monoblogue music: “The Warming House” by Nehedar

I’m back after another hiatus from monoblogue music.

When I was sent the copy and description of the recently-released album “The Warming House” by New York-based artist Nehedar, I was told it was “hard to pin down.”

On that front, I definitely agree.

But Emilia Cataldo, who performs under the Nehedar moniker, has a way of doing many things well on her seventh and latest effort, just released Tuesday. From the opening horns of Is It Annoying to the rollicking closer The Ballad of Sadie Farrell – who, indeed, was a real person in 19th century New York – “The Warming House” makes a lot of twists and turns, driving off occasionally in unexpected directions.

After the somewhat soulful opening track I was expecting something in the same vein, but instead I was greeted with the bluegrass/country sound of Not Your Whipping Woman before hearing the Latin flair of Don’t Look. Three songs, three completely different vibes, with Come Into The Light making it four-for-four as an acoustic ballad.

That song seems to be one of the early picks for more commercial success as the first video released from the new set.

Jarring chord changes and an edgier sound punctuate the next song, Lashon Hara Barbie. This makes sense when you realize that, in her Jewish heritage, the term is loosely translated as “evil tongue” – hence the lyrics:

Sticks and stones may break my bones
but the things I say destroy me
I am not immune to loose lips sunk ships
I’m lashon hara barbie

While Come Into The Light got a video treatment, I think the best crossover potential comes from Flying, a midtempo song which features the horn section punctuating many of Nehedar’s songs as well as catchy harmonies.

The next three tunes, which include the title track, Watch The World Burn, and The Tree, come across as the three most conventional rock songs. But there are unusual quirks in these as well – listen to the bass line of The Warming House or the trumpet solo during Watch The World Burn and decide whether these push the songs beyond conventional. Everyone wants to put their signature on their music and it seems Nehedar uses the little touches to do this.

It’s not that the album is perfect – to me she sometimes tried too hard to be cute with the lyrics and I’m not crazy about the cover art – but after several bites of the apple, Nehedar could be poised for further success. She was obviously regarded well enough to crowdfund this effort, her first such album. As always, though, don’t just take my word for it – listen for yourself and judge.

monoblogue music: “Insubordia” by The Lost Poets

They have always said that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but in this case a lot of clues about the debut EP from Stockholm’s The Lost Poets can be found: the release is a stark yet mysterious five-song effort which may not seem attractive at first glance – or first listen – but is intriguing enough to have staying power in the mind’s eye. In short, it’s worth the listen and I’ll tell you why.

First, though, you have to eliminate your preconceived notions of how a rock band which lists influences as “Queens of the Stone Age, David Bowie, The Raconteurs, Soundgarden and Nick Cave” should sound because The Lost Poets are a two-piece band. Vocalist David Rosengren also handles the guitar while bandmate Petter Ossian Stromberg handles both bass and drums.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that the leadoff track, Ode To K, has a simple yet powerful arrangement through most of its length. To me, it was a very straightforward song which began to reveal what The Lost Poets are all about, and it’s not upbeat bubblegum pop.

Instead, what you get is a almost menacing, grungy, snarling tone like that exhibited on the second song, Lying Down. It’s heavy, not in a bombastic sense with sledgehammer riffs, but more of a constant weight, although its ending near-silence, evoking a skipping record, struck me as odd.

The slow-developing Die To Live takes its acoustic opening about as far as one can take it without becoming trite and boring, transitioning quickly at that point into a plodding, churning heavy midsection chorus with distorted lyrics before fading away and restarting. I’ve always been partial to that soft to hard transition in various metal songs, and it’s developed nicely on this track without veering into Metallica Nothing Else Matters territory where the heavy stuff is too little and too late.

Repetitive lyrics such as you’d find in a blues song are the hallmark of the title track, Insubordia. Yet it’s not a traditional bluesy sound that the lyrics are paired with; instead, this intriguing rhythm goes in a different direction. It’s quite the haunting song.

Finally, to keep the listener off-balance, the last track Inside The Cage is a brief, distorted acoustic track, with the accents coming through on the chord changes.

On many of these albums I review, I take issue with self-production because there’s either overkill or missed opportunity with the sound. This effort has a nice production touch, as the two members seem to know just what they are looking for and execute it well, particular when one figures it was laid down as several tracks. Having the drummer and bassist as the same person may have helped in that regard, although it would be interesting to see what The Lost Poets do for a live show.

But if you’re into a a slow, almost soul-crushing grunge sound, this might be the EP to check out. Given my partiality to metal and grunge I actually rather liked it, so I encourage you to listen for yourself.

monoblogue music: “Goodbye Birdcage” by Eric Frisch

When I read the description of Eric Frisch’s debut full-length effort called “Goodbye Birdcage” I expected something different and refreshing. In my mind’s eye I was thinking along the lines of finding some obscure half-century old vinyl record from a bygone pop era.

Unfortunately, while Frisch brings some of that spirit and sound into the present day, “Goodbye Birdcage” has nearly as many misses as hits. It’s a ratio which may have lent itself to a less ambitious effort where Eric concentrated on the best five tracks and worked on the production end.

The sound Eric was going for is well established on the opening track, Pretty Girls. It has the requisite horn section and doo-wop style harmonies which remind the listener of retro pop. The video is sort of amusing as well, and captures the offbeat vibe I think Eric was looking for with the overall composition.

Another effort in that vein is the next song, Telephone. Not only did Eric nail the style of music he was shooting for with that song, the lyrics tell a story in a compelling manner that makes it the album’s best song.

On “Goodbye Birdcage” I thought the ballads tended to be a little heavy on the production, rather than being clean. One case in point was Learn To Swim, which could have been a better song with a somewhat different chorus at the end. Similarly, one would expect the title track to be on the uplifting side, but it instead sounded sad and mournful.

And then there were the tracks which just made me wonder. Perhaps The Sun In Santiago would have worked better as an acoustic track, but the production used made it a little tedious. And heaven only knows why the crowd noise was in Heaven Only Knows.

Luckily, things got better with the final three tracks. All Over Town was sort of a reprisal of the theme of Pretty Girls, but Stick Around had a more conventional, guitar-driven sound. And while I listened to Mary Ann expecting one lyrical payoff, Eric surprised me by taking the story in a different and unexpected direction.

The album is a pretty brisk one, clocking in at just 31 minutes long for the nine songs. It’s a length which suggests that the choice of going to EP length, cutting out a couple tracks, and using this as a sampler may have been a better one. It also shows the pitfalls of self-production, as it was unclear whether some of the chatter between and within tracks was there to add ambiance or just something missed in post-production. Overall, the album had a analog tone, which fit with the idea of the sound.

I wanted to like this one, but there are too many songs which aren’t worth the listen. If you’re into music that’s retro, though, you may get into it. It may not win a lot of converts but if there’s the potential for you to be one, listen for yourself.

monoblogue music: On tour

When I first began doing my Saturday music reviews, a goal of mine was to promote these bands and alert you as to when they would be in the area. It was a long shot that any would come, being unsigned, unknown, and all, but if you remember my very first review of an Australian group called Monks of Mellonwah, they will indeed be coming to the region.

Tour dates for a group I reviewed, Monks of Mellonwah.

In this case, MoM is backing former Creed singer Scott Stapp on a handful of Northeast dates, with the closest to us being Lancaster, PA on June 20.

Since I didn’t get something to review this weekend, I thought I’d pass that along. I’ve actually been meaning to do an update like this, but what got me thinking about it was my review last week and the fact Matt Townsend would be playing a show in Washington, D.C. in September. So I looked and a couple of the European-based bands are playing shows over there, while others seem to be content trying to promote themselves in other ways.

But I’m glad to be of assistance to Monks of Mellonwah, even if it’s in a very small way. I remember enjoying the album when I reviewed it so I imagine the live show will be quite good.

monoblogue music: Matt Townsend and the Wonder of the World (self-titled)

A self-titled effort from this North Carolina-based artist, Matt Townsend and the Wonder of the World reminds the listener a lot of Bob Dylan. A lot.

This isn’t to say that Matt should run out and begin his own tribute band, but it’s the first impression one gets upon firing up this release and dropping the first song, Seventh Story. But fortunately for this listener, it’s really only the voice which is reminiscent of Bob Dylan because Matt forges his own musical direction, albeit with a few fits and starts.

After the country-tinged opener, Townsend shifts gears a little bit with the harmonies and additional instrumentation of Carry On. That song, along with the following Hollow City Streets (Free Me to My Soul), seems to have the most complex instrumentation of the nine songs on the full-length release. Overall, these songs are unusually long for the genre of music as the album runs nearly 47 minutes. Based on that fact alone, real fans will find a lot to love.

Lovers of ballads will certainly enjoy the fourth song of the set, Wind Without The Rain. Another relatively simple song is Desire Like A Lion, the subject of this video.

The organ-based melody of Love I’m Coming Home may also be a good choice.

One unusual thing I noticed about some of Townsend’s songs is how they build up through additional instrumentation. As an example, listen to the closing song, Gratitude In Being, or The Garden Where the Grass Forever Grows. Although the former features an odd transition near the end of the song and the latter seemed a touch disjointed to me, the technique of adding instruments as the song goes is used to good effect nonetheless.

For those who prefer something in a more conventional vein, the middle song Takin’ A Moment would do them quite well.

This album came about in an unusual way, with a primary source of income being crowdfunding. Although Matt didn’t reach his stated goal, he apparently did well enough to get this far. It’s also worth noting that Townsend finds music to be a lifesaver.

Creating music for me has been literally a life saving enterprise. Writing songs and playing music has helped me survive some of the darkest times of my life. I am so grateful to be able to do it at all, because there was a time when I couldn’t.

As a whole, I would say Matt did a fine job, with my one musical quibble being an overly prominent bass drum in the mix. But the musicians, playing instruments up to and including a musical saw featured on a number of tracks, did a nice job bringing the project to life.

And since Townsend lives in Asheville, North Carolina “by way of Burlington, Vermont,” he indeed tours the area on occasion. Among a number of stops in North Carolina and Vermont, Matt has a show slated for September 4 at the Treehouse in Washington, D.C. So if you would like to find out what he’s all about in the days before his first full-length CD is released June 23, listen for yourself. With the musical roots of this region it should be fertile ground for Matt.

monoblogue music: “Moanin’ at Midnight: The Howlin’ Wolf Project” by Tomas Doncker Band

The forthcoming release will be out July 8.

You’ve seen the name Tomas Doncker in this space before, as his band has served as backup musicians for True Groove Records labelmates Marla Mase and Lael Summer, whose releases I’ve previously reviewed. But this time Doncker serves as the frontman for a project a couple years in the making that’s near and dear to his heart – a tribute to the late bluesman (and Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame member) Howlin’ Wolf.

But while Doncker puts his stamp on seven of Howlin’ Wolf’s classics, mainly released between 1958 and 1962, he also adds a couple originals in the same vein. Blind Melon Morpheus (Missed the Train) is the harmonica-solo introduction to Shook Down, and if you didn’t know they were originals you may have thought they were outtakes from the master himself, with a dash of additional organ and background harmony on the latter. The compilation also features both a more traditional offering of Moanin’ at Midnight and what Doncker calls the “Ras Jah Ames Dubmix” with more echo and sampling to close the set.

Fans of bluesy rock probably know the songs as many have been covered by various artists over the years, with perhaps the best known being Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart’s rendition of I Ain’t Superstitious. Doncker’s version is far more upbeat than the Beck/Stewart version, honed to a toe-tapping tempo and featuring a heavy emphasis on the harmonica. And when it’s vowed in the spoken word portion of Smokestack Lightning that “I’m gonna show you how to play the blues,” Doncker delivers – although I think it’s expressed even better in his rendition of Back Door Man, with a great guitar coda.

This isn’t to say the lesser-known songs don’t have highlights. With just a hint of keyboards, the guitar-driven Evil is a great introduction to the set, which transitions well to the slower and more traditional Killing Floor. But I thought the best (if not necessarily truest) rendition on the album was that of Spoonful, which mixes great harmonies and a sizzling solo that make you want another one.

Howlin’ Wolf packed a lot of music into a relatively short recording career – he was in his late forties when his first solo record came out, and he only lived to the age of 65. But he lived at a pivotal time in musical history, and his impact is well remembered by Doncker in his tribute. If you don’t believe me, listen for yourself and pick up the album when it comes out July 8.

monoblogue music: “This Clumsy World” by Keith Alan Mitchell

The forthcoming release by Keith Alan Mitchell drops June 20.

After a week’s hiatus, monoblogue music is back with this forthcoming release.

From the opening notes of Keith Alan Mitchell’s upcoming solo debut called “This Clumsy World” it’s apparent that the singer-songwriter is at home in the realm of rural American music. That seems a little unusual for a songwriter based in the San Francisco Bay area, but given his Ohio roots it made a little more sense.

Yet while one would think this would mainly be an acoustic set based on the opener Been Buried, that reality is that only one other song, the final track Our Eyes, is of a similar nature. Instead, the majority of tracks have a country feel to them, particularly in the ballads Crossed That Line and Swaying. That song, the album’s longest, features backing vocals from Kathy Kennedy and seems like the song one would punch up on the jukebox just before closing time, when those looking through the beer goggles are seeking someone with whom they’d forget the world until morning.

On the other hand, the more upbeat songs like You Just Disappear or Diamond Blues show some lyrical dexterity as well. The latter is a definite toe-tapper.

A more conventional arrangement is found in Tavern Angeline, which revives the age-old theme of hanging out at the neighborhood bar, albeit with a different musical style (and without its tone of desperation) than say, Don Henley’s Sunset Grill. Mitchell sticks with a full band on the next track, The Feud, and to me that is the highlight of the collection as it reminded me of early CSNY stuff. It’s sort of a dark song, but the piano fade somehow works there as well. And The Low Way works well lyrically as a tribute to the working man.

Being a self-produced effort, though, there are a couple instances where another producer may have improved a song. This is true with Next Time and Every Every, which to my ear have some minor flaws in their arrangement. On balance, though, it’s a reasonably well-crafted collection.

I thought the choice of title was a little strange, as “clumsy” is a world seldom used in this day and age. But the title comes from the lyrics of What It Means To Soar, as Mitchell explained on his website blog:

I started crossing off ideas I didn’t care for and there right in the middle of the list remained “This Clumsy World” – a line from the chorus of “What it Means to Soar.” I have to admit, I can’t remember if I decided while I was in LA, or if I stewed on it for a while longer. But the more I thought about it, it seemed like the perfect title.

I think an album should create it’s own “world.” It should be self-contained and take the listener somewhere – and be interesting and engaging enough that you could sit in front of some speakers and have this experience of going somewhere else, hearing about someone else’s problems – real or fictional – rather than dwelling on your own, and give you a feeling. Hopefully many feelings.

But it’s also clumsy – because the world itself is an imperfect place. Things don’t often go exactly how we want them to, if ever, and rarely are they elegant. Yet it’s the imperfections that make people unique, and randomness plays a huge role in most peoples’ lives – as much as we might not want to admit that.

The album should appeal most to those who like acoustic music, although the tracks with the enhanced band tend more toward country or country-rock.

On June 20 Mitchell is planning his CD release show in San Francisco, but hasn’t laid out a tour to support the album yet. As always, I think you should listen for yourself but if you think it’s worth your effort to buy, perhaps he’ll be inclined to follow.

Update: I received an e-mail from Keith thanking me for the review, and in it he mentioned that Tavern Angelina was inspired not only by Sunset Grill (which was an uncanny coincidence because that was the song I thought of while writing the piece) but also the fictional bar the dockworkers frequented in season 2 of “The Wire.” He has a bit of a connection with the Baltimore area, as some of his family lives in Glen Burnie.

monoblogue music: “Basquiat” by Mangoseed

Mangoseed's debut hits the market May 22.In my eyes, the upcoming release from south London’s Mangoseed, a new entrant in the world music genre, is either going to land with a resounding thud or set the world on fire – it seems like this edgy compilation isn’t just going to settle into mediocrity.

Pointing toward the former is the fact that the album is self-produced, and on first efforts the lack of professional guidance often shows. Because of this, you get seemingly aimless and filler tracks such as Bali Men, Bali Men Interrupted or Interruption (yes, all three are separate tracks on this 15-song compilation.) These almost seem as if they were recorded on a old cassette recorder, although that ambiance works surprisingly well on another brief tune, the almost bluesy I Shoot My Friends. At first listen, I thought The Soul Bird fell into this category but then realized it was intended as an intro of sorts to She Is All.

A second strike against them is the hard time they had finding a drummer – one track in particular, Rise And Shine, seems to my ear to be either a tad too fast or a touch too slow. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but the song just seems off somehow. Now that they’ve settled on Irishman Sam Campbell, that may be rectified in a future release or on live performances. (The remaining band consists of lead vocalist Nicholai La Barrie, guitarist Karlos Coleman, and bassist Richard Hardy. Sometimes it sounds like a lot more than four with the overdubbing, but the live shows have four guys.)

So now that I’ve gone through the half-dozen or so misses on the compilation that could doom a band to failure, let me tell you why they could succeed beyond their wildest dreams. Simply put, a lot of songs are very catchy, beginning with the album’s opening track Lioness. Yes, it has the oversampling common to dub music but its guitar-driven introduction showed these guys didn’t forget how to rock. That same complexity also drives the next song, Careful.

There’s more of a straight reggae influence in the band’s lead single from the album, Brix-Tone. It’s an homage to their hometown of Brixton, and makes for an interesting video.

Track number five, Devil In The Road, is the highlight of the album. To me, it’s the potential best live song, something the band can work onstage and extend to give the feel of a jam band. (Maybe they have in one of their frequent shows about London.) There’s also a high level of energy apparent in tracks like Army Of One, Standing On High, and Thief Head, which all feature a staccato chorus and, in the case of the latter, a bass line which at times I can really get into.

But the band also shows a little something different on certain songs, in particular a little bit of harmony on This Life, where the band sings about being “so far away from you/so far away from me/so far away from all I used to be.”

The overriding question is whether eight good songs are enough to take Mangoseed to the next level, or if they can at least give them some quality time with a producer who can smooth out some of the rougher edges while keeping their authentic sound. Unlike some others I’ve reviewed of late, Mangoseed is one band for whom it’s obvious they’ve grown together in front of live audiences as opposed to experimentation in the studio.

On the other hand, if you’re a student of the dub style and don’t mind the short tracks, you may find that “Basquiat” is just the British import you’ve been waiting for. The last decade or so has been kind to bands who run in that sort of vein, so they may just find a willing audience on this side of the pond. As always, I encourage you to judge for yourself and if it suits your fancy, buy “Basquiat” when it comes out May 22. Enough sales across the Atlantic and the band might follow.

monoblogue music: “Strings & Wood” by Joel Havea

This EP is slated for a May 24 release.

Joel Havea has an interesting story, and he’s not afraid to tell it.

The Australian native, who now calls Germany home, is in the midst of a European tour to both back his upcoming May 24 release called “Strings & Wood” as well as a full-length 2012 effort called “You Make Me Believe.” The May 24 release is a five-song EP and the subject of this review.

Havea is an acoustic guitarist, but his songs have a rich quality to them which takes them beyond the typical coffeehouse singer-songwriter and gives them more of a full-band feel, despite the inclusion of only a little bit of additional instrumentation. I found this to be best expressed on the opening song, Going Gone. It’s a solid tune, with great harmonies and a bluesy vibe to it that should play well on tour.

Track two, Simple Things, takes it a little slower, with the inclusion of a backing cello. Perhaps it’s the voice and the way the song is crafted, but the song reminds me of something a later-stage James Taylor would have done; it’s the impression I get as one who was there for the original, anyway.

Going Through The Motions is more of a slow-developing song, but it eventually reaches its payoff, with great instrumental backing for Havea’s playing – it’s another song which should draw wide appeal. A stripped-down version is featured in the video below, so imagine the song with a little studio work and organ.

After the work of Going Through The Motions, the ballad My Wings brings some surprisingly good harmonies to the mix, along with a uplifting chorus. It also brings back the cello to ably create the mood.

With more of a true singer-songwriter feel, thanks to its harmonies, the final song on the 18-minute EP is Fading Away. As Havea sings, “as the time is slipping by, the twinkle in your eyes is more of a glaze,” one can understand that the song’s subject is indeed fading away from life.

All five songs are well-done, and perhaps they could be the foundation for a lengthier release down the line, as many up-and-coming artists are using this repackaging technique to adapt to the changing market for music. If you’re into acoustic rock, this is well worth the few more weeks of waiting (although you can listen for yourself to it now.)

As I noted at the top of the review, Havea is not afraid to tell his story. This video is a promotional effort for the upcoming release.

From what I understand, Havea has some U.S. dates planned for later in 2014 so if you like what you hear he might just be coming to a venue near you.

monoblogue music: “Half-Life” by Marla Mase

The February EP release from Marla Mase.

I haven’t reviewed a lot of music for this feature, but this album was perhaps the most challenging one to assess so far. There is a lot that goes on in “Half-Life,” which to me came across as a series of moving parts that couldn’t quite come together as a satisfying whole.

From the opening track, Drown in Blue, to the eighth and final ballad with spoken word called Hold Fast Your Dreams, Marla takes us to several varied corners of her performing world – I say performing because several segments and songs rely on her spoken word lyrical talents, including a track called The Heart Beats, with its minimal instrumentation.

Even Drown in Blue is taken in a different direction during the set – from the upbeat, rocking initial track to a shorter acoustic reprise later in the CD. It’s an interesting way to re-interpret a song, a tactic which reminded me of the old Eric Clapton song After Midnight, which found new popularity in a bluesier live release Clapton put out several years after the original.

Mase puts together several ingredients on the title track, which has a more smoky soul feel to start, but works its way into a rocking chorus before evolving again with tasty sax and a spoken word interlude.

But the album has some annoying quirks to it as well – the simplistic, sing-song lyrics of Things That Scare Me (billed as the “2014 Club Version” of the song) seemed to me that of trying to hard to make a musical point rather than just letting things play out.

Backed by the Tomas Doncker Band, comprised of many of the same musicians who backed Lael Summer (whose debut full-length release I reviewed in March) and participate in many other True Groove Records exploits, their instrumentation shines on songs like Bitch in Heat and Gaping Hole, the latter perhaps being the most conventional song of the album with its call-and-response element. The “Half-Life” version is actually the second rendition of the song, which, along with the original Things That Scare Me, was first released on Mase’s 2010 album called “A Brief Night Out.”

Mase has made her reputation as a performer moreso than as a musician – her resume includes other writing, as she bills herself a “writer/performer/producer/singer/songwriter” who “writes songs, plays, monologues, short stories, erotica, blogs, and poems.” It’s obvious that spoken word and poetry looms large in her most recent release, but the problem is that poetry and other forms of writing intended to read and spread a message don’t always lend themselves to good, listenable music. Thousands of people fancy themselves as lyricists – witness the tiresome parade of rhymers and rappers we’ve endured over the last quarter-century – but few know how to craft those lyrics into a workable and marketable song. In the end, that’s what I find as the biggest weakness of this compilation.

As always, though, don’t just take my word for it: listen for yourself. You may come up with a different, more approving opinion.

monoblogue music: “(A)live from the Scrapheap” by Christina Rubino

I didn’t know it at the time, but perhaps slating this review for Easter weekend was most appropriate for the March release from Christina Rubino called “(A)live from the Scrapheap.” A decade ago, Rubino was an up-and-coming player in the New York music scene, working on several projects and eventually finding her way into an all-female Depeche Mode cover band called Violator.

But after a few years of touring and ongoing substance abuse, Rubino backed away from the scene five years ago, and the healing process continues with this barebones, mainly acoustic production.

Listening to the first two songs, The Gateway and Pending the Lost Soul, one may think the album will go off in a folk/bluegrass direction, one which is rather upbeat. But that hopeful feeling disappears and the scars become visible in the next track, Nothing to Gain.

On that track and on the next one, Little Bee in D, Rubino ponders her fall, lamenting at the end of Little Bee that “everything turned gray.” The bleak, relatively stark feeling of emptiness expressed by the album’s cover seems to fit these middle tracks. But if not for these setbacks and tribulations, Rubino sings in Tidal, “I’d have nothing to sing about.”

Redemption begins on track 6, Aria Divina, where she pleads, “God show me where I’m going, and who I should be. Please light the path I’m walking, and help me walk humbly.” It’s not the smoothest path, as Seems and Waiting To Break testify – in the latter, Christina wails, “every time I flip a coin it lands on tails.” But the next two tracks, Stix n’ Stones and Breakout, return to more complex and upbeat instrumentation. Even the finale, Billy’s Song, while it talks about loss, does so in a hopeful way.

Generally recorded with only two or three instruments, “(A)live from the Scrapheap” takes advantage of her collaboration with producer Jerry Farley (who also plays on the album), guitarist Matt Brown, and backing vocals from longtime friend Francine Bianco, who previously teamed with Rubino as a folk duo called Ruby and White.

Yet in this case the music is simply a backdrop, a vehicle for catharsis. While the 11 tracks run a little bit over 44 minutes, they’re the result of what may have been a lost half-decade or so in Rubino’s life. If there’s one thing I took away from listening to this album, it’s that she’s a survivor. Granted, that’s not the most unique of instances, as thousands upon thousands of artists and musicians over the decades have struggled with inner demons for which they found release via addiction to various substances, and many of them didn’t make it back. Christina cites Janis Joplin as her original inspiration, and Joplin was one of those tragedies who died at a very young age.

Rubino, however, is on the road back and the message of redemption is a good one to remember on this weekend.

As I alluded to before, Rubino has toured in the past with various bands but most recently has stuck close by her New York base. It’s not to say she may not try and back her album if it does well – I could easily see her taking the show on the road as she writes additional material. She may not look the part of a vulnerable musician given her tattoos and overall appearance, but she sure sings it.

I’ll cheerfully admit that her style of music isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but it was obvious to me that Rubino has poured her heart and soul into this one, perhaps more so than most. As I always say, listen for yourself and see if you agree.

monoblogue music: “All The Rage” by Latimer House

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but in this case looking over the cover of the recent Latimer House release “All The Rage” gives a very good idea of this complex yet strangely accessible collection of ten songs.

Formed by an eclectic assortment of musicians with roots from around the world in 2010, the Prague-based band has put out an album which to my ears was a little bit like good jambalaya is to the palate: something with a lot of flavors you may not expect, but combined well for an overall enjoyable experience.

The base is laid by the opening tracks This Is Pop, Burn, and Eye Can See, all relatively punchy and upbeat songs with a good riff to them. You even get the hint of political commentary in This Is Pop, while Burn introduces a string section to the overall composition.

That addition and subtraction of elements continues through the tracks, something which got me thinking about what was missing. As the collection went on, it seemed like just as I was thinking that a stone was unturned, as if on cue I’d hear it in the next song. When it occurred to me that a song with harmonies was missing, along came Red Hot Sequin Blues and Splash! A slower ballad? Try Your Love on for size. The toe-tapper I was looking for turned out to be Love’s Undermined. Surprises seemed to abound with each track, so listening a second time made me notice things I missed on first impression.

Tasty, complex instrumentation comes in many of the songs as well: the horn of Follow Your Heart as well as Red Hot Sequin Blues, the echoing chorus and cheerful keyboards of Birdcage Walk, the string section revisited on Bubblegum, and even the bass-driven intro to Splash! made for good variation. Bubblegum also provides additional commentary on pop culture in its lyrics.

While all ten songs have enough variation and manage to hold the listener’s interest, perhaps the only drawback I can see is that some may grow weary of vocalist Joe Cook’s somewhat nasal voice and delivery – but then again it’s worked for Bob Dylan for years.

The band is based out of Europe and has had more of its popularity there, but there is a connection to the States as bassist Michael Jetton hails from Virginia. It may not be on their timetable just yet, but there’s always been a market for Europop in this country so an eventual tour here may not be completely out of the question. Right now, though, it appears that Latimer House is simply happy playing music with a good collection of guest artists helping out along the way.

If indeed this is really pop, then Latimer House seems to be keeping it in good hands. This is the kind of danceable, accessible stuff that’s a reminder of a simpler time, and these guys show the pop genre can still be done quite well. As I like to say though: don’t just take my word for it – listen for yourself.