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Irene Hartfield

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Irene Hartfield – Play Me

URL: http://irenehartfield.com/play-me/

In a dimly lit nightclub smooth sounds can be heard. Music patrons gather around casual tables that are donned in fresh white table linen clothes. A drink is poured, a candle is lit, and the music and the atmosphere collide. Irene Hartfield’s vocal and instrumental presence comes cascading forth and washes itself over her willingly captive audience. A sound brushes itself over each table as the magic and sway come from musician Irene Hartfield soulful voice.

A long and rich history of what Irene Hartfield does best comes in her recent album release back in February 2016 called Play Me. Jammed packed with Irene’s own brand of cover songs, she brings 10 of today’s well-known songs, and makes them hers. This is pure unadulterated gold, a bursting lightning strike of fulfillment.

The voice of controlled ambition, met with passionate ivory tinkling, leaves the listener wanting to push play over and over and over again. An evening meant for lovers to be drunk again and again. Play Me is a fitting title for this work.

Her power maneuvers Neil Diamond’s song, “Play Me,” as if a gift from above had been blessed. Her diversity switches the moods of each cover she produces, unquestionably Irene Hartfield owns every track. Lighting up the night with Paul Simon’s “Loves Me Like a Rock,” Irene Hartfield sets a standard of a jazz play and pleads in her knowing that indeed he does love her like a rock.

Neatly meeting Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want” once again Irene takes hold and shows the power in her vocals. Her yearning can be felt and burning in this love song as it leads her strength once again to showcase her versatility as a musicians and singer. Magically Irene Hartfield weaves and spins the legend Cole Porter’s number, “Night and Day.” An inspirational number of an easy tempo is spent in Irene Hartfield’s own song in this line-up of covers, “Sailing Away.”

It is undeniable that Irene Hartfield’s album Play Me is the quintessential cover album of some of the best classics ever. Her all encompassing advantage is found within her voice, as it is larger than life and she has impeccable control over it. Truly, undeniably, irrefutable she is the master.

Irene Hartfield is today’s powerful voice of classic blues, jazz and rock. Gently treating each spin with the honor due in her own sassy classy way that was sent to send chills down your spine. Her album, Play Me, is certainly your notable album to spin around your turntable, your mind, and your dance groove. Especially with someone close to your heart.

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/IreneHartfieldMusician

by Jeff Rivers

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Project Grand Slam – The Rescue

pgs3Project Grand Slam – The Rescue 

URL: http://projectgrandslam.com/ 

Robert Miller and Project Grand Slam know how to bring it together. The effortless sound of their latest single “The Rescue” previews their forthcoming full length release The Queen’s Carnival with such confidence and off the cuff ease that you’d be tempted to believe the band rolls out of bed in the morning and creates such mini masterpieces with ease. No one who knows music believes that. The astonishing excellence of a song like “The Rescue” comes from the countless years that Miller and his collaborators have put into honing their musical skills and the innate talents that Fate sought to bestow upon them individually. Another crucial part of this puzzle is their instinct for presenting their creations in such a way that fully realizes their sonic potential. “The Rescue “simply couldn’t be produced any better – there is such absolute resonance between each of the instruments and they are woven together with such tasteful precision that it is scarcely possible to imagine improvement. This is, again, the product of a superior talent. In this case, however, it isn’t a singular superior talent – while bassist Robert Miller is certainly a master of his chosen instrument, the surrounding players on this song more than hold their own and shares his vision for Project Grand Slam’s music. 

Guitar blasts away to open the track, but the band quickly establishes a full throated groove including brass, organ, percussion, and bass. It’s played well in the pocket and the swing Project Grand Slam strikes from the beginning is physically impossible to ignore. Toe-tappers? Nod your head along to the song? “The Rescue” will appeal to you immediately. The various musical elements are brought together with lean economy, none placed over another, and the band’s sharp ear for synthesizing these elements plays an enormous part in the song’s ultimate success. They emphasize the tasteful approach throughout and never burden their performance with cluttered instrumental passages or an inexplicable desire to hog the listener’s attention for themselves. Instead, they play in accord with one another and obviously listen to the path they take.  

The drumming and bass playing provide the necessary ballast, while the lead instruments do an excellent job balancing the direct and counterpointing melodies. The song never overstays its welcome and Project Grand Slam concludes the song in rousing fashion without ever conforming too much about listener’s possible expectations in that area. It is refreshing to hear a band so successfully combine an aesthetics first approach with a gleeful, romping approach to attacking a song arrangement for everything its worth. The attitude results in constantly fulfilling moments, a satisfying and enduring tribute to their skill and it’s earned them a place of great respect in the popular music community. Songs like “The Rescue” are the best possible evidence for why Grammy award winning and widely popular artists have enlisted their services as an opening act. Make no mistake however – Project Grand Slam are no one’s warm up band. They are titanic talents and their continued rise is inevitable.  

I-TUNES: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/project-grand-slam/id274548453

James Parker

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The Invisible World – Color / Echo

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The Invisible World – Color / Echo

URL: http://welcometotheinvisibleworld.com/

This isn’t paint by numbers alt rock peddled long past the genre’s sell by date. Readers of a certain age will remember well those bygone days in the early 1990’s when bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and The Smashing Pumpkins burst on the scene and swept away the bloated hair metal balladeers and pseudo-rockers who dominated the airwaves and charts for much of the 1980’s, particularly the latter half of the decade. The Invisible World aren’t a tribute act to that distant time. Instead, this four piece from the Kansas City, Missouri area brings together guitar pyrotechnics, attentive songwriting, greater artistic ambitions, and a sturdy ear for evocative melodies into a well rounded package. They dispatch the six tunes on their latest EP, Color / Echo, without hesitancy and maximum conviction.

Lead singer Jesse Collins makes an impressive mark on listeners from the outset. His vocal on the title track and EP opener dramatizes the relatively weighty theme with gusto and surprising theatricality. His voice has a certain measure of sweetness, but there’s gravel and dirt on his vocal chords that helps give the song an additional veneer of credibility. The acoustic ending to the opening song makes for a fitting segue into the much more relaxed, straight forward style employed on “Bellamy”. Collins’ acoustic guitar lays down a steady rhythm track that electric guitarists Bryce Veazey and Ara Woodall are able to burn over with their slashing, chord-heavy style. The rhythm section of Brandon Woodall and Jon Gibbens prove their dexterity on this song by adapting to its uptempo pace just as easily as the more deliberate tempo employed on the first song. The EP’s third track, “The Way”, recalls the opener in its insistent on occupying a bigger portion of the stage than comparatively minor efforts like “Bellamy”. While their more light hearted fare is certainly worthy of attention, The Invisible World truly shines on songs like this because listeners can feel the fullest realization of their musical and lyrical vision.

“Brick by Brick” takes the band completely into acoustic territory. Collins is center stage for this one and his eloquent fusion of immediacy and technique creates magic late on the EP. The lyrical content is deceptively simple – what seems sing-songy and clearly draws its reference points from children’s nursery rhymes soon reveals itself to be much deeper than a first listen might reveal. The EP’s final song, “Oughta Know”, brings the biting pop tempo of “Bellamy” to serve equally brisk lyrical material. It reaches beyond the earlier song for the sense of gravitiy heard in songs like “The Way” and the title track, but the band keeps things relatively light hearted with the musical tone.

This is a powerhouse unit that has already enjoyed some recognition and this release is sure to garner more. Few bands can lay claim to being the complete package, but The Invisible World can. They are carrying on the torch for alternative rock long after the term first appeared and doing so with talent and passion that will only carry them higher.

I-TUNES: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/color-echo-ep/id1104737554

9 out of 10 stars.

Lance Wright

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Claudia Norris – Shine

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Claudia Norris – Shine

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Claudia-Norris/1570895209799297

Upcoming pop starlet Claudia Norris is not sure what kind of EP she wants to make on her third effort thus far, Shine. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as it leads to a varied set of tunes that take some chances and are unafraid of changing up styles throughout. Most pop artists following the flavor of the week trend suffer from writing the same song on after another and never really finding an identity beyond what the studio producers and label executives will allow them to create. That’s why the independent music scene, even pop, is the best place to find exciting new talent in the ever-changing musical climate of the 2010s.

Norris was off to a great start with previous EPs Love, Claudia and Hello, Hello, but Shine finds her really settling into her own pair of shoes comfortably as an artist. “Tonight” is teeming with life and love, simple guitar riffs and insistent bass lines finding their running legs thanks to a popping, bass drum beat guaranteed to shake loose a floorboard or two whenever played at the proper volume. Though certain phrases of Norris’ vocals are phased and reversed with auto-tune, the singer is allowed to get into a fluid lyrical delivery that utilizes her lofty range and melodic assets to their full capacity. The chorus is a monument of curvy, voluptuous pop sensibility designed to be recited back by thousands of people in an arena-sized venue. It isn’t complex or technically astounding, but rather a superbly layered, powerfully delivered crescendo of live wire melodicism that matches Bieber and Swift at their own respective games.

The title track slows things down but cruises at high speed into a radio rock anthem with electric guitar embellished verses that clear the way for Norris’ vibrato vocal might during the chorus. Touches of stripped-down, country songwriting are present in the rhythms with root-note bass lines and pocket percussion keeping the music tightly woven together for a dynamic rise whenever Norris’ mantra like vocals command the forefront. “Marry you” is the odd man out. It’s a sublime ballad of love and yearning with electronic drum-work, acoustic guitar and piano played backing melodies. Claudia’s vocals sound great in the verses but the chorus isn’t without its awkward moments and somewhat unnecessary repetitions (the phrasing of words is good but Norris eventually falls into making a sort of “Oooh” sound a little too often in a lengthy track). Still the song is quite good even if it could have used a bit more trimming on the cutting room floor. That leaves finale number “Sunny Afternoon” to bring things around with a straight country jam reminiscent of LeAnn Rimes filled to the brim with acoustic/slide guitar juxtaposition, toe-tapping drums, south of the Mason Dixon bass grooves and Norris’ finest vocal performance on the entire record that shows noticeable progression from the verses to the chorus. It’s a real charmer of a song and the one that is destined to get the most repeat plays from the reviewer. In a way, it summarizes and provides a perfect snapshot of Claudia Norris’ abilities in one robust, succinct track. Shine is the EP that will no doubt catapult Norris’ music to the next level and hopefully national radio will soon pick up on this wonderful new artist as a result!

Purchase Link: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/artist/claudia-norris/id647290372

8 out of 10 stars.

Cynthia Spencer

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Sawtooth Brothers – One More Flight

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Sawtooth Brothers – One More Flight

URL: http://www.sawtoothbrothers.com/

Since their formation, the Sawtooth Brothers have distinguished themselves as among the pre-eminent young musicians working within the Americana genre today. The four piece’s first full length album release, One More Flight, will garner much attention and helps establish their credentials as among the best songwriters in the field today. They accomplish their artistic goals by faithfully invoking those rustic sounds in a modern context without ever trying to outright ape their poses and phrases of the past. Bluegrass, country, pop, and rock echoes resound through the album’s track and are filtered through pristine, acutely accurate production that lays out each musical element in beautiful detail. One More Flight shapes up, from its presentation forward, as an uniquely individual experience that never neglects tradition.

It opens with “Another Cliché”. This song serves notice for that last sentence of the above paragraph and reveals songwriting perfectly balanced between the instantly accessible and artistically clever. The light musical touch that the band develops doesn’t mean that they lack dynamics – there’s tremendous energy generate by the interplay between these low-fi instruments and the chord changes, coupled with shifting melody lines, throw off real sparks. “Country Road X” is a little more restrained, but surges with the same vitality. The vitality dissipates only a little on the nominally much more traditional-minded “What’s Her Name?” The Sawtooth Brothers take on the classic country ballad form here and score a resounding success. Its musical qualities propel it forward. The basis of everything the Sawtooth Brothers do musically is in their use of melody – often two or three melodies interchangeably moving through a song – and “What’s Her Name?’ makes an impact mostly thanks to its emotional tenor.

“On Top of the World” is One More Flight’s first real proof of the band’s sleeping rock inclinations. There’s an intensely rhythmic quality to the acoustic guitar riffing that nevertheless loses sight of melody and works well against the clear, yet physical vocals. The title and songwriting place it firmly within a certain tradition that the music reinforces – the title, immediately, recalls “Sittin’ on Top of the World”, popularized by Howlin’ Wolf among many others, and this small allusion is yet another piece in the stylish and highly intelligent feel emanating from this album. “Summer All the Time” has a considered, reflective pace that recalls the earlier “What’s Her Name?” in its emotional slant, but it’s a richer musical feel here and the arrangement has a pleasantly layered effect that makes it one of the album’s finest moments.

The title track, “One More Flight”, has much of the same rhythmic flair on guitar that distinguishes earlier tracks like “On Top of the World”, but its lyrical concerns reach further. The Sawtooth Brothers wisely never burden these songs with ornate, pseudo-poetic musings, but they do push far past the typical tropes of country and Americana either through humor or observation. One More Flight is a solid outing from first song to last – there’s no filler here to speak of and the instrumental prowess powering these compositions promises to develop in surprising ways.

AMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/One-More-Flight-Sawtooth-Brothers/dp/B01AQ309YM

9 out of 10 stars.

David Collins

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Chris Murphy – Red Mountain Blues

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Chris Murphy – Red Mountain Blues  

URL: http://chrismurphymusic.com/ 

The Americana artist and violin virtuoso Chris Murphy has carved out an impressive niche as one of the best interpreters of traditional folk and bluegrass on the scene today. Other strains of Americana, like gospel and blues, make occasional appearances in his self-penned material, but Murphy is predominantly rooted in the rustic Appalachian sounds of classic bluegrass. His songwriting subject matter never strictly confines itself to rural themes but, instead, mixes them freely with contemporary settings. There are a number of songs on the album that are outright nods to popular music’s distant past, but Murphy’s reach gracefully encompasses all of these disparate elements into a seamless whole. 

His fidelity to the past is on full display with the album’s first song. The title track is a lightly rambunctious instrumental ripped straight from the past and given vibrant new life thanks to his inventive talents as an arrangement and the sheer irrepressible glee in his playing and those around him. “Dirt Time” is Red Mountain Blues first lyrically driven number and weaves traditional imagery with a very idiosyncratic humor that helps the song stand out. While Murphy and his collaborators are expert at invoking the past with entertaining skill, even the numbers on Red Mountain Blues that smack of outright tribute are distinguished by Murphy’s facility for transmuting those influences into something altogether his own. The brilliantly conceived musings of the song “Kitchen Girl” is a perfect example. While the idea behind the song isn’t particularly original, Murphy’s performance alongside guest star Tim O’Brien and his deft lyrics bring this tale of a slightly bedraggled girl to vivid life. Here, as elsewhere, the instruments are rendered with exquisite clarity while never feeling drained of their warmth.  

The second half of the album has a lighter outlook, overall, than the first half thanks to the inclusion of songs like “Dry County” and “Meet Me Tonight”. The first serves up some more of Murphy’s storytelling skills in a crackling, full-on bluegrass vehicle that satisfies listeners by hitting all the expected reference points while still never sounding imitative or as if it is pandering to the listener’s simpler ideas about bluegrass. The second is equally playful and geared more in the direction of a love song. Murphy’s plaintive and uncalculated delivery elevates this past the level of being a mere throwaway. The haunting lyricism and considered pace of “Johnson County” comes at an ideal place in the album’s sequencing and, despite its instrumental basis, breathes deeply with a beautiful and very vocal melody. The album’s final cut, “The Lord Will Provide”, is an impressive instrumental with deceptive emotional range. Much like other songs on the album, “The Lord Will Provide” moves with considerable internal energy, but there’s an added melancholic subtext that enriches the song and gives it a surprising surplus of gravitas. 

This is a deeply rewarding work that will appeal to a cross section of listeners. The melodies give each of the album’s fourteen songs instant accessibility without ever sounding too samey and the lyrical content has a wide vision rather than confining itself to rehashing tired tropes from the genre.  

CD BABY: https://www.cdbaby.com/cd/chrismurphy57 

9 out of 10 stars.  

Lance Wright

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The Lowest Pair – Uncertain As It Is Uneven

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The Lowest Pair – Uncertain As It Is Uneven 

URL: http://thelowestpair.com/ 

Long after its commercial eclipse in the 1950’s, bluegrass music has continued to lurk along the margins of the nation’s musical life with a small, but deeply devoted, following that persists across multiple generations. Much has been written about the reasons behind the lasting appeal of Americana musical forms like the bluegrass, blues, country, and folk genres and we don’t need to rehash it here. Suffice it to say that The Lowest Pair, formed in 2013 by Kendl Winter and Palmer T. Lee, understand the spirit driving this kind of music to the marrow of their beings and their internalized understanding of it informs and richens their songwriting throughout the release. These are superb musicians and singers, talented arrangers, and even in a small but significant way, practitioners of musical poetry at a high level. The release of Uncertain as It is Uneven will likely push the duo even higher in terms of critical respect and popular acclaim. 

It begins gently with the tracks “The Company I Keep” and “Keeweenaw Flower”. The first is a gently unfolding song with a strong banjo presence but equally eloquent guitar work. The banjo and its six string counterpart weave effortlessly around each other and create a delicate, but strong mood that gives Winter an excellent foundation for her vocal. Lee offers muted vocal counterpoints that deepen the song’s emotional tenor. The second song is straight guitar throughout and has a slight jangle, at points, that gives it an added step. Palmer T. Lee’s dramatic reading is strengthened, and sweetened a little, but Winter’s contributions as a harmony vocalist. “Lonesome Sunrise” draws from a wealth of traditional imagery but, like the best material from this duo, they give it a highly individual twist with the specificity of their experiences and responses. The haunting beauty of their voices is, likewise, a vivid reminder of what makes them unique and those qualities are served well by this song and subject matter. 

“37 Tears” and “The Sky is Green” are more poetic musical turns from the duo, but their moods are studies in contrast. The first is a mournful, mid-tempo banjo shuffle about despair with a capital D, manifested in strong imagery centered on numbers, and Palmer T. Lee’s vocal handles potentially difficult material with great care. “The Sky Is Green” has a slight air of melancholy just below the surface, but it’s a much brighter journey overall that gains an added layer of light from Winter’s lovely vocal. “Mason’s Trowel” is another Lee lead vocal, but Winter’s harmonies are as crucial as ever to pulling the song off. The machine gun musicianship never misses its mark or loses any feel despite the uptempo pace and it’s a strong, even slightly intricate lyric. “Holy Buckets” has a nice, striding quality generated by the marriage of banjo and guitar – the recurring figure, electrified and sped up, would make a great country rock riff. The album’s final song closes the collection on an anxious, but forward looking note with “By Then Where Will That Be”. It’s an extended song that ends Uncertain As It Is Uneven with the substantive statement it deserves.  

I-TUNES: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/uncertain-as-it-is-uneven/id1092915918 

9 out of 10 stars. 

Lance Wright

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Moon & Pollution – The Box Borealis

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Moon & Pollution – The Box Borealis  

URL: https://www.facebook.com/moonandpollution/ 

Most popular music strictly adheres to formula and listeners flock to hear the latest regurgitated variation on familiar themes. However, occasionally, devoted music fans are treated to the unexpected and it immediately garners respect. The debut release from Moon & Pollution, The Box Borealis, is a ten song collection that challenges listener’s long held conceptions on the art and construction of a pop song while making brave forays into territory not typically associated with pop structures. Moon & Pollution features producer and composer Graham O’Brien teaming with respected singer and lyricist Molly Dean for one of the most interesting experiments you’ll hear all year. Don’t let the word “experiments” throw you. The songs are completely accessible and never strain for effect. The ten songs on The Box Borealis are products of genuine and clear artistic vision. 

The title track opening the album is a dense soundscape reliant primarily on electronica for its instrumental melodies while Dean delivers a blinding vocal over the top Her vocal melody shows a wise willingness to keep close to the music’s spirit, but yet has enough of a different flavor that it creates a striking contrast. However, the production on the album’s earliest songs is, at times, a little too thick for its own good and whatever lyrical message Dean aims to deliver is lost or obscured. “Moving Scene” has an ominous air – the sort of music that seems to prelude full-on disaster. Dean’s vocal is given far clearer treatment here than on the album’s opener and the composition creates spaces where her emotive phrasing can take center stage. The mid-tempo pace has a relaxed attitude, but there’s deceptive energy behind the restless pattering. Moon & Pollution toss a little extra spice into the mix on “The Magnetic North” – listeners will quickly lock onto the track’s tasteful rolling patterns that sparkle brighter thanks to subtle embellishments and, of course, find favor with another considered, yet passionate Dean vocal.  

Those who prefer the duo a little dreamy and light-headed, like on the coda for “The Magnetic North”, will probably feel let down some by the turn Moon & Pollution take halfway through this release. “Darkroom Double” and later songs maintain the same blueprint in many ways, primarily thematically, but “Darkroom Double” has percussion pursuing much more commercial paths than earlier on the album and making it work. Versatility is key to Moon & Pollution’s success and they move from strength to strength nary breaking a sweat. “Solace Sandwich” puts a commercial aesthetic forward in a pronounced manner not heard elsewhere. It works. This is a song sinking its teeth into your memory only seconds in thanks to the catchy melodies and invigorating performances from everyone involved. 

“I Didn’t Look” employs some backwards drums as its rhythmic hook and a gradually evolving melody from the remaining instruments. The song “Alter Eagle” has received some attention nationally and represents the duo’s first big home run as a songwriting unit. It captures a near perfect balance between the personalities of its participants without ever pandering to anyone or anything. Moon & Pollution are certainly beholden to no one musically. They’ve tapped into a rich vein of songs and live chemistry on this debut and we can only hope to hear again from them soon.  

I-TUNES: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-box-borealis/id1076811039 

8 out of 10 stars. 

Lance Wright

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Junk Parlor – Mick Jagger’s Heart

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Junk Parlor – Mick Jagger’s Heart

URL: http://www.junkparlor.com/

The Bay Area’s, “Junk Parlor” have released two albums since their recent incarnation. “Wild Tones” in 2013 and “Melusina” in 2015. “Mick Jagger’s Heart “ is their most recent single to be released. Given Junk Parlor’s quick turnaround of albums, you can expect a possible release late this year. “Melusina” saw Junk Parlor expand their Gypsy influences even further. As said in 2015 Junk Parlor intended “to venture further down the path of Eastern European, gypsy and vintage belly dance melodies along with our own brand of moody, haunting originals …”

It is common practice for artist to release a different brand of music in-between albums. Junk Parlor are experimenting with “Mick Jagger’s Heart”. The European Gypsy sound is almost unrecognisable. In replacement we have “acoustic rock” as quoted by the artists themselves. This downscale of sound is not pretentious nor is it a pompous attempt at growing up as artists. It is an example of musicians exercising their talents in a way they simply want to.

A very brief surf rock into into “Mick Jagger’s Heart” sets the tone for the song. The rhythm is gains momentum early and carries that throughout the song. The consistent rockabilly flow structures the song to position the paramount lyrics. The vocal melody is strong and expressive. The fun concept of the song is well executed by Junk Parlor. Catchy lyrics hit the high points at all the right times and keep your head nodding throughout the song.

For all its simplicities there is still variety within the music. The arrangement of simple chords and tones create a shapely body of music. With a small amount of ingredients, Junk Parlor create a rich and full sound for “Mick Jagger’s Heart”. It is strongly possible that Junk Parlor want to move on from their Gypsy heritage and instead hone their skills and making a simple production that is greater than the sum of its parts,

The bands own description to the song said “When the heart ache of Leonard Cohen decides to lament under the sun amidst the California surf! The moment of goodbye… the lingering sigh that begs to turn back time…. Doctor won’t you please….. tear it out.” And I’m sure you can guess who’s heart they want to be next to. The lyrics aren’t emotional, not are you going to reflect on them but that is not the point. The lyrics are just fun and fit together perfectly with the music.

Mick Jagger once sang “Let me in your arms, angel in my heart”. Is this why Junk Parlor want to be next to his heart? Has the heat of the Californian surf proven to be too much from them that they simply want to rest at peace. Perhaps the Junk Parlor got over the Bay Area scene and want to be laid to rest alongside Mick Jagger when he was at his most naked, vulnerable point.

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/JunkParlor

Review by Cameron Thomson

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Eleanor Tallie – No Turning Back

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Eleanor Tallie – No Turning Back

URL: http://eleanortallie.jimdo.com/

Israeli-born and now United States resident Eleanor Tallie’s debut release, an EP entitled No Turning Back, features much more than a powerhouse singer with a killer backing band. The EP’s six songs are well written from top to bottom – while No Turning Back falls firmly in a traditional camp, the changes are often unexpected and delivered with clean, unadorned production stressing their melodic virtues. The lyrical content avoids anything resembling pretension and, instead, delivers its messages with specificity, open-ended generalities, moments of pure poetry, and an understated sense of humor. This debut is the product of a life well lived and it’s artistic commitment to rendering these tracks as honestly as possible so that listeners across a wide range might be better able to relate to and enjoy the material.

“Hell or Heaven” opens No Turning Back on an inflamed, passionate note. It’s the EP’s predominant mood. Tallie is a vocalist who grabs each song and either shakes it free of its compositional structure, making it sound like a spontaneous expression of her heart, or else caresses its potential out one syllable at a time. In the case of the opener, it’s the former. This track plays like a barely restrained, emphatic utterance from the bottom of her heart, but Tallie smoothly navigates through the changes without ever losing any of its meaning. The EP’s second track “I Tried” dials down the sonic intensity and provides listeners with, perhaps, No Turning Back’s most commercial effort. The catchy main figure is difficult, if not impossible, to forget after hearing it a few times and Tallie’s voice wraps itself around the instrumentation in a highly seductive way. Guest star singer Lil Riah makes the second of two appearances on the EP with the next outing, “Sunlight”. There’s a little more poetry in these lyrics than earlier or later songs and Tallie, undoubtedly recognizing this, coaxes one of her finest vocals on the release.

“My Present” is one of No Turning Back’s cleverer bits of songwriting and, while it doesn’t rely on the same memorable hook powering “I Tried”, there’s obvious commercial potential here. The song has some of the aforementioned underlying humor marking a few of the EP’s songs, but Tallie is cunning enough to let listeners discover their own chuckles from the depicted experience rather than making a coarse, crass play for laughs. “Gotta Be Happy” is the best example of the positive lyrical message of strength and survival that Tallie attempts conveying in all of her songs, but the real highlight here is the splendid and multi-faceted instrumental performances that make this No Turning Back’s best effort.

The EP finishes with “A Real Man”. This is a biting bolt of blues full of chaos barely held down, but it’s an artful illusion. These are musicians with considerable skill, so it isn’t much to ask that they create a musical world that seems teetering on the edge of anger, yet never quite allowing it to run off the rails. Some blues, funk and soul lay their effects on listeners with a huge paint brush. One of Tallie’s chief strengths is the things she accomplishes through implication. No Turning Back is artful, emboldened, and full of heart.

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/intent/follow?source=followbutton&variant=1.0&screen_name=eleanortallie

9 out of 10 stars.

William Elgin

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Sasha’s Bloc – Runaway Blues

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Sasha’s Bloc – Runaway Blues 

URL: http://sashasbloc.com/ 

Few modern musical acts can boast the melodic fluency and firepower of Sasha’s Bloc, regardless of genre. Alexander Gershman’s talents as a bassist, songwriter, and bandleader anchor a larger assemblage of virtuoso musicians and singers while longtime vocal group legends Take 6 lend their stirring voices to their latest release, “Runaway Blues”. One of their key members, Alvin Chea, takes the lead vocal helm here with spectacular results. Rarely are listeners ever treated to such a sympathetic merger of singer, playing, and song. Chea’s voice is mixed well against the musical backing and the multi-part harmonies reinforcing the main vocal are ideally employed and hit every musical mark. “Runaway Blues” heralds the opening of what will surely be another wildly successful creative run for a band that’s scored big since their 2013 founding.  

The band has a tight grip on invoking the big band era without ever parroting it. This isn’t some simple minded recreation of a bygone era, but instead a finely textured and highly stylized interpretation of a classic American musical style. “Runaway Blues” moves with grace, sure-footed musicality, and harbors surprising depths of artistry. It sports a lyric that plumbs deep with a superb characterization of someone who has spent too much of their life trying to evade themselves and other difficult truths. Chea gives a mournful interpretation of the lyrical content without ever lapsing into overwrought histrionics and the music responds appropriately at key points to help further develop the drama. 

The drumming bears notice. The understated rhythm section work is led by percussionist Kevin Winard. Winard never overplays and his tasteful touch belies his ability to push the tempo in creative ways without ever calling attention to himself. He’s typical of the band’s players in that he possesses a wide-ranging pedigree that brings a wealth of experience to the band’s music. Andy Langham’s piano playing encompasses many styles on “Runaway Blues”. He veers from lyrical gospel lines in the song’s initial moments into much bluesier lines later that occasionally verge on outright boogie piano. These are players capable of bringing the earthy and refined in equal measure and are part of what makes Sasha’s Bloc so exceptional. 

Alexander Gershman’s songwriting and stalwart leadership has brought this band far, but clearly the critical component in their historical success and the merits of “Runaway Blues” is his finely attuned ear for surrounding himself with the best musicians available. The arrangement, likewise, offers evidence for his unerring talents for using them in the right places. The tracks steadily mounts from the outset and, while one will never mistake it for a pop song, generates a little of sparks before winding down. 

Ensembles like Sasha’s Bloc are more important than ever. In an increasingly homogenized musical world, the efforts of Take 6, Gershman, and their fellow players are an all-important defense against corporate imposed mediocrity and historical apathy. It’s the very definition of a band fighting the good fight and having one hell of a fun time doing it. Anyone who hears it will experience that same smile on their face. 

JAMSPHERE: http://jamsphere.com/newreleases/sashas-bloc-runaway-blues-featuring-take6-another-timeless-piece-of-musical-art 

Michael Saulman

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The Lowest Pair – Fern Girl and Ice Man

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The Lowest Pair – Fern Girl and Ice Man 

URL: http://thelowestpair.com/ 

For genuine music devotees and obsessives, it’s heartening to know younger writers and performers like The Lowest Pair are picking up the mantle of seemingly moribund forms and attempting to carry them into the future. Playing bluegrass or any traditional American music in 2016 practically defines the term “labor of love”. This EDM world fixated on rap music and increasingly melodically dumbed down pop doesn’t have much patience with narratives, complex characterizations, introspective dialogues, and so forth. It is music intended to capture a moment and then be disposed of because it holds no last melodic or artistic value. The Lowest Pair, particularly on this release Fern Girl and Ice Man, prove that they are working in a radically different realm. The album’s eleven songs have individual melodic strengths that play fully developed and reside in the brain after the song is over. These are sturdy compositions delivered by performers with wide vocal and musical command over the genre. It’s one of the year’s most enthralling recording experiences. 

The album opens with Kendl Winter and Palmer T. Lee’s voices harmonizing beautifully during the opening strains of “The River Will”. Banjo and guitar soon join in, but the song’s musical focus supports the vocal and lyrical content for much of the song. The duo conjures up immense storytelling possibilities from the sketchiest of details – the cheap motels, the images of travel, they all add up to a renegade’s take on hard living. Winter and Lee conspire to deliver the content with just the right amount of gravitas. Winter and Lee spend much of “Tagged Ear” singing together to memorable effect. These are singers intimate enough with each other’s artistry that they give truth to the hoary cliché of telepathy between performers. Each of their voices picks up where the other leaves off, but they also memorably come together for moments of real beauty. “Stranger” is a much darker tune in some respects, but it develops along the same sort of track as the preceding song. Bluesy harmonica carries listeners into the song and, while it takes a much slower tempo than many of the album’s songs, it retains the same direct approach of other efforts.  

“Spring Cleaning” is one of Winter’s best vocals outings and she does a particularly excellent job making each of these lived-in lines fraught with emotional meaning. There’s a great deal of specificity you discover in The Lowest Pair’s songs and, occasionally, some of it might potentially strike listeners as obscure or, at least, open to multiple interpretations. Winter’s phrasing and dramatic reading of the material never attempts to make up your mind for you, but she certainly offers up her take on the song’s significance to her. The album’s penultimate song, “Waiting for the Taker”, makes use of the banjo and scattered bass notes to give the track a bit of added rhythmic push, but this has a surprisingly ancient aura. There’s a mysterious beauty permeating Winter’s vocal and strongly melodic banjo line achieves a hypnotic quality soon after the soon begins. It’s the album’s longest song and, arguably, its finest achievement, perhaps more for its open-ended meaning than anything else. The Lowest Pair ends the album with “How Can I Roll?” and they couldn’t have chosen better.  

It’s a thoughtful and painfully sensitive finale. Lee makes vocal contributions, but they merely aim to accentuate another deeply moving Winter vocal. She truly inhabits every line of the song. It’s a final illustration of this review’s opening point – these are songwriters and performers pouring everything of themselves into bringing these songs to life. Fern Girl and Ice man ends with Winter announcing she has no intention of ever going down again and it isn’t difficult to believe her.  

I-TUNES: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/fern-girl-and-ice-man/id1092915527 

9 out of 10 stars. 

Montey Zike

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Un5gettable – “Sorry” single review

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Un5gettable – “Sorry” single review 

URL: http://www.un5gettable.com/ 

Five piece singing groups, particularly consisting of thirty something community theater vets, don’t come with the promise of lighting the musical world on fire. Un5gettable’s aims are much smaller in scale. No one should confuse this for bubblegum gimmick music. Despite their comic intentions, it’s clear very quickly that Un5gettableare more than capable musicians and singers. Moreover, they have an obviously clear-eyed vision for how to present the band sonically. The production on their newest song “Sorry” does a fantastic job of making the song a breezy, amiable experience without sacrificing its dramatic effect on listeners. Their skills as arrangers stand out thanks to the song’s relaxed pace and light-handed touch. Each succeeding passage locks snugly into its preceding one and the track’s fluidity is a big part of its success.  

The song’s musical skeleton is stripped back and muscular. The piano and guitar used keep the proceedings honed to a fine point, but it’s apparent with just a single listen to this song that Un5gettable isn’t a band in the business of filler. It’s rather remarkable and a testament to how far the DIY age of making music has come that Un5gettable are able to present such a fully integrated sonic piece without the benefit of major label backing. Twenty years ago or more and this single would have likely not seen the light of day. Home recording technology was in its infancy and the major labels still served as gatekeepers for the industry. We are fortunate. Modern times allow us to hear this wonderfully silly, yet oddly understated and stylish song.  

They should an admirably light touch with the material. It could go all out slapstick and Un5gettable could attempt lathering the track up with gag lines galore, but there’s a surprising amount of lyrical detail and gleeful embrace of clichéd comedic elements. The fact that they still draw a laugh shows how well songwriter Joe Cameron uses them in this context. The band’s vocal performance does an exceptional job of embodying the comedy through tone and phrasing. It never strains for effect. 

Naturally, the band’s talents for vocal harmonies distinguish them most of all. The band strikes a seamless unity with their approach and not a grain of any voice hits in a dissonant or displeasing way. It’s always welcome to find vocalists talented enough to incorporate lively phrasing into technically solid structures and the singers in Un5gettable do it exceptionally well. The lyrics are a great aid for them – like anyone who understands the structure of a good joke, Un5gettable refrains from getting too wordy and presents situations directly to the listener. 

This is an entertaining song on every level from beginning to end. “Sorry” isn’t a life changing musical event or some stirring affirmation – it’s just a little song about the ups and downs that can sometimes come with not paying attention to who you’re kissing. Many listeners are certain to be paying attention to Un5gettable in the future and this song would serve as an excellent introduction. 

YOU TUBE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vx-r52LqO9c 

Joshua Stryde

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Rachael Sage – Choreographic

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Rachael Sage – Choreographic

Primary URL: http://rachaelsage.com/

Hailing from New York, Rachael Sage has had a career spanning over two decades. Sage has had a successful career which shows no signs of winding down. Despite not having a massive support, she has gathered cult following of devoted fans, akin to that of P.J Harvey. Touring around the world on numerous occasions she is an artist with a vast amount of inspiration. It would be pointless and time consuming to list all of her achievements and experiences. Perhaps her most surprising influence is Ballet. A former student of the art form, Sage`s music is follows the same elegant path of ballet. Earlier this year she stated, “Making this album was a meditation on my lifelong relationship to ballet and more recently, to lyrical dance. Dance gave me virtually everything I cherish as an artist: melody, expressiveness, a sense of ensemble, a love of costume and fashion, and foremost, discipline”.

Her twelfth studio album “Choreographic” is the closest musical representation of ballet that Sage or perhaps anyone has ever made in modern pop. The current single of the album “Try Try Try” is a throwback to country pop. Coursing violins and stuttering guitar, combining with Sage`s country girl lyrics. Singing about feeling like a women being caressed by a cowboy, it is obvious that Sage is not scared of falling into tropes. It is her willingness to be so genuinely simple that make her music stand out from the rest of folk-pop.

On the most upbeat song on the album “Clear Today” Sage is now bemoaning lost love but instead celebrating times. Rather than remembering the sad demise of the relationship, she recalls the bright beginnings. This is testament to her maturity as an artist and person. Regret is a theme that could not be further from “Choreographic”.

In “7 Angels” we hear Sage refer to her place in the world, “I’m a mother with my children only steps away, I’m a daughter dreaming peacefully of games to play”. We all have to grow up but we never have to grow old. Sage knows what is important to her in life and is in touch with how blessed she is to be alive.

Perhaps the thing that Sage does best is transfer her quirky and charming personality into music to great effect. Her music is unmistakably hers. After two decades of creating music it is no surprise that she is now comfortable in her own creative skin. The genre of pop music is full of artists with little soul of meaning behind their music. Rachael Sage sets herself apart from the rest in the pop genre. “Choreographic” is not a life affirming album, nor is it ground breaking. But it is a self-satisfying piece of art. Sage does not need to be anything that she is not. “Choreographic moves elegantly with confidence and ease. Musicians often revert back to their roots when their career is in a mature stage. A great deal of the time this results in a dull production yet Choreographic” is an effortless triumph that whispers rather than shouts.

I-TUNES: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/choreographic/id1103552513

Review by Cameron Thomson

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Jonnie and Joy – Running Home (EP)

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Jonnie and Joy – Running Home (EP)

MUSICOZ: http://muzoic.org/release/album/jonnie-joy-running-home-ep

It would be unfair to define the genre of Jonnie & Joy so let’s just leave it at eclectic. “Running Home” is a six song EP. “Running Home” can be split into three clear sections of two tracks each. The first is a flashback to rock in the 70`s. The second is country music mixed with power ballads and they finish with 80`s girl rock.

The first track of the album is electric infused “Never Gonna Cry”. The harmonic vocals set up the powerful chorus, with interludes on groovy snyth in-between each chorus. This is followed by “Lost Soul” which is a slight change of tempo. A cacophony of guitar rock and euphoric vocals made complete with an aggressive guitar solo. Jonnie & Joy are mature musicians but they are not shy and retiring by a long shot. The relentless guitar and screaming vocals would not look out of place amongst the premier of rock music in the 70`s.

“Running Home” and “Can You Hear Me” are an entirely different change of pace. “Running Home” begins as a country song, influenced by Stevie Nicks. The introduction is soft and tender, but as soon as the electric guitar kicks in, it is clear that there is another strong influence in this song, Jon Bon Jovi. “Can You Hear Me” is the emotional crescendo of the EP. The slugging guitar is still present but the synth is replaced with a saxophone. The power ballad chorus is still present and as emotional as ever.

“Night Stalker” is a suave rock song. The smooth saxophone calming the heavy rock guitar. Leading into the type of chorus that has been so prevalent in “Running Home”. The EP finishes off with “Hold Tight”. The song follows the recipe of the album. Guitar solos, screaming chorus and aggressive rock guitar. The verses serve as a tool to build the momentum of the song which ends with the final verse, “Hold tight, were gonna make it through the night”.

“Running Home” is a well-produced EP that hits its high notes at the right times. It changes pace effortlessly and despite its genre being over four decades old it doesn’t sound tired. The lyrics although natural can be too predictable at times. For their next venture it would be interesting to see them keep what they have learned but not rely on influences as much. It is obvious that there is two very different musicians in this duo. One is aggressive and rocky, the other is mellow and country driven. This combination of genre and emotion has worked and failed many times before. There is a perfect balance that Jonnie & Joy reach. They are pulling each other in different directions and cover a very specific middle ground that not many have discovered before.

YOU TUBE: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9Apo9-G3bfp9LwtFlslMpg

Review by Cameron Thomson

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