EP Review: Edge of Paradise – Alive

EP Review of Edge of Paradise: Alive

Edge of Paradise‘s follow-up to Immortal Waltz continues its full-on edgy hard rock aural assault. Margarita Monet’s emotively powerful voice again combines with a hard-driving, shredding metal music bed to deliver a set of memorable tunes. The songs are in Edge of Paradise’s trademark slightly off-balance, funhouse mirror metal style.

I gave a sneak peek at a couple of this EP’s tracks at the end of my Immortal Waltz review in 2017. One of those was the title track, “Alive.” Driven by churning guitars, some nearly-full-stop tempo changes, and a breathy flavor to a fair portion of the vocals, this is a power rock track. And it’s stylistically very clearly an Edge of Paradise song.

Edge of Paradise - Alive

image courtesy of Edge of Paradise

I totally dig the harmonies in hard rocker “Dust to Dust.” Yet, as straightforward as this track is, it still keeps the listener off-balance with croakily growled vocals and off-balance musical backing during the bridges. Indeed, nothing about an Edge of Paradise song is ever perfectly straightforward, but this churning rocker sprinkles EoP’s trademark song-twisting elements with a light touch for a fun change of pace.

It’s followed by “Mystery,” a theatrical ballad, suitable for anything from radio play to a rock opera performance. Monet’s straining vocals sit atop a music bed based on piano and orchestral strings, driven by booming drums and a rock guitar growl. An extremely touching, emotional, sensitive ballad, “Mystery” shows off Edge of Paradise’s range and is the song on this disc with the broadest cross-genre appeal.

The power is back with “Shade of Crazy,” with Monet’s expressive vocals providing texture to the otherwise hard-driving, powerful, crunchy melodic metal song.

“Humanoid” closes the Alive EP. Kicking off with frenetic drums and guitars behind an odd croaking vocal, the song evolves into a rhythmic power rocker in which Monet’s vocals are largely another instrument, and the beat is the real star.

I’m never sure if Edge of Paradise is one of the more uniquely original progressive rock-influenced melodic heavy metal acts or if they’re one of the more mainstream power rock-influenced heavy theatrical progressive bands on the scene. Regardless, their music is fun to listen to, their musicians and vocalist are top-shelf hard rock/metal talent, and I always look forward to hearing what they’ll do next.

Looking Ahead

I’ve taken so long to get this review written that Edge of Paradise’s new album will be out in just a few months, so there’s plenty to look forward to, but if you don’t already have this EP, it’ll be a great way to fill the gap while the next disc is in the works. In the meantime, also check the band’s website for tour dates. Currently listed are a couple early 2019 shows in Japan – January 31 in Yokohama and February 2, 2019 in Tokyo.

EP Review: Allyson Paige – Little Girl Lost

Allyson Paige

photo by Tom Dellinger; photo courtesy of Allyson Paige

EP Review of Allyson Paige: Little Girl Lost

The depth, warmth, and emotion of Allyson Paige‘s voice is what first stands out, and it’s the piece of the Little Girl Lost musical tapestry that remains a memorable constant. Stylistically, the three songs included on this musical snippet are old-school, folky country. The folkiness comes from Allyson’s picking (and, I assume, grinning) guitar style. The music on this disc would dub Allyson the country singer on an adult contemporary radio station, the folk singer at a country dancehall show, or just the singer-songwriter at an outdoor festival.

Allyson Paige - Little Girl Lost

image courtesy of Allyson Paige

The most energetic – and most knee-slappin’, twangy – number on the disc is the title track, “Little Girl Lost.” It’s a lively story-filled ditty with tempo changes, hooks, vocal flourishes and guitar runs all endearing this song quite quickly. A fun song, you’d definitely turn the sound up on the radio if this came on. This is (usually) my favorite of the EP’s three songs.

The other two cuts on Little Girl Lost are much softer, slower in tempo. First, a heartfelt ode to a certain beloved Gibson guitar, “Gibson Dove.” Sentimental and poignant, Allyson’s voice wavers in all the right spots, cementing this song’s very personal, emotional nature.

Final track “Jerry the Viking” sneakily became another favorite over the past many months. A strumming number that most clearly shows off the soaring power of Allyson’s voice, it plods along pleasingly in a sway-to-the-music drinking song style. But one from the end of the night, as everyone’s almost fallen asleep, mellow from perhaps a drink too many, its slow tempo bringing the EP to a close with a warm, pleasant, satisfied feeling.

Allyson Paige

photo by Bob Hakins; photo courtesy of Allyson Paige

I’m a big fan of song-ordering on discs, and the song order of Little Girl Lost is ideal, opening with energy and closing with relaxing warmth, a feeling of completion.

This short collection from Allyson Paige seems like a great introduction to a talented singer. Rather, singer-songwriter, as the well-craftedness of the songs are perhaps the most important element, Allyson’s vox notwithstanding. Of course, if you’re already a fan, it’ll simply be a new favorite.

I’m particularly intrigued by the text on the EP’s CD Baby page: “A country folk departure for well known SF Bay Area Blues singer and songwriter Allyson Paige.” Now I really want to hear more of her music.

Looking Ahead

I don’t see any upcoming dates on the gig calendar page of Allyson’s website, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. You can also keep an eye on the “happenings” page of Allyson’s Joni Mitchell tribute band, Foni Mitchell.

That Beatles Thing: An Artsy Nod to ArtPrize 10, Featuring the Songs of Rubber Soul

That Beatles Thing

photo by Amy McClees

That Beatles Thing

September 22, 2018

by Amy McClees, Contributing Blogger

ArtPrize 2018 is upon us.  After getting my credentials I went to one of the mainstay eateries in downtown Grand Rapids for some live music.
That Beatles Thing, as you can surmise, plays the music of the Beatles with some of the authentic instruments. As a nod to ArtPrize 10, they decided to perform the songs of the album Rubber Soul. Pete Bardolph introduced the evening and let the audience know that there were two versions of the album, an American version and a British version.

They started the night with “Drive My Car.” They quickly followed that up with “I’ve Just Seen A Face.” And they basically played the album as they advertised they would.  The band is: James Murphy, vocals and playing guitar (and driving force of the band); Bill Van Ess, vocals and bass; Pete Bardolph, one of the longtime owners of Rainbow Music, singing and playing lead guitar; and Fritz von Valtier, who rounds out the foursome with drums and vocals.

The ballad written by John Lennon & Paul McCartney, “Norwegian Wood (This Bird has Flown),” with the signature opening chords, was stylistically and melodically poetic.  It is arranged/based on English folk songs minus the sitar. The vocals were spot on for “I’m Looking Through You.” James has a solid voice, and Pete volunteered that Ringo was a country music fan in the song “What Goes On,” which was sung by Bill. With the help from TB Player, he brought his authentic Hofner and a second bass so Pete could play the bass and sing on “Think For Yourself.”

If you are a Beatles Fan, you’ll appreciate their live performance. Their upcoming shows include Saturday, October 6th at the Grand Haven Eagles #925 in Grand Haven, MI; Saturday, October 13th at the American Legion Boat and Canoe Club in Grand Rapids, MI; and Friday, October 19th at Woody’s Press Box in Wyoming, MI. For additional shows beyond those, check the band’s website or its Facebook page.

Live Review: 2nd Annual Local CountryFest

Scarlett Drive; photo by Geoff Wilbur

2nd Annual Local CountryFest

Indian Ranch, Webster, MA

September 23, 2018

The 2nd Annual Local CountryFest, organized and promoted by Octo Rock Cinema Productions, seems to have quickly become an annual pilgrimage for local country music fans. I really enjoyed last year’s inaugural event (as you recall if you saw the review) and had been looking forward to its follow-up. This year, another decent-sized, fully engaged crowd came out to see a line-up that included a significant portion of the area’s top country artists. Decent fall weather served as the backdrop for a show structured with short acoustic performances interspersed between the full sets to keep the audience engaged. Lyssa Coulter performed on the Corral Stage while the crowd was filtering in. Then the performances moved to the main stage, featuring short sets by Liz Bills, Steve Robinson, April Cushman, Lyssa Coulter, Mychael David, and Tom Revane and full sets by Tequila Bonfire, Back Rhodes, Timmy Brown and Black Diamond, Annie Brobst, the Houston Bernard Band, and Scarlett Drive.

Lyssa Coulter at the Corral Stage; photo by Geoff Wilbur

The venue itself is one of the coolest places to catch live music outdoors in central Massachusetts. The big stage at the Indian Ranch campground sees a lot of big-name acts that country music fans (and classic/southern rock fans) would enjoy each summer. At one edge of the concert grounds is a dock where you’ll see The Indian Princess, a riverboat that gives tours of the lake. You know I love unique concert settings, and this is a cool place for a show.

With so many artists involved at Local CountryFest, I’ll write a quick paragraph or two about each band, drop in a photo – I hope I have decent shots of all of them – and move on. I’ll save fuller artist reviews for when I catch their live shows or review their recordings.

I arrived during the last few notes of Lyssa’s Corral Stage set, just in time to join the crowd for Scarlett Drive’s performance of the national anthem to kick things off, quickly grab a cheeseburger, and hear Liz Bills’ opening set on the main stage.

Liz Bills; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Liz Bills

You know we’re big fans of Liz Bills here at the Blog, most recently reviewing Liz’s eponymous EP. Liz’s powerhouse voice lends itself to psychedelic rock, whether hard rocking, as is often the case when she takes the stage with Analog Heart, or a more jangly version, still ’60s/’70s-rooted, in a more acoustic setting. And, while she’s not a pure country artist, I’m glad she was included at this event, as she has become one of the area’s top voices, and her style should appeal to the rocking side of a lot of the area’s country music fans. Liz’s short set showcase both the power of her voice and her range, with the power being represented by “Born to Wander.” She closed her set with one of my favorite songs from her EP, “The Bomb Song,” which is janglier and more airy, showing off the folk-rock edge of Liz’s style. The song selection this afternoon was a great sample of Liz’s singing and performance skills.

Tequila Bonfire; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Tequila Bonfire

The first full set of the day came from the 2017 Worcester Music Awards winner (and perennial nominee) for Best Country Act, Tequila Bonfire. I hadn’t seen these guys before, but they lived up to their reputation of providing a rockin’ country good time, kicking things off with “Let the Games Begin,” a song that adds a unique vocal vibe to an otherwise straightforward modern country sound.

Other standout songs of the set were the band’s powerful rendition of “Life is a Highway,” more mid-tempo rockin’ performance of Old Dominion’s “Hotel Key,” and their fun cover of Keith Urban’s “Somebody Like You.” Tequila Bonfire has the chops and knows how to engage the crowd on a big stage; I can easily see why they’re a regional favorite, and deservedly so.

Steve Robinson; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Steve Robinson

A late addition to the bill, we were lucky to have Spotify top 100 artist Steve Robinson join the event. I’m not a chart-follower or I would have known to be excited about his inclusion at the event. He has a memorable tone to his voice, and that heartfelt, achy, strong vocal that’s clearly meant to be a radio (and live) favorite. All three of his songs were the sort that kept my attention, but I was particularly impressed with “Little Piece of Me,” for which my notes simply say “dig the sincerity!” Yeah, it’s one of those songs. Steve closed his mini-set with a crowd-pleasing rendition of “Rockstars.”

Back Rhodes; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Back Rhodes

The next band on stage was another whose name I had seen repeatedly but whose shows I hadn’t yet made it out to, so it was a pleasure to catch Rhode Island’s own Back Rhodes. I’d describe their lane on the country music highway as a traditional country music foundation with a modern country twist. Featuring a fiddle and banjo in the line-up and led by deep vocals, Back Rhodes has the tools to pull it off.

They kicked their set off with Dierks Bentley’s “What Was I Thinking” and closed it with a rousing rendition of The Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” One tune that stood out for me during the set was the band’s new song, “Big Spender.” Featuring an old-school country foundation, the song was full-on new country whenever the band kicked things up a notch. There were subtle little musical hops and kicks, especially late in the song, that are the sorts of details that give a tune a memorable style. With their unique country brand, Back Rhodes is an interesting band to keep an eye on, and clearly already a fun band to see perform.

April Cushman; photo by Geoff Wilbur

April Cushman

The next short set featured the soft, lush vocals of April Cushman. Very warm and easy-to-listen-to, April’s voice and style would be equally well-suited to an intimate listening room or a big stage. The one song I noted, in that it showed the breadth of April’s range, was her rendition of the Dixie Chicks’ “Cowboy Take Me Away.” Her performance displayed a sort of rolling power in the vocals but remained soft and appropriate for its acoustic guitar accompaniment of this particular performance.

Timmy Brown & Black Diamond; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Timmy Brown and Black Diamond

Though I had heard about Timmy for quite some time, last year’s Local CountryFest was the first time I saw his band live. If possible, and I’m not sure it is, the band is even tighter this year. No one can whip a New England crowd into a frenzy quite like this local boy can, and his performance once again amped up the energy at this year’s concert. Two-time New England Country Male Artist of the Year, Timmy relied on a mix of well-considered covers and hard-driving originals for this set. (Notice what they have in common.) Covers included “Leave This Town” and, notably – I told you he could whip a New England crowd into a frenzy – a terrific rendition of “Sweet Caroline” that really showed off his rich, deep voice.

Timmy’s originals are so familiar-sounding that they often feel like songs I’ve known for a long time, particularly within the context of his set list, which means he’s always playing to his strengths. Timmy’s songs range from the down-home country of “Leave This Town” to the crowd-pleasing party song “How We Drink Here.”  Timmy closed his set with a laid-back, nostalgic-sounding, everyday, relatable, crowd energy-lifting tune, “Lil Bit,” one you’d stylistically expect to hear on country hit radio. It’s always a pleasure to catch a set by Timmy Brown and Black Diamond. They’re a tight musical act, and their performance is a guaranteed good time.

Lyssa Coulter; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Lyssa Coulter

Though I missed all but the last 30 seconds of Lyssa’s as-the-crowd-files-in performance at the Corral Stage, I was fortunate she had this three-song spot later in the show. 2018 New Act of the Year award winner at the New England Music Awards, Lyssa’s voice has a characteristic warble when she hits some of the softer notes, and she showed it off particularly well on her originals. Notably, “Whiskey in the Twilight,” a very young-feeling pop-country song that showcased her stylistic calling card. Lyssa’s mini-set also featured a cover of Taylor Swift’s “Mean,” the sort of cover that seamlessly fits with her young, light, poppy country music style.

Annie Brobst; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Annie Brobst

Nobody. Simply nobody. Owns a stage better than Annie Brobst does. And musically, Annie’s a one-of-a-kind on the local country scene, too, coupling her identifiable, sweetly powerful voice with her big stage presence to deliver a “strong country girl” persona.

As is sometimes the case at fun concerts, moreso lately it seems, I caught myself grooving to Annie’s set rather than taking notes, but I do believe she opened with the first single from her new album, My First Rodeo, “Love You More.” And she followed it with one of my favorites from the disc, a song with softly rolling strength and power, the more-energetic-than-its-tempo “Still Water.” Annie closed her set heartstring-tugging, memorable “Change of Heart,” one of the songs that showcases the rich side of her country voice.

Running the gamut from heartfelt melodies to rockin’ country, an Annie Brobst set, particularly on a big stage, is a concert event.

Mychael David; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Mychael David

After Annie, Mychael David took the stage to perform a couple songs, solo and acoustic. A local country festival wouldn’t have been complete without this rich, classic, timeless voice that has entertained area crowds since before the local country music scene’s recent renaissance, so even though we didn’t get the treat of hearing his full band – I reviewed The Mychael David Project’s full band show a couple years ago – his two-song acoustic mini-set was still a special treat. He’s flanked by an exceptionally impressive guitarist and bass player in his full band (shoutout to Howie and Pete), so you forget how well he wields the axe himself until you catch a solo gig. But once Mychael starts to sing, no matter what, it’s always about his voice. And he brought that with him this past weekend.

Though he can cut across the country landscape – in many ways, in style and sound, a lot like Garth Brooks – Mychael’s music tends to be underpinned by the more classic end of the spectrum, and he skewed a old-school in this set. He opened with “Put Your Badge Back On,” a deeply emotional storytelling song from his new album, Heroes & Honky Tonks. Then, with a nod to the past, he covered Radney Foster’s “Texas in 1880,” one of those wide-open spaces songs. The set was too short, but it reminded me it’s been more than a year since I heard Mychael perform a full set; I’ll need to remedy that ASAP.

Houston Bernard Band; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Houston Bernard Band

The Houston Bernard Band delivered a crowd-pleasing set of big-stage-geared songs mostly culled from their new EP Lucky Man. Powered by Houston’s rich, deep voice surrounded by technically-sound, top-shelf musicians, this was a concert set. Houston Bernard is a headlining act in any country music scene, and I was really looking forward to this show, hoping to be treated to some tunes from Lucky Man, as I’ve listened to the previous disc, Knockin’ Boots, hundreds of times already. So let’s take a run through the band’s outstanding set:

“Wait For It” proved to be an energetic show-starter with a subtle hook I guarantee will get stuck in my head as I give the EP a few listens. “Lucky Man” followed, powered by heavy organ and featuring a cool steel guitar vibe. Next up was “Country Crowd,” a sure-fire, dancefloor-filling crowdpleaser from Knockin’ Boots. “What a Man Should Do” was a soaring crooner, a nice change of pace. “Never Grow Old” combined a comfortable familiarity with a sneaky hookiness. And “We Made Out,” a catchy mid-tempo number, was a great choice for the band’s current single.

Tom Revane Live; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Tom Revane Live

You can’t hold a show in Webster without Tom Revane on the bill. A raucous, loud mix of southern/classic rock-meets-parrothead, a Tom Revane set is a guaranteed party event. Unlike most of the short sets, Tom and band performed in full band mode and kept the audience in an entertainment frenzy.

The short set list included “Gimme Three Steps,” “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere,” and “Margaritaville.” The frenzied crowd loved every minute of it. And a not-exactly-country but very entertaining Webster troubadours secured their place in the annals of yet another Local CountryFest.

Scarlett Drive; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Scarlett Drive

Headliners Scarlett Drive brought the fun day of the cream of the local country music crop to a rousing, fitting close. Full of energy and doing a great job working the stage, these local country favorites – and reigning New England Music Awards winners for Country Act of the Year – embraced the well-earned mantle of “headliner.” The band opened with “Blame the Whiskey,” a song full of punch, power, hooks, and harmony. Other highlights included “One More Time,” a song with mid-tempo energy and soulful vocals. This could absolutely be a memorable one. And “Quarters,” a rich, plush, guitar-driven country power ballad – one of those songs that’d have an arena swaying with lighters – or phones – aloft.

Toward the end of the band’s set, the delivered a rollicking, energetic, crowd-pleasing rendition of Little Big Town’s “Boondocks.” Then Scarlett drive closed the show with their original “If You Wanna,” an energetic number that hangs its hat on a heartfelt-flavored vocal. This is one of the many Scarlett Drive originals that’s geared toward a special tone in singer Chris Martin’s voice, supported by the group’s rich harmonies. A great country band in any case, Scarlett Drive’s originals play to their unique strengths. And that’s as it should be. Headliners on this day, Scarlett Drive closed the show out with a flourish.

Scarlett Drive; photo by Geoff Wilbur

One day. Many of the area’s best country music artists. And this really is a golden age of country music in New England, with so many great acts to choose from. This concert was a treat for fans. The acoustic sets between full band sets kept the show moving from beginning to end. And did I say what a cool venue Indian Ranch is for such an event? I love this place. In any case, though I’m still basking in the glow of this year’s Local CountryFest, I’m already looking forward to next year’s. Once the date’s announced, I’m circling it on my calendar.

Live Reviews: Bob Malone at Framingham Centre Common and Danielle Miraglia at Front Street Concerts

Danielle Miraglia & the Glory Junkies

Danielle Miraglia & the Glory Junkies; photo by Geoff Wilbur

It was a great summer for concerts, though I didn’t make it out to many. I did, however, find a way to see a couple of my personal favorites just a week apart mid-summer. Though I didn’t take many notes, I did take a few photos, so I’ll give you quick reviews and remind you why your music collections (and nights out) are remiss without these talented blues (or hyphenated-blues-based) artists’ music making them better. In fact, these two would make an amazing double-bill, with uniquely different but complementary blues-based styles. But I digress.

Bob Malone

Framingham Centre Common, Framingham, MA

July 27, 2018

On his way back to Los Angeles from a featured spot at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy, Bob Malone stopped in Framingham and played at the Village Green as part of the Framingham Summer Concert Series. I arrived during his opening number, driving past the park in search of parking while “Chinese Algebra” drifted in through the car windows. Two sets of piano-driven, rockin’ blues followed.

Bob’s vocals are reminiscent of a bluesier Randy Newman. His songs range from rambunctious to poignant, often connecting – on a real or exaggerated level – with very relatable experiences. And his keywork? I’ll quote (paraphrase) a woman in attendance who was attending on behalf of her church and handing out water to concertgoers on this warm July evening. She said he reminds her of Jerry Lee Lewis. Indeed, Bob’s music cuts across generations.

Bob Malone

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Bob’s sets included a few of my favorites from his several albums, most heavily leaning on his newer stuff, of course. “Can’t Get There From Here,” “I’m Not Fine,” and “Ain’t What You Know” were among my favorites on the set list this particular evening. “Rage & Cigarettes” was another live highlight. And, of course, “Stay With Me” got some of the crowd on its feet dancing… not quite to the extent it did at Bob’s Barn #81 show last fall, but pretty darned impressively for a laid-back, hot summer concert evening.

Of course, there’s no wrong time for a Bob Malone concert. And this one ended with some emphasis, as Bob’s keyboard stand crashed to the stage at the very end of his final number. Even though I know it was unintentional, how rock ‘n roll is that?!

Danielle Miraglia & the Glory Junkies

Front Street Concerts, Hopkinton, MA

August 4, 2018

I love being quoted, even if I have to quote myself, but the following tweet isn’t very quotable, so I’ll paraphrase. Clearly, if you weren’t at this show, to see Boston treasure Danielle Miraglia, you must be trapped under a rock.

But I digress. We love Front Street Concerts; it’s always great food followed by a concert from reliably one of the area’s best artists. And we love Danielle Miraglia, the aforementioned transcendent talent whose rockin’ bluesy vocals and intricately crafted lyrics delivered with a smile and a wink should rightly have her playing arenas. So where else would we possibly have been on this particular summer evening but at Danielle’s annual barn concert?

Danielle Miraglia & the Glory Junkies

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Danielle isn’t afraid to mix in songs from her heroes, as the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, and Prince covers all made appearances. But, of course, the confluences of those influences are her original tunes, and that’s why she drew a backyard full of fans, because of her exceptionally engaging, wry, defiantly, identifiably Danielle Miraglia originals.

Danielle drew songs from her last three albums for her originals this set. She opened things up with “Fair Warning,” a fun, energetically defiant, and snarky tune that’s… well, I was going to say it’s a crowd favorite, but they all are.

The hook in “See the Light,” up next, grabs me every time. And “All My Heroes are Ghosts,” the title track of Danielle’s current album and a tune on the more thoughtful end of her musical spectrum, was next.

Also in the first set were some attitude-laden personal favorites: “Monster,” “Don’t Pray For Me,” and “Aim Low.” Three songs with social and societal messages, cleverly told. Something very few do as well as Danielle.

Danielle Miraglia & the Glory Junkies

photo by Geoff Wilbur

She and her band opened the second set with another statement on the state of the world, “Famous For Nothing.” A couple Spotted Tiger songs were thrown into the mix. Spotted Tiger, comprised of Glory Junkies violist Laurence Scudder and guitarist Erik White, plays a uniquely eclectic brand of Americana, not quite rockabilly. The sort of music you might hear at a barn raising. A fun stylistic change-of-pace to the evening, this two-song interlude was a great nod to the exceptional talent of Danielle’s band, a very versatile aggregation of some of the best musicians in the Boston area.

Then it was back to Danielle’s music, the lively “Everybody’s Wrong” followed by the melancholy “Home.”

After Danielle’s cover of Prince’s “Raspberry Beret,” I was caught up in the music and forget to continue to take notes. I do know one of the show’s highlights came later when audience participation helped drive the power of “Choir,” a longtime favorite of mine.

Front Street Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

As always at a Danielle Miraglia concert, the experience was fun and satisfying, as if you attended a meaningful event; a Danielle Miraglia show never seems frivolous. And the hospitality (and delicious buffet) at Front Street Concerts always makes it feel like a gathering of old friends. More than a hundred old friends.

I’m disappointed this was the only Front Street Concerts event I made it to this summer. My only Danielle Miraglia concert in a long time, too. But I’ll have a few chances to make up for that in the coming months.

ArtPrize 2016 Memory: The Outer Vibe

ArtPrize 2016

photo by Amy McClees

The Outer Vibe

Eighth Annual ArtPrize Awards Ceremony

Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, Grand Rapids, MI

October 7, 2016

by Amy McClees, Contributing Blogger

ArtPrize 2016

photo by Amy McClees

The Outer Vibe was my walking music after I left the ArtPrize Awards at the Civic. “Shining like a Diamond,” one of their originals, with alternating guitar chords, evokes a running beat or the backdrop to a galloping western. The music reverberated between the buildings of downtown Grand Rapids’ Rosa Parks Circle. Their style of music is rock, pop in genre. Near the bandshell, painted Hondas for ArtPrize were also parked as an audience while ArtPrizers and dancers enjoyed the show. The five band members are Nick Hosford, Lisa Kacos, Sean Zee, Andrew Dornoff, and Noah Snyder (who replaced Jeff Brems in 2014). They have toured extensively since this performance, moved and have stopped back in the area for tour dates.

ArtPrize 2016

photo by Amy McClees

Looking Ahead

This year’s ArtPrize is scheduled for September 19 through October 7, 2018.

The Outer Vibe’s website lists upcoming shows on both September 14th and October 13th at The Rathskeller in Indianpolis, plus a September 15th date at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids for GR College Week.

[Editor’s Note: Time-permitting, in the run-up to this year’s ArtPrize, Amy hopes to share some of her favorite ArtPrize memories, beginning with this one from two years ago. -GW]

Album Review: Amiena – All In

Album Review of Amiena: All In

Adult contemporary music. There’s not a lot of that out there with soft music beds, dancing rhythms, and powerful vocals. With the power of Bonnie Tyler and the richness of perhaps a balladic Cher, but with a style so all-her-own that neither of those is really a good comparison, Amiena fills a gap in the current musical landscape. I suppose her positioning might be as a big-voice diva in the Adele vein, though it’s not exactly that. Amiena’s music also exhibits the pop sensibilities that helped launch singers like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey into the public consciousness (for those of us old enough to remember that they launched their careers as danceable pop singers).

But that’s enough name-dropping. The comparisons aren’t even that on-point. Amiena’s voice is all her own, as within a couple seconds of hearing one of her songs, I know who’s singing it. Rather, the comparisons are meant to give you an idea of whose musical sandbox she plays in.

Amiena - All In

image courtesy of Amiena

There’s a bit of syncopated rhythm and maybe a touch of Latin spice in the jangly music bed behind Amiena’s soft, expressive vocal on disc-opener “Chance.” The song allows her to turn her voice over, from soft and sweet to firm and all-business. There’s really no other way to explain the vocal dichotomy that helps make this song so interesting and memorable; stylistically, as well, the vocals progress steadily while the music, in this case, dances around the voice.

The next track, “Ghost” (featuring guitarist Nitin Sawhney), has a bit of Americana jangle, largely due to Roly Platt’s guest harmonica part, resulting in a bit of a Richard Marx “Hazard”-ish vibe, but with Amiena’s flowing version of an emotional vocal line.

It’s followed by a true, flowing, rising-and-falling ballad, “All In.” The title track’s production delivers a cavernous concert hall flavor to this classic-feeling vocal powerhouse-type song, a rich wall of sound surrounding Amiena’s crisp, strong vocal, all while sporting minimal instrumentation, mostly a keys-and-vocals number.

“Come With Me” adds some slow mid-tempo rhythm to the formula, feeling a bit like an ’80s diva almost-dance song – the sort that’s easy to sway energetically to, featuring powerful vocal embellishments, though not exactly what you’d call a dance number. If that description rings true to you, then you’ll know it’s a fun musical lane, very radio-friendly.

The rest of the disc falls within the range of its first few songs. I enjoy the stylized vocals and interesting rhythm of “Daydream.” “Frozen” has an interesting rhythmic beat, with the vocals interweaving with the playful percussion. And “Goodbye” weaves intriguing lyrics into the rhythmic pop diva formula, resulting in one of my personal favorite tracks on All In.

The last four songs on All In, in their own distinctive ways, utilize the wide-open-spaces flavor that showcases the soft power of Amiena’s vocals in a fashion loosely similar to “All In.” Among the quartet, “Broken” and “My God” are probably my favorites, though only slightly, as “Human” and “Take My Life” have their own unique elements. I’m sure you’ll select your own favorites.

I’m disappointed it’s taken me so long to write this review and share this album’s awesomeness with you – you’ve likely noticed a significant dropoff in my album review frequency since last fall. (Whether or not I pick up the pace soon, I’ve almost entirely halted accepting new music for review until I catch up on the backlog of seriously noteworthy albums in my review queue. And there’s some great music crossing my desk, too, so that’s too bad.)

But back to this release. Amiena’s voice ranks among the best of her subgenre, with power, emotion, edge, and a memorable tone. And that’s saying something, since her subgenre is powerhouse pop-AC vocalists. I’m so pleased to have been introduced to her music; you really need to listen for yourselves.

Looking Ahead

I don’t currently see any dates listed on Amiena’s calendar, but keep an eye on the “Tour Dates” page of her website or the “Events” tab of her Facebook page for announcements.