in a bit.)

To be honest, this is another album that misses the mark with me but only based on personal preference. When one likes active, somewhat forceful music, listening to an album that just quietly goes about its business isn’t conducive for holding interest or attention. Certainly it’s a well put-together album, as I found on second listen – a whole roster of studio musicians do a good job in adding their parts to the whole, including a horn section that plays on the tracks This Divorce, The Yield, A Marriage, and Fatal Fire.

“Middle Voice” is also one of the most lyrically complex albums I’ve reviewed in some time, (Returning to the reviewer being a fish out of water theme, perhaps Kate is the only one who would make a song based on a three-century old poem – Fatal Fire is inspired by and uses a passage from the Alexander Pope poem, “Eloisa to Abelard.”) Luckily I had a Bandcamp sample, which gave me the lyrics for most of the songs in this instance. It also leads to an interesting facet of the backstory in how the album came together: as she describes it: “The bed tracks of this album were recorded quickly with Tony Scherr at his studio in the three weeks leading up to an unnerving throat surgery in October of 2015.” Kate was worried about the off chance that she couldn’t sing again, so this was at first done for posterity’s sake. After her successful recovery, she finished whatever vocal parts she felt needed touching up and the rest of the album came together over the next two years.

Out of eleven fairly lengthy tracks – the compilation runs a few ticks short of fifty minutes – Kate wrote nine of them. The two cover tracks were interesting choices: You’re A Big Girl Now is a deep cut from Bob Dylan – the artist booed at Newport – found on his 1975 album “Blood On The Tracks,” while the final song on “Middle Voice” is the 1973 George Harrison tune That Is All. Being of a certain age, with over three decades in the business, this is an homage to the music Kate grew up with and That Is All gives a nice fade to the album.

But it’s not like she’s retired, as Fenner regularly performs in the New York area and last year joined other musicians in a brief Canadian tour. And while the album is available for a listen on the dreaded Spotify, you can get a flavor of it from this video of The Yield.

I cheerfully admit this isn’t one which would go into my collection, but only because it reminds me too much of that old “middle of the road” format which was not my type of background music. But if you’re into what’s now euphemistically called “adult contemporary” you could find a new favorite here, because to have stuck around so long in the music business shows Kate has the talent to do so. I just wish she had gone in a different direction with the album cover, since it’s one of the most jarring and disconcerting I’ve run across thanks to that split image.

Like the rest of “Middle Voice” there is perhaps an artistic reason for the image that a simple rural kid from Ohio like me just doesn’t get.

monoblogue music: “Like My Life Depends On It” by Alien Country

Buried well back in the track listing for this release by country-tilting rocker Alien Country is a song called How It Could Have Been, and it’s the perfect metaphor for this messy, fussy album.

Let me get you up to speed on who Alien Country is, though. It’s the brainchild of Florida-based artist Liam Marcus Torres, who sings most of the tracks (a few feature various backup singers, which are presumably from close friends or family members – see below) and plays a number of instruments on this 12-track compilation – one track called Remedy is repeated in a remixed version at the end.

In the case of “Like My Life Depends On It” I must once again sadly admit that albums that are self-produced tend to miss the mark with me because there’s no different set of ears to tell the artist that, “hey, this doesn’t quite work like you think it does – maybe you should drop the prominence of the fiddle on this one” or “I love the bass line, but don’t you think it would work with a different arrangement otherwise?” Unfortunately, what plagues Alien Country often falls into these categories and more. (While credited in one place as a solo artist and multi-instrumentalist, in another there are additional credits so I will assume they helped out. If so, they didn’t give Liam very good producing advice.)

I don’t deny that Liam, who noted on social media his erstwhile presence in a band, would be a valued member because he plays that assortment of instruments to outstanding levels, including what he describes as “unorthodox instruments like the ukulele and theremin (I had to look it up, too) all while staying true to the familiar heart and soul of country music.” The problem is that most of the songs don’t work out as the sum of their parts, particularly in a vocal sense: Torres just doesn’t have the vocal chops to carry this album. Although he has one brief instrumental called Mommy Dearest in the set I’d bet this would be a much more interesting instrumental album, like Joe Satriani made his fortune from. Hold Me is one track which could keep its lyrics, though, as it finds rare success.

It’s apparent that Liam, who looks to be one who’s earned his gray hair thanks to being “a homeschooling father of six” (perhaps a couple help provide the background harmony) has some good friends in the business, though: the album cover is the brainchild of Hugh Syme, described as the “art director” for the band Rush and creator of album covers for artists as varied as the Allman Brothers and Brian Setzer, among others. Torres also has promotional savvy as he’s built a following of “over 7,000 devoted, highly-targeted fans” on social media – the number’s now up close to 10,000 as I write this review, and that’s one place where he puts the few videos like Reality Check that go with the release. (Maybe I should get some pointers from him in that respect for my website and forthcoming book.)

Prominent on his social media as I wrote this review this morning is a quote credited to John Wayne: “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.” I will give him credit for trying despite my gently-projected slings and arrows: while I wasn’t all that enchanted with my visit to Alien Country, I’m just a simple down-home reviewer who couldn’t play an instrument if my life depended on it (see what I did there?) So when I can I invite readers to listen for themselves. You may like it more than I did – after all, he couldn’t have paid for all that following, could he?

monoblogue music: Maxwell James (self-titled)

It’s only five songs, but as a market teaser Maxwell James has himself a pretty good start. Putting a modern twist on traditional country straight from the get-go with The More You Say, The Less I Know, he takes a trip into the shared roots of rock, country, and blues.

The polish continues to show on the bluesy second song, When It’s Real. It’s almost the proverbial old weepy ballad when the protagonist loses his truck, woman, and dog, but with a little help from more modern sounding keyboards and harmony at the bridge – not to mention less predictable lyrics.

However, Roll Down Your Window Slowly gives the EP a sharp turn into a more pop-alternative direction, even featuring a funky bass line. Lyrically it’s not as good as the others, but you may be too busy cranking it up to notice. Definitely a fun song that goes electric, and it resets the EP.

A song that could have been at home on alternative radio a couple decades ago, the more acoustic Blatantly sort of reminded me of the old song Fast Car by Tracy Chapman for some reason – maybe it was just the instrumentation and styling. Obviously these are completely different subjects and singers, but listening to his song made that one pop into my head.

If you ask me, though, Maxwell saves the best for last – Feed My Evolution takes the funk of Roll Down Your Window Slowly and gives it a little more snarl (along with some tasty B3 organ.) It even has attitude when played solo acoustic.

After that one, you definitely wish the EP was more than 16:45, which is why I called it a market teaser. And it seems to be a solid success – since I listened to it on Soundcloud and you see the number of plays, well, let’s just say it puts a lot of artists I have reviewed to shame.

Going forward the question becomes whether Maxwell will follow the traditional country path of his first two songs or become more of the alternative cat he tries to be in the last two – or try for the eclectic straddling in the mixing of both. I’m sort of looking forward to knowing, but you don’t have to take my word for it: as always, I encourage people when I can to go listen for themselves. There’s a pretty significant number that already have since this came out in the spring.

monoblogue music: “Upscale Madhouse” by Gideon King and City Blog

Another followup from a monoblogue music alumni, this forthcoming release is a mature effort that mixes well the appeal of adult contemporary with the styling of modern jazz. Perhaps that was apparent early on, when about about a minute in it was asked, “Call me a taxi/’Cause I’m going Straight to Hell.” There’s just something about singing about taxis that evokes a certain image with me, despite the fact the song quickly moves onto other territory and features some nice female harmony.

On the other hand, the acoustic open to title track (and soon-to-be single) Upscale Madhouse alluded to me a bygone rock era, one where the emotion was apparent in the manner of singing. The world-weary sound made a lot of singers rich, and there’s good reason to think City Blog can mine that field. Yet if they wanted to work in that realm, Broken and Beautiful may have been the better single. Another throwback that may have worked is the dreamy, atmospheric Love You Love You Love You – a song that features a riff that could have been a Steely Dan outtake.

As it is, the single selected is the funky Fake It On Facebook. (Don’t tell Mark Zuckerberg, or he’ll claim royalties.) They don’t fake the tasty guitar work on that one, either, although the synth doesn’t do as much for me. It features some of the best examples of the sharp lyrical content City Blog sings. Social media also gets its due on the later song God, I’m So Alone.

The second half of the release opens with the acoustic intro to a song which doesn’t fit the title – Gun To My Head. After that minute or so prelude, City Blog gets back to their normal fusion sound in a lyrically well-crafted song about choices: East Coast or West Coast? It slides into a mellow, comparatively short duet called For Our Own Sake that goes down like smooth whiskey.

Conversely, it’s a little bit jarring for the female vocalist to use some of the language used on So Evolved. I’m not sure why it was necessary, and detracts from the album. The world has enough rap with myriad variations of the f-word for it to intrude on the safer haven of jazz. (A Twitter check of the band’s site says Carolyn Leonhart is the band’s female vocalist, so I’ll go with that. A pretty voice sullied by coarse language.) And if that wasn’t bad enough, the album closes with a senseless 55-second snippet called Look Ma, No Hands. I just saw no point in it; they could have left it off and the album would have been 47 minutes instead of 48.

Gideon has an intriguing release schedule for this one: Fake It On Facebook was the lead single that came out June 22, to be followed by the title track next Friday. (A Friday the 13th release? Hmmmm….I suppose City Blog isn’t superstitious.) The full album (for which the photo above may or may not be the cover, but I’m rooting for it to be) drops August 10. Since this review is timed prior to the release I can’t really tell you to listen for yourself (aside from the single I link to above on the dreaded Spotify) but to my critical ear as a listener I would say that if you like the jazz-rock fusion genre and don’t mind some coarse language, you’ll probably enjoy this one. But it doesn’t break any new ground.

monoblogue music: “Disaster Relief” (self-titled)

I don’t often tread into the world of jazz for these reviews because I’m not nearly as familiar with the genre – simply put, it’s not my favorite. I don’t have a preset on any local station that happens to play music from that corner of the musical world.

One thing I can say about Disaster Relief, though, is that they hold up well the tradition of improvisation. Created in 2015 and eventually adopting the goal of writing a new song every week, this collection of seven musicians (from the Detroit/Ann Arbor area, kinda my old neck of the woods) has taken what could be described as a “best of” collection from these sessions over two years, polished them up a little bit, and presented it as their debut album.

Because all nine tracks are instrumentals, two things become possible: you can write the songs as long as you want because there’s no lyric line to support, and you can title them whatever you desire. My guess is that several of these songs were humorously named for the month they were created: January Junk, March Wind, Too Soon for June, August Addiction, September Skunk, and my personal favorite title October, Who’s Sober? are the six with such names. Perhaps Transplant, Downtown F#@karound, and Dorian DeLorean (featuring a great bass line and video that’s below, which truly gives a flavor of how this was created) were composed over a few months or in months where already had a song named for that month since this took two years to complete.

The beauty of having this as a full instrumental album, though, is that it makes great background music. With a running time of about 48 minutes, there’s a lot of variety. As I listened to it, however, the funny thing was that I didn’t always notice the break between songs unless there was a significant tempo change. March Wind going into Transplant (a long 8 minute song with plenty of lead organ) is an example of this – so, before I knew it, the album was over. Because there are many more instruments commonly featured in the world of jazz, as opposed to the general guitar, bass, and drums of rock, it is a genre where you can have a great jam session with considerable variety, and this lady and gentlemen took advantage.

This album comes at the end of a long run of reviews for me that, thanks to events in my life, have taken a couple months to compile. Since my pretty much virgin ear to jazz enjoyed the craftsmanship put into this one – trust me, given the choice I would rather listen to most of this (aside from some of the squealing trumpet solos I found a bit annoying – I’m just not a big fan of the instrument) than what passes for pop music in this day and age, I invite you to bear with Spotify and check it out for yourself. I think it will be disaster relief for you.

monoblogue music: “Campfire Party” by Justin Shapiro

Everyone has a musical sweet spot, and great albums will gravitate toward it.

It took me listening through a nice, country-flavored opening track called Lost In Time for Justin Shapiro to find mine. There’s something about Mr. Bluebird that brings me back to the great southern rock bands of my youth like The Allman Brothers or Lynard Skynard. Justin proves that particular vibe is still viable four decades later with that song.

Even better is the sense of humor Shapiro exhibits on the next track, Tyrannosaurus Rex, which also features a catchy chorus and bridge.

Let me say this, though: out of an album of 11 tracks, it’s a bit unfortunate that Justin selected one of the weaker songs as his opening single. Brighter Days isn’t a bad song by any estimation, but I didn’t find it as representative of his work. Luckily, it rolls into the great hard-rocking track Inspiration Nation. (Now that’s a song worth putting out there so people can blare it from their speakers. Kids who shake their cars with the thump of unrecognizable rap music don’t know what they are missing.)

Another great message song follows this up, the slower and rather seductive Forgive & Forgotten. Somehow I can see that one being extended into a ten-minute jam in some club somewhere, the girls swaying up front and the guys standing in the back enjoying the jam. (Shapiro did this with a three-piece band – perfect for clubs.) That same groove inhabits the (lengthy) next song, My Own Way, although the brief bridge toward the end in that one is a bit unusual and doesn’t quite fit – but the fade works very well.

For the first couple bars of If You Wanna Wake Up! you may debate whether it would perform better on the country or pop charts, but it quickly settles into another straight-ahead rock winner. By the same token, the opening of Human Hurricane defines that song as it has a nice bass line throughout. (It’s the one you may not be able to play at work because there’s an f-word in the chorus.)

If you like the ballads, the end of the album is your best bet: Stand is a tribute to Justin’s father, while the title track closes the album with that same country flavor the album started with. Campfire Party closes out the album and it’s the same type of song that he could close a show with – there is a sort of finality to it that means he put the song in its proper place. Justin had the good sense to only co-produce this effort, which cut down on the excesses which often occur when an album is self-produced.

Since I listen to the album before I read the bio, I didn’t know that Justin and his band hail from and play around the Washington, D.C. area, so there’s a decent chance he may bring his band over this way to share a campfire party of their own. I would encourage you to check out his website as well.

As I said up top, this is one that hit my sweet spot. Don’t be surprised to find this one in my end-of-year top 5.

monoblogue music: “Inward” by Ghostly Beard

Years ago, a now-failing retailer tried to change its manly image honed by years of being best known for selling tools and appliances by billing “the softer side of Sears.” Ghostly Beard is one of the few artists who purposely bills himself as “soft rock” – a contradiction in terms, but perhaps appropriate in this case.

Yet if I were to receive a shipment of these “Inward” CDs at a record store I would be most inclined to place them in a jazz-rock fusion category. Patrick Talbot, the solo musician who goes by the Ghostly Beard moniker (more on that in a few paragraphs), borrowed heavily from both genres in putting together this third release of his. While it has just ten tracks, each packs a punch as the compilation runs just under 48 minutes.

The tone is well set in its first two tracks, How Does It Feel? and The Love In Your Eyes. If anything, the former song is a touch too repetitive but the overall mood is established in the first nine minutes. Two other good examples of where I think he wants to go are in the middle songs, Night Train and Let Go, the latter featuring some great solo work for those who come from the jazz side of things.

Since Talbot is doing everything himself, save a female backing vocalist on two songs (one being the aforementioned Night Train), there are some missteps another ear to things may have prevented. To my ear, the vocals on Gone needed a little more work. And what’s with calling the rather upbeat Autumn Blues, well, blues? Just beware: it may not be what you think – still a rather good instrumental, though.

Building up “Inward”, though, Patrick saves his best for last. The echoing high-hat of It Doesn’t Matter lends interest and punctuation to a song also featuring a nice long and slow coda. Turning in a different direction, he channels a little bit of Beatles-style flavor and interesting call and response of the super-lengthy ode to cubicle-dwellers, 9 to 5 (Barely Alive).

It’s the subtleties that interest me in these songs, and what sold me on the last two tracks was the respective bass lines of Let It Rain and Going Away. It’s that final song that has the most commercial appeal, although I would have enjoyed it more without the backup singer throughout – maybe just at beginning and fade. You can decide for yourself here:

Now about Ghostly Beard: it’s a persona Talbot can freely adopt because he chooses not to perform live, instead devoting his time to his craft. That also allows him to use the proceeds from his work to benefit a Canadian musical education charity called MusiCounts. After spending a large chunk of his life on hiatus from the business (he bills himself as a “hotshot guitarist” in his youth, but found that it didn’t afford him a living) he returned as a songwriter who decided to bring his creations to life.

Frequent readers know that monoblogue music is just one man’s (modestly compensated) opinion, thus I encourage readers to listen for themselves. But unlike most who have a Spotify section or put their songs up for public consumption on Bandcamp, SoundCloud, or something similar, the best bet to listen to Ghostly Beard is directly through his website. (There you’ll find he has put out three full-length albums plus a single in less than 18 months – not touring gives one plenty of music creation time.) He also has an interesting blog there regarding the business side of being an independent, unsigned artist.

So if you run into Patrick Talbot on the street, you probably wouldn’t know it. But he has a distinct niche in the music world.

monoblogue music: “The Glass River” by Paul Maged

If there’s one thing to say about Paul Maged in a non-musical sense, it would be his shrewd marketing ability. Why have one post here about his latest album when he can release it as a trilogy of EPs and make it three, spaced over a period of months?

All kidding aside, the extended timeframe of his release is evident in his body of work: in this case, the five songs (and one prelude, presumably for a song to be featured on the future third portion of the trilogy) have what I’ve come to regard as a classic Paul Maged sound: most reminiscent of Billy Joel, but not completely derivative of that musical subgenre.

What sticks out to me about “The Glass River.” though, is a sort of (barely) controlled anger and passion about the world today, taken from a perspective well left of the political center. As someone looking at it from the political polar opposite, I look at it this way: I lived through the 1980s, when most popular music stood in varying degrees of opposition to the policies (real and imagined) of President Reagan that I supported as a much younger man. To me, good music is still good music – I don’t have to agree with the message or intent. So I can listen to Gunz 4 Hire and enjoy the frenetic, hard rock pace of a straight-ahead song with fun tempo changes that, in a more musically attuned world, would find a place on the rock charts.

On the other hand, the piano-driven Corporate Hell (The Legend of Tooly McDouche) truly is what it is. If you’re wondering about Tooly McDouche, you’ll pick it up when you watch the video. (Maged claims this is a “first hand account” of working in corporate America – I just hope the end segment isn’t part of that reality.)

After that strong opening, the EP slows down with the final three full-length songs. Choices is a more adult contemporary song that would almost qualify as a power ballad. On the other hand, The Glass River (The Ballad of Alan & Jane) is less of a ballad and more of a good story song with biting commentary on the strained status of relationships. (The Alan and Jane in question, though, are Paul’s parents, which makes this an even better song.)

The undercurrent of politics returns in the last full-length song, For The Sea. (See what I did there?) It has the same feel and passion to it as the remake of Like A Stone from the first part of the trilogy I reviewed at the tail end of last year. It’s the last full-length song because the sixth and final track, Life Goes By (Prelude) is, indeed, a 68-second sample of a track that I presume will be on part three. Life Goes By will be a solid addition, based on the taste of it we get.

(And again, we see the marketing expertise: who else would use a song as a cliffhanger for the next part? “Always leave ’em wanting more.”)

I don’t know what else I will hear between now and then, but if Paul can follow this up in part three he may have another winner on his hands come the end of the year. But I’ll let you be the judge (if you don’t mind the corporate influence of Spotify) and listen for yourself. Paul Maged may be the hardest working marketer in show biz right now, but he can back it up with good music.

monoblogue music: “Little Boat” by Ajay Mathur

In his followup to an album I reviewed in 2015, Indian-born Swiss resident Ajay Mathur puts his stamp on rock with this 13-song compilation released last month.

Normally, the level of interest I have in an album as I review it is expressed in how many notes I make. Boring songs get a word or two, while better songs get several notes attached to them. So it’s worth mentioning that I have a phone full of notes (I did them as a QuickMemo on my phone as I was listening.)

Given that measuring stick, the most intriguing song on this album was a track called Grooving in Paris (All My Choices). A bluesy but brassy song, the issue I took with it was that he couldn’t seem to pull off the mood I thought he was trying to associate with the song, The same criticism goes for another song I considered in a similar vein, All Your Thoughts.

Once he added in more female harmony, though, the results were much improved. Time For Deliverance, the penultimate song on the compilation, works out much better and is one of the standouts.

Mathur tends to write complex songs, layered with several veneers that put together could be defined as an interesting version of Europop. After an almost country-flavored opening tune called Here’s the Love, I got that vibe with the weird opening to song number two, Forget About Yesterday.

“Little Boat” also features some significant mood swings. Start Living Again slows the album down before we get into the aforementioned Grooving. The same occurs later on as the collection’s best (and perhaps most humorous and true-to-life for a musician) song, My Wallet Is a House of Cards, is sandwiched between the downtempo songs There We Are (Do It Right or Not at All) and Ordinary Memory, although the latter picks up steam about halfway through. There We Are was one of those “few words” songs that didn’t hold my interest too well, but it wasn’t the worst offender: to me the “what was he thinking?” title went to the song Who’s Sorry Now. I was for having to listen to it.

In re-reading my review of his previous album, “9 to 3” I was reminded that Ajay occasionally does put such songs on his albums. I suppose I can see a reprise of Wallet sung in German (at least I presume) called Kartehuus, but why not make it a separate single when the other 12 songs are in English?

It’s things like the chord progression that I didn’t much care for in Little Boat reworking itself into a nice song that I took notice of, or the excellent solos that punctuate While I’m Still Standing Here balanced with some of the stuff that should not have made the cut that make “Little Boat” a good but not great album. But what do I know? I’m just a listener, and your opinion may be different once you endure Spotify and listen for yourself.