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

June 16, 2018 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comment 

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

June 9, 2018 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comment 

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

June 2, 2018 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comment 

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

May 12, 2018 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on 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

May 5, 2018 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on 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.

monoblogue music: “24 Years” (single) by Mark Peters

April 28, 2018 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on monoblogue music: “24 Years” (single) by Mark Peters 

While the photo attached is that of the root EP for Vienna-based singer-songwriter Mark Peters, the review concerns the latest single from the compilation, called 24 Years.

If you believe the press puffery which came with the release of this single, you would be told that Peters wrote this song about 15 years ago. (This makes sense when you listen, then read on and find that Mark turns 40 this year.) This would have placed Mark at a time when he was back in his native London playing in a local band called Seven Breaths. As often happens after a band is together awhile without a great deal of commercial success, some go their separate ways and this is what happened to Mark – he went separately all the way to Vienna.

So given the fact the song has been going around Mark’s head for awhile, one has to ask whether it was worth the wait? Not knowing this and listening to the initial chords, I thought for a bit that this was going to be a country song – until I heard him sing and it dispelled that notion. (This is what happens when you do a cold listen and don’t read the liner notes until afterward.)

Now while I got to cheat in that way and listen to the song a couple times all the way through before writing this, I’m going to really cheat and allow you to very easily listen and watch for yourself.

I have to say that the video was quite interesting. As for the song, I thought it was rather good – perhaps a little less so in some runs of the chorus, but as a whole a nice enough song. However, as part of the context of making a more complete review I have to say that 24 Years (as the second single) is considerably weaker than the initial release of the title track. In fact, I would rate 24 Years as the middle of the pack as far as songs from the “Spirits” EP goes.

I’ll grant that this isn’t particularly different than anything you can hear on this side of the Atlantic, but there is a market for this song and EP in the acoustic/adult contemporary genre. If that’s your thing, watch the video then check out his website, which is rather nice as well.

monoblogue music: “Head Above Tide” by Jason Vitielli

April 7, 2018 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on monoblogue music: “Head Above Tide” by Jason Vitielli 

For four-plus years I’ve been reviewing albums, I’ve run across a number that grabbed the listener’s attention and kept it throughout. I hate to say it, but this effort by the Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Jason Vitielli is not one of those albums. After awhile it becomes a musical version of white noise, and that’s a shame.

While he considers himself as “art rock” I thought he veered in the direction of rock-jazz fusion, if anything. Now listen, it made a pretty good career for Steely Dan but those songs were interesting enough to make radio playlists and charts. It’s obvious Jason has put a lot of thought and effort into this one, and he enlists a host of helpers: seven others are given credit, including two other lead guitarists, two female backup singers, two percussionists, and another bassist – Vitielli himself is credited with keyboards, rhythm and lead guitars, alto sax, bass guitar, and “sampler.” Yet the songs don’t seem all that complex.

And maybe it’s that reason “Head Above Tide” ends up seeming too repetitive toward the end, as my attention began to wander. To me, it seemed like 16 tracks [14 songs and the brief (descension) and (ascension)] was about four to six too many. But this is a trend – since I reviewed this January release from the dreaded Spotify playlist, I found out Jason had put out a 14-song album called “No Photographs” back in 2009.

Toward the beginning of this record, this is a very representative song called The Persecuted.

In watching and listening to the video, perhaps you’ll get my point: this album is sort of like a musical version of “Seinfeld” as it was a show about nothing. I have no doubt that Jason Vitelli has his fans and friends, but this was a review I just couldn’t get into. But then I always advise people to listen for themselves since your mileage may vary.

monoblogue music: “Buffalo Hotel” by Geoff Gibbons

January 27, 2018 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on monoblogue music: “Buffalo Hotel” by Geoff Gibbons 

This full-length album by Vancouver-based singer-songwriter Geoff Gibbons makes for an interesting combination. While the imagery and sound evokes whiskey-soaked country, the lyrical content and tempo is more reminiscent of fine wine and romance. Gibbons may fancy himself a “country” artist, but I don’t think there is a song on here that would fall under the classification of the modern country that dominates the genre’s radio airwaves.

If anything, he makes his nod to the style that was in place a half-century ago. I thought Back To You was a song lifted directly from that era, for example. Back then the country industry seemed to be obsessed with erasing the line between country and pop music, and Geoff succeeds best with songs like Blinded By Tumbleweeds, City From The Stars, and Where Midnight Rolls – the latter giving me the thought of country meeting Springsteen for some unknown reason.

Another facet of “Buffalo Hotel” that makes it different is Geoff’s embrace of something different. While he doesn’t have a backing band to speak of, his use of “a tight community of first call studio musicians” and a backing trio of singers called The Sojourners to provide harmony here and there provides the interest, particularly where he steps off the country reservation for songs like the haunting melody of Lonesome Angel, The Other Side, and the gospel vibe of Me And Buffalo Bill. Gibbons also claims a love for bands like The Eagles, and that influence is strong on the lead track Ain’t Goin’ Back and Hard Hard Rain, the video to which is below.

But to me the best part of “Buffalo Hotel” is the storytelling. You actually need to listen to tracks like the hard-luck tale Carolina Bound, Pictures Of Adelaide, or the overly long Ever Get To Georgia. (One big difference between Gibbons and some of his musical influence: the songs are twice as long, and sometimes it’s too much.)

I don’t ever really see Geoff putting together a band and playing in the honky-tonks with his style of country. But if you like mature music with a dollop of country influence, this is a pretty good choice. As I often say, though, don’t take my word for it – listen for yourself.

monoblogue music: following up in 2018

January 6, 2018 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on monoblogue music: following up in 2018 

Like I did last year I resolved to follow up on the acts which have made my top 5 review lists from 2014, 20152016, and now 2017. I was curious to see if they were still making music and whether it was still good stuff. So over the last couple weeks or so I have been checking things out with these 20 acts and this is what I found.

From 2014, it should be noted that Billy Roberts and the Rough Riders (#5) had “Greenbah” finally come out toward the back end of 2017. It’s a very mature evolution of their rockabilly sound, and would have been a contender for the top 5 had I formally reviewed it. So they are still making music, and still difficult to pin down on social media. The only drawback: you still have the acquired taste of his nasal voice to deal with and it doesn’t work on every song.

Rpresenting a different foreign shore, The Lost Poets (#3) have put out a new, cool single called Vulture (The Duel) (with an almost disturbingly morbid video) as well as one back in January called Riviera Keys and are still seeking venues for the short film “Insubordia pt. 3”. They are honing that sludge rock sound, to be sure.

Meanwhile, my New York-based top 5 artists Tomas Doncker Band (#4) and Paul Maged (#1) are keeping very, very busy. Considering the Doncker “band” is just part of the Doncker “brand” we find he’s doing a lot – performing on more tribute albums such as a project commemorating Curtis Mayfield, working with longtime collaborators, writing music for upcoming off-Broadway plays, and running his record label. A really busy guy, and that’s just his recent social media feed. And since I recently reviewed the first of a planned trilogy of EPs that will make up Maged’s next full-length, it’s obvious Paul’s making more music. The next phase, called “The Glass River”, comes out in February.

The only downer is that my top 5 slot seemed to be the kiss of death for Monks of Mellonwah (#2), whose trail has gotten colder since they last put out music in 2015.

My 2015 crop has gone off in a number of different directions. There are the more traditional, like Idiot Grins (#5) who put out a new album called “State of Health.” To me it was a throwback to the 60’s thanks to their guests, including the backing harmonies of the Byrd Sisters. They had a couple whipsaw changes in direction with this one back and forth from a Motown style to retro country, but they seem to have found their groove this time. Down the California coast, the Liquorsmiths (#4) didn’t follow up their 2016 release “All My Friends Are Fighters” with any other new stuff, but they keep playing a regular schedule of gigs around the San Diego area.

Even farther down south the Pacific, almost to the end of the world, is the subject of a single Tumbler (#3) put out in August called Ushuaia. Richard Grace of the band explained that it was a retrospective of the lost native Yamana tribe from the region, which had a rich but only verbal language and was wiped out from smallpox and other diseases when Westerners found the area and settled on Tierra del Fuego.

The Yamana’s story is of two cultures meeting. We wanted to reflect that in the way we recorded the song. Mostly though, we wanted the song to tell the story of these people’s disappearance – of how terrible and tragic it is and, worst of all, of how little we actually truly care.

Even farther out are the Space Apaches (#2) who seem to have disappeared into the ether, but the guy who went in the most interesting direction was Jas Patrick (#1). While he may not be doing music anymore, he has succeeded in his new field of voiceover work. In 2017 he received one of the Voice Arts Awards for his work on a radio commercial, which led to new representation. I suppose in the grand scheme of things winning a national award and being #1 in your craft is more important and lucrative than being #1 on my chart. But I still like the songs.

If anything, my 2016 crop is still doing things the conventional way – with one exception. It’s also a matter of scale: Michael Van and the Movers (#5) played every so often near their California base, Midwest Soul Xchange (#4) and Steve Hussey and Jake Eddy (#2) each did a string of shows over the summer with MSX touring around the upper Midwest and Hussey and Eddy holding court in venues in West Virginia and Ohio, and Jim Peterik (#3) doing shows with his band the Ides of March, including a current gig on a Moody Blues cruise. Tough life if you can find it for the purple-haired one.

But the sad news to me was the demise of The Magic Lightnin’ Boys (#1) who announced in September they were calling it quits. They promised to finish some recording commitments for digital release and played as part of a Chris Cornell tribute show in October. It sounds like they will go their separate ways, though.

Since I just did the 2017 top 5, there’s not much to add with them – an upcoming show apiece from Revolushn (#5) and Justin Allen and the Well Shots (#3) are the extent of their future plans at the moment, although Revolushn just did the “Good Acid Tour” to San Francisco, the New York area, and Los Angeles in November. Meanwhile, there’s a focus on upcoming studio time for Rich Lerner and the Groove (#4), but Free Willy (#2) is promising a new album early this year called “Too Cool For The Room.”

Finally, Freddie Nelson (#1) is pleased about getting airplay for his album on satellite radio. I guess I will have to check that out.

In so many words, that’s an update on some of the best bands featured on monoblogue music. Hopefully I’ll have more to review this year.

monoblogue music: 2017’s top 5

December 30, 2017 · Posted in Music Reviews · 1 Comment 

Again I was a little disappointed that I had fewer than 20 records to review. This was a year where the top 10 of those all had a shot at being top 5, with the top group standing out somewhat from the rest for a number of reasons.

After going back through all my 2017 reviews and reminding myself why I liked these albums, here are your top 5 for this year.

5. “Further!!” by Revolushn

Original review: October 14.

If you were really into the psychedelic rock era, this one is a worthy latter-day successor. Certainly the band reflects a Bay Area (that would be San Francisco, not Chesapeake) mindset and politics, but good, fun music is still that.

These guys have been around for a little while and they’re perhaps on the cusp of breaking out into a little more commercial success, assuming they truly long to be sellouts. They may just like their status as an “American protest band” better.

4. “Push On Thru” by Rich Lerner and the Groove

Original review: August 5.

A band that almost defies classification, the appeal of this album was the variety it possessed. These guys seemed right at home transitioning from a Grateful Dead-style jam to more straight country to a serious blues number. You may not like every single song on this one, but Rich Lerner and the Groove hit more home runs on this one than they struck out.

Not necessarily the touring type anymore, they have an impressive cover list when they do play and host a benefit concert each year.

3. “White Oak & Kerosene” by Justin Allen and the Well Shots

Original review: February 25.

There’s a lot of honesty in Justin’s music; the sort of thing that only comes about when you get your degree from the School of Hard Knocks. While this is only a five-song EP, I’m sure Justin and his supporters hope and pray it’s the bridge to something much bigger.

But Justin may have a choice to make, since it’s tough to straddle the line between country and rock. He walks that tightrope pretty well on this EP, but I’m hoping he doesn’t just slide into the idea of just being another country artist without kicking and screaming about leaving the world of boozy, bluesy rock behind.

2. “Remember The Alamo” by Free Willy

Original review: September 16.

What carries this album to its lofty position is the unique and talented musicianship shown by the artists on this record. Free Willy didn’t play every bluegrass festival, country bar, or local honky-tonk watering hole, but they sure sound like they did. In terms of technique and song structuring this is probably one of the best albums I’ve ever reviewed, even if it’s not a genre I listen to an awful lot.

After I did my review and as I was trying to find more on each band, I found more of the backstory on Bill Jones (“Willy”) on the Bluegrass Today website. Definitely worth the read.

1. “Shake The Cage” by Freddie Nelson

Original review: July 29.

I think I outdid myself with the opening lines of this review, which really sum up this compilation:

When 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.

If you just want to straight-up rock, this one is the album for you. I’m definitely partial to bands that draw heavily from classic rock, and this is certainly and enthusiastically one of them. These songs, they stick with you.

I began 2017 with a look at where some of the bands I’ve reviewed over the years have gone, and in the next week or two I’m going to revisit that post with updates. Like I said last year, that should be a fun post to put together as we all combat the post-holiday blues.

In the meantime, I hope to get the finishing touches next year on a couple albums that could make the 2018 top 5 list when finished, both from alumni artists: Matt Townsend did the first half a proposed two-part project this past year and 2014 winner Paul Maged began the release of what he envisions as a trilogy of EPs that will create his next full-length.

While I have pretty well backed out of the day-to-day political game with this site, I still like to do the music reviews. Here’s hoping I have a better pace in 2018.

monoblogue music: “True Dimension” by Seneko

December 2, 2017 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on monoblogue music: “True Dimension” by Seneko 

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.

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