monoblogue music: “A Rainy Week in Paradise” by Elessar Thiessen

Oftentimes when I review a musical work, my mind tries to categorize it into something that it sounds like. But the recent release by Winnipeg’s Elessar Thiessen eludes that pigeonholing; traversing the territory of adult contemporary music with ease.

Whilw he begins with the rain and brief acoustic number Another Love Song – which seems to serve as an extended intro to the romantic I Need A Woman – this rainy week in paradise generally manages to produce an acoustic feel with a blend of guitar, drums, piano, and occasional organ.

There are a few highlights on the early stages of this one: the buildup to a tasty solo on Lover Dear leads into the upbeat I Don’t Wanna Go. Later on the track that veers most toward rock, When The World Ends, quickly and almost imperceptibly becomes the song Without Him through a spoken word bridge. There’s a hint of something different (perhaps Western swing?) in the shuffling track Truth.

Among that sextet which makes up the middle of the album, though, is a song called You Girl that features vocalist Alexa Dirks as the girl in question. To me, the song was a little off-putting and I think it may have been what I thought an unusual rhythm or just the drum track in general. Others may hear it differently, of course – here you go.

Even though the thought of a rainy week in paradise may seem depressing, Thiessen makes it hopeful and optimistic in the title track. Wrapping up the 11-song effort are an ode to his sibling called Sister and another song that well conveys the acoustic/electric dichotomy, The Perfect Bloom.

Having walked back through Thiessen’s effort in my mind’s eye, I still can’t really put it in a specific genre. I suppose this is one where I can definitely encourage listeners to judge for themselves; after all, they will determine whether Thiessen remains a secret to those outside his home area or broadens his appeal.

monologue music: “This Book Belongs To” by The Liquorsmiths

After hearing the upcoming release by this West Coast-based band, it’s no wonder they have a deal in place with Inhesion Records and have opened for several more established groups: The Liquorsmiths have the talent and the unique niche to break through within their chosen folk-country genre. (I really like the cover, too.)

The six songs on their forthcoming EP (set for release August 21) have a nice variance to them, from the upbeat opening track Coy With Me and snappy lead single Get Well Soon to the slower Iris’ Song, which has a nice tone to it.

On the latter half of the six-song EP, Thief starts out mellow but then picks up, Devil I Do is almost bluesy in its feel, and Day By Day functions well as a final song. It could be the final song of anything: it’s the longest track on the album and builds up to a final chorus that begins to drown out the lyrics – and just might in a live setting as the audience gets to know the tune. I was almost expecting a “thank you, good night!” at the end of Day By Day.

Musically and lyrically, “This Book Belongs To” comes across as a very polished, well-done effort. I think the lightning rod for criticism (or praise) will be in how much lead singer Drew Thams reminds people of Bob Dylan. It was the very first thought that popped into my head once he started singing. That kind of comparison can be flattering but dangerous at the same time, so The Liquorsmiths moving forward will have to be careful about pigeonholing themselves. So far they have done a reasonable job with being fresh and original.

The Liquorsmiths have put together an album that is very simple and basic, as there aren’t long lists of guest players or a host of hokey studio tricks here. People who appreciate this sort of honesty and follow that area of music where acoustic folk runs on a tangent with elements of country in it should really enjoy it and I encourage then to take a listen. Since the album isn’t out yet there’s not a full stream to sample, but the lead single I link to above turns out to be a good representation.

Their marketing strategy is good as well, as they’re including five bonus acoustic tracks with the “Deluxe Edition” of “This Book Belongs To.” They’re not outtakes of the songs already on the EP but instead the quintet of songs are described as Thams and his guitar in front of a couple mikes, done during recording breaks for the main EP.

Could this be the breakout for the Liquorsmiths? Only time will tell, but a group which is familiar to the West Coast may have reason to see this side of the country.

monoblogue music: “Til the Story’s Told” by Kevin Jenkins

I don’t know the artist personally, but I get the impression Kevin Jenkins has spent a lot of time in church – not just worshiping, but listening.

The reason I say this is not because he led off his latest release with a remake of Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit In The Sky, a song I reviewed as part of the True Groove “Fully Re-Covered” compilation a few months back. Instead I make that judgment based on the feel and lyrical tone of several of the other eight songs on “Til the Story’s Told,” which came out last month.

Take as examples the title track, which features the harmonica of David Barnes and has a definite gospel influence to it, or even the prayerful Before You Close Your Eyes where keyboardist Nick Rolf adds his touch.

(The backbone of Jenkins’ band, where he is the bassist and lead singer, is Tomas Doncker on guitar and Mo Roberts and Michael Faulkner splitting drum duties on various tracks. Alan Grubner adds the violin on the lead single Janie’s Silver Lining, while Heather Powell provides backing vocals on a few songs. A lot of hands went into telling this story.)

Janie’s Silver Lining is actually a good representation of the overall sound, which would not be out of place on the adult contemporary charts. The same goes for the more bluesy Tangled Up, where its harmonies stood out with me, or the lengthy Kings Of Everything with its intro reminiscent of old ragtime music.

But those aren’t the only twists and turns on Jenkins’ latest effort. “Why do we believe in fear?” asks the appropriately-named ballad Why, while County Line has a country feel with its pangs of regret. Perhaps the only sour note is taking the end of the upbeat rocker Crazy Weather and adding 45 seconds or so of the opening chant of Spirit In The Sky. I got that it was an effort to bookend the collection, but Crazy Weather stood on its own as one of my two prime picks on the album – the other is the title song Til The Story’s Told.

As I noted above, this record would appeal most to those who like adult contemporary music. It’s one you could put on while you work and enjoy in the background – maybe even on repeat as the nine songs clock in at just under 42 minutes. The spacing of slower versus more upbeat songs is rather good, so it makes a nice addition to the growing True Groove catalog.

monoblogue music: “9 to 3” by Ajay Mathur

When a compilation has 15 tracks and runs over 62 minutes, you hope there’s a lot to like. Indeed, there is quite a lot of good stuff on this guitar (and sitar) player’s latest solo effort, which he describes in part on his Facebook and Soundcloud pages as “Bollyrock.” It’s appropriate as Mathur was born in India but now makes his home in Switzerland.

“9 to 3” has a wide range of songs which don’t just show Mathur’s instrumentation but his sense of humor as well.

The humor is reserved more for the interior tracks, though. The album leads off with the country-feeling Sitting By The Cradle, a song that evokes a little bit of an Eagles vibe, and gets backed up by the rockabilly Walking On The Water. Its harmonies have made the song something of an independent digital radio hit, as it’s charted in the Top 200 for a few weeks (#192 as of last week, although it peaked a few notches higher.)

There are a trio of other songs on the record which I could see as radio-friendly as well. View From The Top has some nice hooks in it, while adult contemporary fans will likely enjoy the love song Sleepy Moments. But the more likely and catchy candidate for mainstream radio would be Password Love, a song that begins to exhibit the humorous flair in Mather’s writing.

Leading off the songs that have the probability of making you chuckle is Latin Lover, which has a jazzy note to it. I could just smell the “Polo trailing behind” on that one. The more acoustic and biting All Up To Vanity scores because we all know someone who fits that bill, and most of us can relate in some way to Surfing Girl (Cyber Monday Mix). My only question on that is: who uses Myspace anymore?

Also presented in a unique manner is My World (SOS To The Universe), which employs a children’s chorus and spoken word interludes to create a song that tries to be deeper than three-minute pop pablum. It does a good job of sounding important, although the looping is a little bit cloying toward the end.

Where “9 to 3” begins to slip is the vocal presentation on slower songs, with one exception. I just don’t think Mathur has the voice to carry off otherwise worthwhile ballads like Nothing Really Matters, Oh Angel, or Tell Me Why Do I Still Love You. Nothing Really Matters actually ventures a bit into power ballad territory, while the other two are obviously more romantic.

On the other hand, Mathur’s vocals work much better for a bluesy-feeling song like Love Madness. It also employs the call-and-respond style found regularly in blues-based music to great effect, with a variety of tricks to keep the listener’s interest. I found that to be my favorite song of the “9 to 3” album. It’s also worthwhile to note that it was one of two songs (Sitting By The Cradle being the other) where fellow lyricist Mary Lou van Wyl lent a hand.

Mathur is a musical veteran, having began his career almost 40 years ago in his native India before moving on to Europe a decade later and finding success with a band called Mainstreet. So while he surely knows his way around the production side of things, it reminds me again why I tend to have issues with self-produced work. A different pair of ears would have convinced him to drop either the narcissistic I Song or its extended version that closes the album, I Mantra. “I want it all and I won’t let go and I want it now” is an annoying enough sentiment, but add more sitar and make it longer? Maybe there’s an Andy Kaufman-esque joke in there that I don’t get, but I thought 11 minutes of all that between the two was rather excessive.

Shakespeare once said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Deleting the latter two tracks would have made this a far better effort; instead “9 to 3” is more of a mixed bag with several solid tracks brought down by a few lowlights. But I encourage you to be the judge and listen for yourself.

monoblogue music: Delta Deep (self-titled)

A veteran of rock and roll, onetime Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen recently embarked on a project to correct a wrong he saw in the music business. In establishing Delta Deep, Collen remarked that, “I grew up listening to rock music but then I found out it was all based on blues…Today’s musicians miss out on what blues is completely about. There’s a type of ‘blues style’ but not actual blues music. I just don’t hear true blues anymore unless I go back and listen to really old music.”

Yet while Delta Deep begins with the promising slide guitar, hand clapping, and sassy vocals of lead singer Debbi Blackwell-Cook on Bang The Lid, (as you can hear below) it really doesn’t turn out to be a traditional blues album. Rounding out the band are former India.Arie drummer Forrest Robinson and Stone Temple Pilots bassist Rob DeLeo.

Certainly the influence is there, though, in the eight tracks the band wrote – particularly Whiskey and Burnt Sally, which could have been lifted from any number of classic blues collections. Whiskey has an almost jazzy feel to it, while Burnt Sally utilizes guest organist C.J. Vanston to great effect.

They also use some interesting covers, nuggets from a bygone era such as Judy Clay and William Bell’s Private Number, which in this case is a duet between Blackwell-Cook and onetime Deep Purple/Whitesnake singer David Coverdale, Deep Purple’s own song Mistreated, which closes the album and features Collen’s old bandmate Joe Elliott on vocals, and Humble Pie’s Black Coffee. Aside from Black Coffee, Delta Deep does a fine job putting their stamp on these old tunes – somehow the old Humble Pie standard seems a misfit.

There are other tracks which seem to be throwbacks to the 1960s, such as Treat Her Like Candy or its follow-up track Miss Me, which seems longer than its 3 1/2 minute running time. (As a whole, the album clocks in at just under 44 minutes, so it’s not pretentious or pondering by any stretch.) And the adult contemporary lover should be pleased with the upbeat Feelit.

But Phil Collen made his name from being in Def Leppard, and if you listen closely to the power pop of Shuffle Sweet – does that sound like a Def Leppard song or what? – or the song most likely to get radio airplay, Down in the Delta, you hear that influence. The backing vocals and chord progressions of Down in the Delta make it the closest cousin to those charttoppers you heard in the 1980s.

Unfortunately for those of us of a certain age – and Collen is seven years my senior – our tastes tend to get short shrift on the radio. Delta Deep is probably too bluesy for modern rock, which borrows more heavily from rap and hip-hop, yet classic rock stations rarely take a chance on new songs from established artists. They sort of lay betwixt and between, in a musical zone where few seem to tread these days in their stampede to meld rock and hip-hop or when old rockers truck on over to the country music aisle.

Yet if there is star power involved, a band like Delta Deep could push the envelope back. The rock world is overdue for some retro influence, and a good choice would be a return to its bluesy roots. Delta Deep is one project that could lead the way as an excellent effort, and since it was just released Tuesday you can get in on the ground floor.

monoblogue music: “17 Miles” (single) by Jared Deck

I think it was the wail of the organ a couple bars into his new single, but if this is the musical direction newly-minted solo artist Jared Deck is planning to take, he may be in for a long career as a purveyor of a distinctive rockabilly sound that’s as wide open as the prairies surrounding his Oklahoma home.

I really wish I had a larger bit of context than the single “17 Miles,” but as it stands Jared is following up his affiliation with the self-described “cowpunk” band Green Corn Revival. (The red, white, and blue guitar made famous by the late country singer Buck Owens is a great touch, too.) Once GCR ran its course, Jared decided to strike off in a solo direction and this anthemic single is the first result.

And while this isn’t part of a larger project at the moment Deck is promising new work, stating on the GCR website:

I am writing more than ever, but closer to the roots on which I was musically raised. It’s an exciting turn that I hope you’ll follow.

Take a listen and see if you agree. Now the question becomes one of how to market the sound.

If you believe that the new wave of country artists have come closer and closer together, to the point where you have no idea if you’re listening to Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean, or any of those others who fall perilously toward painting a country tune by the numbers with the requisite homages to drunkenness, chasing women, and tearing up the back roads in their old pickup trucks, you may be searching for something different yet familiar. This song could fit your fancy.

Similarly, if you are looking for something where the singer isn’t screaming and the bass isn’t set to a pulsating level – but still want a tune that can kick you in the pants – this isn’t a bad choice either.

Jared straddles well a line that used to exist between country and rock, before the former borrowed liberally enough from the latter’s elements to the point where artists like Kid Rock, Bon Jovi, and Steven Tyler flirt with the country genre while Zac Brown performs a song with rocker Chris Cornell that gets regular airplay on modern rock radio. “17 Miles” is a long distance from those generic efforts, instead carving out a sound that’s attractive because it’s off the beaten, well-worn path.

Let’s put it this way. I would love to see two things: first, an entire album from Deck to see if it would indeed land among my top picks for the year, and second, a tour which comes this way. We have a market and a venue that I think could be fertile ground for him, even without the tumbleweed.

monoblogue music: “Revolt” (single) by The Unravelling

After a hiatus of nearly three years thanks to cancer surgery and recovery for lead vocalist Steve Moore, the Canadian industrial/metal duo The Unravelling is returning April 25 with new material, a single called Revolt.

Honestly I hadn’t heard of the group – which features Moore and his musical partner Gus de Beauville – until now, but perhaps I should have. Their 2012 debut “13 Arcane Hymns” was good listening if you enjoy modern metal with an industrial edge – think of groups like Tool or Nine Inch Nails and you’d get the idea. In that release they straddled the tightrope between metal and industrial in fine fashion.

But on Revolt, which would seemingly be the lead single to a progressing and as-yet-untitled forthcoming album due later in 2015, the duo veers in a more industrial direction. That could be a reflection of how their music is created, but I don’t see the upside to making music that is less appealing than the previous release. It made a little more sense to me when considered in the context of “13 Arcane Hymns” – I listened to Revolt first, then checked out the 2012 album – but still I don’t think the end result was worth the wait.

However, I will grant a caveat in what I say: perhaps this is a generational thing. To me, music is made by actual instruments so the thought of sitting at a computer composing tunes is a little foreign to me. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy some of the songs in that genre but overall a lot of it goes by me like background noise or elevator music. With all the different genres of music I listen to for reviewing purposes, I’ve come to appreciate instrumentation more and more.

Yet having said that I still think it will be interesting to see what other music The Unravelling comes up with – early indications are that the lyrics on several of the other songs will be more meaningful and challenging than those presented with Revolt (one example: Acid milk conjurer/The guided son/Self help/Change your life/Halo gun) so their sophomore effort may still avoid that dreaded jinx.

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.