mononlogue music: “Electric Bouquet” by Peak

Buoyed by the interplay within a very tight band, this particular segment of “bonus content” was one where I was pleased the band thought of me. (I’m not sure where they got the idea; perhaps being a New York-based band they knew of others I had reviewed from the same metro area over the years.)

In my introduction to the group I learned that they consider themselves “psychedelic indie funk.” Given the album leads off with Barometric Pressure (Here Comes The Rain) – a song with exactly that kind of groove – I was expecting more of the same. Add in the keyboard-based Win Some Lose Some and I got to thinking, “okay, this band has its chops down.”

But then I got the neat little reggae feel of Imaginary Lines and the more adult contemporary Falling Backwards Through Time and I realized, say, this band is on to something. And this was only four songs out of thirteen. Add to that a little bit of Southern blues flavoring at the tail end of the collection (except for its unneeded out-of-studio coda, Ballad Of Wiley Jones would have been right at home on an Allman Brothers record and Mama’s Got A Lot Of Love is, as the title suggests, a fun song) and you want to know where it all comes from.

So I did a little bit of digging upon their prompt and found that primary songwriter and guitarist Jeremy Hilliard was in a band called Turbine; a band that played regularly around the Northeast until it went on a apparently permanent “hiatus” around the end of 2016. Tellingly, one of Turbine’s last shows was a tribute they called “Radio Dead” – Radiohead songs played in a Grateful Dead style and vice versa. (The other current Peak members as of the date I received this invite back in August are Otis Williams on keyboards, Eric Thachuk on bass, and new drummer John Venezia, who replaced the drummer on the album, Dale Paddyfote. Yes, another one I sat on awhile for the reason I explained yesterday, particularly since “Electric Bouquet” was released back in January.)

After returning to the funk with song five, On The Grind, and another more mellow piece called My Heart (Time Lapse), I found out where that jam band influence went, beginning with the eight-minute Ride Through The Night. They reverse that trend in the next two songs, going with the radio-friendly Idyllwild Flower first and the funky instrumental Funk And Tonic, which is rather smooth going down, before they take six minutes to do the bouncy Feel Like Moving.

But Peak tops that with their best song – their peak, as it were – Nothing New Under The Sun. It’s a song that plays like a standard song for the first half before completely changing tone about midway through. If you’ve ever gone to a concert where a band does a mashup medley of two or three hits, you’d get this as they pick back up with the main lick in the last two minutes or so. Three years ago my number one album for the year (Jas Patrick’s “Inky Ovine“) had a track just like that and I like those kind of songs when they can be pulled off successfully, as Nothing New Under The Sun was.

So… speaking of number one albums, it is getting about that time, isn’t it? Since I only have one more record to review before I call it a 2018 – no doubling up next weekend – I can safely say there’s a top 5 album in this here blog post. (See what happens if you ask nicely?) Of course, your mileage may vary so by all means deal with Spotify and listen for yourself. And if you are in the Big Apple, you may catch a show by either Peak or the stripped-down Off-Peak, a show where less than the full band performs, and a name which I thought was humorous enough to add as a postscript of sorts.

monoblogue music: “Violet York” by Lake Preston

This is an album that, frankly, I wasn’t sure I was going to review since it came from outside my usual channel of music to pontificate over. But this year I really don’t have enough EP or full-length records from that source to create a top 5 list that I’m satisfied with so over the next couple weekends I’m going to add some “bonus” content, as it were, and see what good comes from it. I sort of saw this coming after last year so I kept this young man’s e-mail in my box in case of such an emergency.

Lake Preston was (at the time I received this) a 16-year-old singer-songwriter from Chattanooga, Tennessee. (I suspect by now he is 17.) The album in question was compiled in a most unusual way, as he wrote, “I recorded this album using only my iPhone and Apple earbuds originally as a set of demos and as an experimental recording project. However, as my connection with the writing grew stronger and stronger, reflecting my recent experiences, it became a very important and serious project.”

Therein lies the album’s biggest flaw. Admittedly, I use my Android phone for almost all of the personal photos I put on this website as well as those I enter in our local county fair photography competition. And while I advertise on this website and have won a few ribbons with my photo work, I know taking pictures with a cell phone is not something I could do for a living because the quality isn’t there on a consistent basis. So I have a very, very difficult time reconciling “very important and serious project” with the poor mixing and recording quality of this record. If it were that important and serious, it’s called go out and make a little money to secure some studio time or the software and equipment to do this correctly.

After all, there are songs which have a batch of promise on this, with Something In Love, Ever Since I Saw You Smile, and Violet York, 1932 (Reprise) perhaps the closest to ready. Belying his age, they seem to fit in an adult contemporary style. (Interestingly enough, the reprise is of the first song called 1932 Overture, which really suffers from the limited quality of the mix.)

Since Lake did this album at the tail end of last year, he’s hooked up with another artist by the name of Aaron Hayes, and they have dubbed themselves The Good Kind. (This is on the same Bandcamp page “Violet York” is on.) Their demo was actually recorded in a home studio, which was a definite step up, and it’s the place you can listen for yourself.

But if I had two other pieces of advice for young Mr. Preston, one would be to remain polite and humble. This may not have been the glowing review you hoped for, but it is an honest assessment. So the second is a suggestion on how to do a home studio, because Lake’s DIY efforts reminded me of this guy and upon further investigation they are all but neighbors (if you consider the state of Tennessee a neighborhood, that is.)

About three years ago I reviewed an album by a longtime musician, Billy Crain. One unique thing about Crain: the album of his I reviewed was also a DIY effort, but it was done up right. Now I’ve never met Billy Crain – although he professes to be a Christian man, so he is my brother in that respect – but if it worked for me after a fashion, perhaps Lake needs to write another nice note for advice and see where it leads. He may not give you an answer, but you never know unless you ask, right?

The talent seems to be there, it just needs to be harnessed and led a little bit.

monoblogue music: “Over The Edge” by The Pearcy/Gratzmiller Jazz Quintet

I am going to freely admit to you that I am about as far from an aficionado on jazz as Boston is from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I don’t think that in almost five years of doing these reviews that I have ever come across what the artists describe as “modern hard bop jazz.”

So I also have to admit it’s a little difficult for me to say whether this is a great or groundbreaking album. Another problem with having ten instrumental songs is distinguishing them by title, since the title of any particular song is completely up for interpretation.

To me, jazz composition has a similarity to listening to a jam band, one which has no problem taking a song and noodling and doodling around with it until you realize they’ve been playing the same thing for 15 or 20 minutes. Think Peter Frampton’s Do You Feel Like We Do or Green Grass And High Tides by the Outlaws as examples – already long songs in the studio, they were improvised to maximum DJ smoke break length while in concert. While the songs on “Over The Edge” range from four to nine minutes in length (the compilation of ten songs lasts 68 minutes) they could easily be twice as long performed live if they like the groove.

So the way I listened to it, once I caught on to the trick of the genre, was to use it a little bit like background noise. But I couldn’t help noticing how tight the songs sounded despite the fact they were freeform compositions. Unlike rock, which tends to be progressive in its chord structure, there’s no set formula for jazz, which allows any of the five instruments involved (or combinations of same) to take a lead role while others provide a rhythm or harmony. 

The creators stated their intention: “to create a modern album that classic jazz listeners could also enjoy. We made an effort to capture the spirit and tradition of classic quintets from 50’s and 60’s while mixing in modern elements, particularly in the areas rhythm and song form.” If you’re a classic jazz listener, I wouldn’t hesitate to tell you what I tell people in most of my reviews: don’t let this fish out of water be the judge, go ahead (despite it being the dreaded Spotify) and listen for yourself.

monoblogue music: “Through Train Windows” by Norine Braun

An album that is hot off the press – released yesterday, as a matter of fact – Norine Braun brings an interesting backstory to her music with her latest effort.

Commissioned as an “artist on board” for a cross-Canada tour, Norine and her partner (who sings harmony on a pair of songs, including the most upbeat I’m Going Home, and also plays the keyboards on a number of tracks) used the occasion to write and compose eleven songs that generally play on a theme of traveling.

Another trend that seems to run through the record is one where Braun seems to emphasize one instrument in her songs; acoustic guitar on the opening song Sleeping Buffalo, its electric cousin on Jerkwater Town (to me, the best song on the album with a bluesy Pretenders vibe thanks to Braun’s vocals) and I’m Moving On, and so forth with tenor sax (one example being the plodding Climbing Table Mountain) and keyboards (such as in the non-anthemic O Canada or ballad Crosses & Sweetgrass) taking their turns as well. A number of songs get a little bit of blues harp as well, provided by Huggybear Leonard. (I just liked writing Huggybear, but seriously he adds a lot to those songs if you like a blues sound.)

But what sets the better songs apart, such as Jerkwater Town or Exhale (with its haunting coda), is the integration of more sounds and complexity. Now, this doesn’t always work – I wasn’t keen on the call-and-response in Climbing Table Mountain, the spoken word rap in Rock The Rolling, or the vocal stylings on the title track, for example – but that little splash of included tremolo makes Heading Up North a better song. You also get the culture-crossing Rue St. Jean as an interesting tidbit.

Maybe the only real misfire in the group is Heaven Only Knows – not a bad song, but vocally perhaps too much of a challenge for Braun.

Since I brought it up at the top, there is more to the backstory. Not only was Braun the Artist on Board for her cross-country journey, but she is also Musician in Residence at the Banff Centre in Alberta. And, thanks to the generosity of “Creative BC and the Province of British Columbia” you have the opportunity to secure this slice of Canadiana. To be sure, it’s a very artistic and eclectic collection and it may be one that gets plenty of airplay on adult contemporary and alternative stations north of the border thanks to their content laws. Whether it gets plenty of airplay or not in your home is, as always, up to you to judge: I’m going to encourage you to listen for yourself.

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.