Album Review: Hobo Chang – Beast

Hobo Chang

photo by Tom Eyers; photo courtesy of Hobo Chang

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Hobo Chang: Beast

Hobo Chang - Beast

cover artwork by Paul Rumsey http://www.paulrumsey.co.uk/; image courtesy of Hobo Chang

Hobo Chang are a band from North East Essex in the UK and comprise of Fiona Harmon, Nick Munt, Phil Pain and Andrew Kearton. Together on this album release Beast, they have forged a sound like an illicit affair between ’70s prog rock and its snarling New Wave nemesis. There is a darkness and underground mood to the album. A swampy, lo-fi vibe creating a hypnotic and swirling sonic landscape with a vaguely disturbing mood that matches the album’s artwork of a struggling bull in a straight jacket. Fiona Harmon, the lead singer, has a voice that conjures up an intriguing crossover between Siouxsie Sioux, Dolores O’Riordan, and Cerys Matthews. Generally, the vocals are placed low in the mix and become a layer of texture within the music; an ethereal ambiance, like a sea washing against the shore. The band describe their sound as “a dark psychedelic funky train ride, experimental, apocalyptic and soulful with their roots in blues, jazz, reggae and the good bits of rock.”

Beast is a DIY approach to making albums. Only available as a download album through the band’s Bandcamp page, it is an indicator of the more accessible and modern way for bands to release and promote their music without the restricting, traditional expenses.

Hobo Chang

photo by Stuart Armitage; photo courtesy of Hobo Chang

The album is a dark, enveloping set of 10 songs. Not much light and shade within its tension, but I found it a fascinating listen and enjoyed the compelling journey of discovery. They have been getting many positive endorsements including musical poet John Cooper Clarke who said, “They’re a fantastic band, one of the great unsigned; I love them.”

You can catch the band live in the UK on the 28th May at Cosmic Puffin Festival or on 7th July at the 3 Wise Monkeys in Colchester. (Those are the dates currently listed on the “Gigs” page on Hobo Chang’s website; check back for others as they’re added.)

EP Review: Lillet Blanc – Lillet Blanc

Lillet Blanc

photo courtesy of Lillet Blanc

The Backstory

I discovered Lillet Blanc’s music while checking club listings (and sampling bands) to decide which live show to catch while in New York a few months ago. My final decision from among those I liked was based on time slot and neighborhood, so I went to a different gig that night. But Lillet Blanc’s EP was a free download, so I grabbed it, gave it some more listens, and decided it needed to be reviewed.

EP Review of Lillet Blanc: Lillet Blanc

Dream pop. Lillet Blanc’s Facebook page says “Lillet Blanc is the dream pop project of Emily Rawlings and Sean Camargo.” It’s jangly pop music with a floating, cloudy, dreamy film serving as a musical fog machine, residing in the same musical zip code as bands like Mazzy Star or Widowspeak but with Lillet Blanc’s offerings trending more out-of-focus and blurry, to the extent it’s possible for a kaleidoscope in or out of focus.

Lillet Blanc EP cover

image courtesy of Lillet Blanc

The first track of this eponymous 3-song EP (and, as I’ve written before, music journalists love reviewing self-titled collections because we get to use the word “eponymous”), “Foul Play” jumps right into the jangle, with the clean but slightly distorted guitar line reminding me a little of some of Amy & the Engine’s music. Even the breathy, kinda-squeaky (but not really), half-whispered vocal hints at a kinship, as if they might well share a stage. But Amy’s music is pure, catchy, mainstream pop-rock, while Lillet Blanc’s brand of pop is a bit much more ambient and “artsy.” Lillet Blanc’s entire style gives “Foul Play” a feeling of introspectiveness stronger than its lyrics warrant. In all, it’s a fun meander – I can’t call it a romp – through a well-performed song in an interesting, too-cool-for-it-all style.

Lillet Blanc

photo courtesy of Lillet Blanc

“Drenched” follows, a bit more atmospheric in nature. Or at least more dominantly atmospheric, much like the ethereal, eponymous 2013 EP of a now-defunct UK band I liked, Trophy Wife. “Drenched” seems to meander a little more drunkenly that the other two songs, its sound and vocal tone ever-so-slightly (though clearly intentionally) off-kilter. It serves as a nice midpoint in the collection.

The disc closes with a movement back toward the awakened side of dream-pop, with a couple catchy, subtle guitar hooks carrying the load during “Now and Yours.” There’s almost a hint of The Police’s early work in rhythms that occasionally bubble to the surface. Of the EP’s three tracks, this might reach most beyond the band’s core audience, serving as a good introduction to attract fans who might not otherwise typically sample their music. It caps off a solid collection of songs, an intriguing introduction to Lillet Blanc. I’ll be curious to see how this group’s sound and songwriting evolve from here.

Looking Ahead

Lillet Blanc will be performing Wednesday, May 24th at The Gateway in Brooklyn. Follow Lillet Blanc’s Facebook page to be alerted to future performances.

 

Live Review: Mary Fahl at Club Passim

Mary Fahl

Club Passim, Cambridge, MA

May 20, 2017

A few months ago, you saw my review of Mary’s latest studio album, Love & Gravity. As impressed as I was by that record, it was a real treat for me to get to hear her perform in concert. Originally known for her work as a member of the chamber pop group October Project, Mary’s solo work relies on the same powerful, soaring vocal abilities that brought her such early notoriety, but her solo style has perhaps a slightly stronger folk element. I can’t help being reminded of a folk-Americana CD I’m currently spinning in my car, the new one from Amilia K Spicer that I’ll be reviewing in the coming weeks, as they both share the same ethereal vocal element and some folk influence, while from there the two take their music in different directions with extraordinarily different voices.

Mary Fahl

photo by Geoff Wilbur

On this night at Club Passim, Mary performed with cellist Monique Citro, whose contribution added warmth and depth to the songs in support of Mary’s singing and guitar-playing. Many in the crowd had seen Mary perform multiple times over the years, and during many songs there were several concert-goers mouthing along to the words. They were also aware of Mary’s penchant for between-song storytelling, typically related to the songs she was about to sing, and the combination of stories and songs rather quickly turned the concert ambiance into that of a roomful of friends… one of whom, of course, wielded her amazing voice.

Mary opened the evening with a couple October Project songs. First, “Take Me Down,” showcasing her powerful voice that cut through the warmth of the cello accompaniment, both blending well with her strumming guitar. But, of course, the focus of the evening was always on Mary’s amazing voice.

Next came an emotionally powerful rendition of “Return to Me.” And she followed that with a great rendition of “Wild is the Wind” – as she noted before the song, the Bowie version of the Nina Simone song.

Then she performed “Gravity (Move Mountains, Turn Rivers Around)” from her latest album, Love & Gravity, a song she penned for her husband. There’s a serious Irish folk song vibe to “Gravity,” and Mary, as expected, sang the heck out of it.

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Almost every song stood out in its own way, though I’ll not touch upon all of them. “Song for the Sirens” featured some acoustic picking as an added dimension, while the strong vocals and warbles were genuinely spine-tinglingly beautiful. Mary’s rendition of “Both Sides Now” is both a truly original version, as it appears on Love & Gravity, while also feeling ever-faithful to the original; as exceptionally good as this song was on the recording, its live performance carries so much more emotion! And her performance of October Project’s big hit, “Bury My Lovely,” was both booming and catchy; it’s obvious why it was a hit.

Mary closed her set with a song she recorded for her album re-imagining of The Dark Side of the Moon, a rendition of “Brain Damage” that seemed as if Mary had blended her voice with Roger Waters’ – maybe proportionally 70/30 in favor of her voice. Such versatility. Such variety. And what a way to end a set!

The two-song encore opened with Mary’s “Going Home,” from the Gods and Generals soundtrack, a tune with a sweet melody, in many ways like a folk-song lullaby. And Mary closed the night with an opera aria from her folk-classical EP. Because she can. Or, rather, for those who speak “hashtag,” simply #BecauseMaryFahl.

In all, it was a tremendous, intimate night of soul-touching music and stories-among-friends from Mary Fahl, featuring her amazingly rich, powerful voice. I can see why so many in the audience return to see her again and again… and again. I look forward to her next visit to the area.

Looking Ahead

If you can possibly make it, you should get out to hear Mary perform in person. Per the tour date page on her website, Mary’s next performances will be Friday, July 14th in Northampton, MA and Saturday, July 15th in Saratoga Springs, NY. The other dates currently listed are Sellersville, PA on July 29th; Ann Arbor, MI on August 11th; Pittsburgh, PA on August 13th; Denver, CO on August 26th; New York on October 5th; Wilkes-Barre, PA on October 6th; Geneseo, NY on October 14th; Wilmington, DE on November 4th; and Old Saybrook, CT on January 27th, 2018. Again, check Mary’s website for additional information on those shows and for other dates as they’re added.

 

 

 

Album Review: Matt North – Above Ground Fools

Matt North

photo by Angelina Castillo; photo courtesy of Howlin’ Wuelf Media

Album Review of Matt North: Above Ground Fools (Round Badge Records)

Old-school. Or timeless. Probably more of the latter, as Matt North‘s music has a modern alt-rock attitude rooted in folky, songwriting-focused music styles of the past. Above Ground Fools won’t be mistaken for a “new country” album or a “cutting-edge rock” album. Rather, there is simply plenty of catchy, memorable, fun music on this disc that should appeal to anyone who enjoys a good song that’s well-delivered.

Indeed, Matt knows his way around song, drawing in the listener by telling bits of stories, filling them musically with rich, lush sound and, of course, a driving, engaging rhythm – he is a drummer, after all – and topping them off with a rough-edged voice equal parts outlaw country and gritty rock ‘n roll with a quirky streak. On honky-tonk-ish, rollicking “Seventeen Days,” that quirk sounds a bit David Byrne-esque, while it can add earnestness to a swaying, more serious-feeling, introspective, nostalgic crooner like “Cronkite and Cosell.”

Matt North - Above Ground Fools

image courtesy of Howlin’ Wuelf Media

But the catchiness – the sense that you, as a listener, have stumbled across something you’re really going to enjoy – starts at the very beginning with the musically unique intro to “A Good Day in Nashville.” The song itself is an up-tempo mover-and-shaker that chronicles the adjusted vision of what passes for ordinary in Nashville. A fun romp, musically and lyrically, from a man who’s familiar with the topic, simply telling it like it is.

Truth be told, I sing along to most of the songs on this album now; there’s nary a weak spot. I howl along to “No Hard Feelings.” I shimmy along with the frenetic energy and clever lyrical rhymes of “Miss Communication.” And I feign a little rock ‘n roll strut as I sign along with the slight staccato and harsh vocal edges in “I Sold It All.” The album is one cohesive country-tinged rock ‘n roll styled canvas but is painted with broad-stroked songwriting variety. That’s how Matt has crafted Above Ground Fools to be an album with staying power.

The record closes with a couple of my favorite tunes, the eminently playful “Badgering the Witness” and the ’90s loud-yet-jangly pop-rock styled “Come Here Go Away.”

After a couple dozen listens to Above Ground Fools, it’s clear Matt North is your surprisingly cool neighbor who’s mostly normal but sports a hidden quirky streak. You’re not quite sure if it’s snark or sarcasm, but you’re pretty sure he’s not serious. You think. And he makes a damn good record.

Single Review: Cain Rising – “Glasgow City Spires”

Cain Rising

photo by Matt Crawford; photo courtesy of Cain Rising

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Cain Rising: “Glasgow City Spires”

Time was when you would sit down and listen to a whole album, be taken on a journey through carefully sequenced tracks and enjoy the music as the artist intended. Things have changed, and if I’m anything to go by, then Spotify, playlists, and pressing shuffle may well be the way we are consuming our music these days.

It’s a great convenience to be able to choose the album tracks you like, skip the ones you don’t and have all your favourite music randomly coming at you as a soundtrack to your daily life. I’m not sure as an artist myself, brought up on flipping between two sides of an album it’s how I want my own music picked through, but I have to accept, we live in a more transient, song by song world and maybe there is less point in making albums anymore, just singles.

Cain Rising - Glasgow City Spires

image courtesy of Cain Rising

So that is why it is a very smart approach from Cain Rising to be releasing a series of five singles before putting them all together on a CD EP in July. It’s clever because it lengthens the shelf life for the band’s new release from reviewers like myself and from the radio stations that can have a new track every couple of weeks to keep them interested. There is so much musical competition when you release an album of music. A new release doesn’t stay new very long these days, and it seems that everyone moves on to the next new thing whilst the last song is still fading from the speakers. Dropping one track at a time as singles certainly keeps you in the public ear for a longer period of time.

Starting this series of releases on May 1st, Cain Rising put out “Rear View Mirror,” which I reviewed and loved. Now they have followed that with the single “Glasgow City Spires,” out on 15th May.

This song is inspired, according to writer and band frontman “Southside” Jimmy, “by a hazy hungover Sunday morning walk along Glasgow’s Great Western Road and down through Kelvingrove Park.” The song illustratively portrays the drive and passion Jimmy has for his hometown and poignantly marks his twenty-five years from moving away from it with lines like: “The streets below my soles, they’re home to me/My hometown’s now a foreign land.”

Cain Rising

photo by Annie Price; photo courtesy of Cain Rising

“Glasgow City Spires” is rockier than “Rear View Mirror,” and with this gear shift you begin to discover the range of songs to come. This is trademark Cain Rising and it is worth noting that the band have been described by others as strong, engaging, original, and accomplished. All of these most definitely apply with, for my part, a large serving of joy, to boot.

A big part of what makes listening to Cain Rising so enjoyable is the sound they have achieved on the recordings. Enough time has been taken to ensure attention to detail but without losing the passion of performance. The band spent about 12 days recording five tracks at Echo Studios in Buckingham, UK. This EP and last year’s album were both produced by Jamie Masters, who seems to be able to get right inside the band’s sound and bring out the very best of the songs, arrangements and performance. As “Southside” Jimmy Price says, “He doesn’t just record the songs, he contributes to the arrangements, and his skills with the tools of his trade are unbelievable. He tunes in with the band so much it’s as scary as it is creative.”

The single kicks off with a short Badlands-Springsteen style drum intro and then greets you with the warm guitar snaps and organ swirls so familiar in the band’s style. This leads you into the verse where, by hanging on one chord for the first few lines, a great sense of suspense is created before breaking into the bridge and bouncing you into the driving chorus. The chorus, whilst not such an “earworm” as in “Rear View Mirror” with it’s “looking at you” hook, does offer an alternative delight. It’s thrilling when a song grabs you straight out the box but equally rewarding when one grows on you with each listen, allowing access to the depths within. This is such feel good music, brilliantly made. I think I’m going to play the CD loud in the car all summer long.

So while we all wait for that CD release, I hope, for now, this has whetted your appetite, and I’m looking forward to bringing you a full EP review once the remaining three tracks, “Walk My Way,” “Soldier,” and “Social Man” are released.

Check out my recent review of Cain Rising’s “Rear View Mirror” for more info on the band and their live dates.

Live Review: Mark Wilkinson house concert

Mark Wilkinson

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Mark Wilkinson

House concert in Hudson, MA

May 13, 2017

The Backstory

Mark Wilkinson

photo by Geoff Wilbur

For weeks, I had planned to head to Boston for the Springtime Spectacular at the Lawn on D on May 13th to see Analog Heart, whose last album I reviewed last spring but who I haven’t seen perform live since before I launched the Blog. Mother Nature, however, had different plans, as rain was forecast to begin around the time of the band’s set, and even if it wasn’t heavy during the set, I was virtually guaranteed to be driving home in a torrential downpour, with an inch or more of rainfall in the forecast. So I turned to “plan B.” Lori Diamond and Fred Abatelli were performing in Arlington, MA. I plan to try to get out to see them perform sometime this year; I really enjoyed the show I reviewed last year. I figured I plan to get out to at least one of their sets this year, anyway, so this would be as good a time as any. But I’d still have to drive home in a heavy rainstorm, so I checked more local listings, looking for shows closer to home and listening to clips of the artists to help me decide if I should abandon “plan B,” as well.

The choice was quickly made when I came across the listing for Mark Wilkinson’s gig out here in the far western suburbs of Boston, much closer to home. And upon finding one of his YouTube clips, within the song’s first few seconds, I knew this dude with the special voice was someone I wanted to see perform, and since he’s on tour (and based in Australia), there would not soon be other opportunities to see him. To cap it off, my wife had the same initial reaction to Mark’s songs, so we caught his house concert together (a nice change from my usual solo live-gig adventures).

Mark Wilkinson

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Concert

Located in an apartment in Hudson, tonight’s venue was ideal, its great room serving as a large, open concert space with high ceilings and terrific acoustics, sufficiently large yet intimate for a house concert. And well-suited to Mark’s incredible voice, soaring and full of emotion.

Mark’s voice has been compared to James Blunt’s (“You’re Beautiful”). I also hear some Alex Band (The Calling) in there. And his tempo and style have also earned him comparisons to Tracy Chapman. I’d add Lisa Loeb and Sixpence None the Richer to that list. I’d probably even throw some Jim Croce and Gordon Lightfoot into the mix, too, for their warm, emotional vocal styles capable of connecting emotionally with listeners. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that Mark Wilkinson’s voice and performance style is timeless, powerful and emotional, and seems capable of touching that nerve that reaches directly to your heart and soul, connecting personally and profoundly with his audience; on this evening, an intimate collection of about 25 people. What I had sensed from Mark’s recordings came through in spades at his live show: This guy is special.

Mark Wilkinson

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The set consisted of 13 songs, and he was encouraged to follow it with a 3-song encore. He opened the set with such a powerful song I forgot to jot down its title, as his voice and strumming boomed warmly and envelopingly through the room, enhanced by its great acoustics. He followed that with “Chasing Rainbows,” a sad, sensitive, but still full-voiced and insistent tune whose tone was simultaneously melancholy and defiant.

Mark went a bit poppier with his next song, “Everything to Me,” with a more hit-friendly tempo and strum and a songwriting rhythm with just a hint of a slightly more celebratory flavor. There’s a nice, catchy mix of musical style and lyrics that, of course, still feature his voice, a voice a listener could get lost in and lose all track of time and place.

Mark Wilkinson

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Other songs stood out during the evening, as well. Of note, “Middle Ground” showcased sensitivity and strength, as the lyrics meandered through the story. This, Mark noted (for those of us unaware here in the States), ended up in a coffee commercial in Australia, so it’s his most well-known song back home as a result.

“Hey Baby” stood out, as well, as it served as the well-chosen singalong/audience participation song of the evening. It was followed by “Benny’s On the Rooftop,” a song that sports a nice, faster tempo and proves memorable – perhaps a favorite even – though the lyrical content isn’t so happy, to put it lightly.

The one cover in his set was of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire.” As with any great cover, of course, Mark makes it own, adding his personal vocal flair to The Boss’ brooding classic. But he didn’t leave the room’s energy down, following it with the playful “Please Don’t Tempt Me,” in which he employs a relatively edgy rock vocal. Great song to mix things up with.

Mark Wilkinson

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The song “Don’t Say It” displayed such emotion, sensitive with an interesting guitar-picking pattern adding additional character and movement to the song. It was followed by “All I Ever Wanted,” a faster-tempoed song with an uplifting feeling, which served as a great set-ending number.

Oh, but he was greeted by a standing ovation and obliged with a 3-song encore, kicking it off with a suggestion from the audience, an older song of his entitled “Baptism By Fire.” And, true to the lyrics, there was some fire in Mark’s always-rich vocals accompanied by emphatic strumming. He followed that with “When the Armies Arrive,” driven by his echoing, booming voice full of emotion.

And he closed the evening with “Still Got My Baby,” whose interesting, peppy energy and playful tempo, driven by a little funky syncopation, provided a pleasant, cheerful ending to the evening. Excellent selection to send people home with a smile on their faces.

Mark Wilkinson

photo by Geoff Wilbur

But, of course, as with many house concerts, not everyone goes home, as the evening concluded with additional conversation, many of us enjoying nice chats with the artist and the others in attendance. Nights like this are an occasional fortunate happenstance, stumbling across a great talent who isn’t nearly as well-known in the U.S. as he should be… yet (we hope).

Looking Ahead

There are still several more stops on Mark’s house concert tour. (And I’d recommend going if you can; this is a special tour during which he’s eschewing traditional venues.) His dates in Sea Girt, NJ, Dublin, OH, and two of his three gigs in Ontario are already sold out, as is one of his UK stops. However, you can still gets seats at his performances in Montclair, NJ (May 18th), Charleston, SC (May 23rd), Potosi, MO (May 27th), Nashville, TN (May 28th), McGregor, MN (June 2nd), Milwaukee, WI (June 3rd), Elmwood Park, IL (June 4th), and Ottawa, ON (June 10th), plus six of his seven shows in the UK from June 28th through July 6th. Check the tour page of Mark’s website for more details and to reserve your tickets.

Album Review: Alissa Musto – What We Saw From the Piano Bar

Alissa Musto

photo courtesy of Alissa Musto

Album Review of Alissa Musto: What We Saw From the Piano Bar

Alissa Musto is an impressive singer, songwriter, and pianist, a rising star whose music appeals to those with tastes ranging from jazz to pop to singer-songwriter fare. I first encountered Alissa back in January, and I reviewed one of her gigs here. But that performance was tailored specifically to the space in which she was performing. An album provides an artist the opportunity to paint with a broader brush than in a venue-targeted set list, to cover more ground. While still a cohesive whole, it’s able shine a light on a performer’s talent from many angles. And, indeed, that’s what Alissa’s What We Saw From the Piano Bar does. It spotlights her singing talent – the many shades of her gravel-driven, emotional vocals. It showcases her songwriting talent – her ability to choose precisely appropriate lyrics to paint images. It highlights Alissa’s sophisticated, thoughtful approach to the album’s youthful subject matter appropriate to the college-age period during which the songs were written and recorded. And it highlights her musicianship – the ivory-tickling skills that allow her to infuse a jazz foundation into an original popular music album that should appeal to music fans while impressing musicians.

Alissa Musto - What We Saw from the Piano Bar

image courtesy of Alissa Musto

Right from the start, Alissa hits you with a tuneful melody and full, gravelly vocal passion on the attention-grabbing “Black Flak.” The emotional intensity of this song draws you in, relaxes a bit to let you breathe, and then reels you back in. And, of course, the lyrics and song title require, for those of us unaware but with a bit of intellectual curiosity, a Google search that yields the poem that inspired the lyrics. It’s the ideal album-starter, since it’s a serious, powerful song that immediately establishes Alissa’s musical street-cred, affording her the latitude to easily mix in a little more fun in some of the subsequent songs. And it’s a catchy song that’s single material, too, likely to become some listeners’ favorite.

My personal favorites rotate among at least a half of this collection, as I’ve given this disc dozens of listens, and they vary by my mood. Seemingly autobiographical, Alissa’s tunes clearly draw upon personal experiences, and like any good singer-songwriter, she delivers them with such emotion it’s hard to tell where real-life experience gives way to creative license.

Alissa Musto

photo courtesy of Alissa Musto

Besides “Black Flak,” my other immediate favorite was “Brovada,” a swingy, swanky, attitude-filled, energetic piano bar-styled ditty that stylistically recalls for me just a hint of Piano Man-era Billy Joel. Just a hint, though. This song is all Alissa Musto. A modern combination of swagger, sophistication, and humility.

“Palace,” meanwhile, rises and falls, soaring with power and crashing like an ocean. It’s a terrific example of Alissa’s utilization of gravelly vocals to emotional effect. The subtly song-driving piano line, smooth strings (those are strings, right?), and Alissa’s engaging vocals on songs like “Palace,” though, can cause you to forget to listen to the lyrics. But, at least sometimes, try to remember to listen to the words because, whether reminiscent, thought-provoking, or something in-between, the lyrics are always worth listening to.

Though it seems like the entire album is softer paced, as the disc has a pleasant, warm feel, appropriate for an evening of contemplation in front of a roaring fire, there are ample tempo and energy changes. Following “Palace” with “Kids at the Bar” is one such energy spike. “Kids” is a fun, energetic tale of being young, ambitious… and out for a night at the bar. Though specifically written to Alissa’s own circumstance (or a creatively-adjusted version thereof), the theme should ring true across ambition, gender, and (unless you’ve given up on life altogether) age.

Alissa Musto

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Other songs draw upon different influences or offer new spins on some of the same. “Pictures” has a rich vocal jazz flavor and a lyric line that engages beginning-to-end, while “Freedom” showcases some more drawn-out, richer vocals mixed in with Alissa’s immediately-identifiable gravelly voice, and it’s highlighted by such a soaring power that you’d have to be detached if you don’t simultaneously feel life’s struggles and a surge of patriotism as Alissa explores co-existing forms of “freedom” in her lyrics.

Finally, of note, the album closes with “Temporary Dreams,” another of my favorites. It’s a bit mellow in spite of its interesting keywork and emotional vocals, guiding the album down musically for a pleasant, soft landing.

In the end, it’s clear after a few (dozen) listens to What We Saw From the Piano Bar that Alissa Musto is a young performer you absolutely owe it to yourself to get to know. She has a unique mix of talent and persona, a certain je ne sais quoi that makes her stand out in a musical crowd, and I’d love to one day see her command the audience while headlining a concert hall or arena tour.

Alissa Musto

photo courtesy of Alissa Musto

For now, though, take this opportunity discover her music, check out her latest album, and relish the ability to see her perform in the smaller, more intimate settings she’s currently playing. So yes, check her out initially because you’re curious about what the current, reigning Miss Massachusetts sounds like, if that’s what it takes to get your attention. Or because you wonder what became of New England’s homegrown America’s Most Talented Kids pianist this many years later if you caught Alissa’s age-nine TV performance “back in the day.” Really, regardless of why you give her that first listen, you’ll keep listening to this exceptional singer-songwriter-pianist.

At just the beginning of her career, I can only imagine how her sound will evolve. I am confident her songwriting and performing will evolve, as all talented, ambitious artists do throughout their careers. In any case, I look forward to enjoying hearing that evolution. And getting out to another live gig sometime soon.

If you’re in New England, be sure to find your way to one of Alissa’s performances. As noted on her website, she performs Thursdays 6:00-8:00 PM at the Renaissance Hotel Patriot Place in Foxboro, MA, Fridays 6:30-10:00 PM at Tavolo in Providence, RI, and Saturdays 8:00 PM-midnight at Jacob Wirth in Boston.

Postscript

I’d also urge you to learn about Alissa’s charity, Changing Keys, which helps provide pianos to schools and community centers.