Album Review: Mark Webb – Home

EP Review of Mark Webb: Home

The 5-song collection from Greenville, South Carolina’s Mark Webb kicks off in impressive fashion, presenting a pure, Opry-ready country music sound with Mark’s medium-deep, soulful country voice in such a way that it grabs the listener from the very first note, then again from the very first vocal. Immediately, it’s clear this guy is a big-time talent.

Mark’s talent also manifests itself in the varied song styles he can perform within his musical sweet spot, ranging from old-fashioned country to a folkier Americana-infused brand of softly rocking country. None of the tracks on this EP are particularly loud or brash, perhaps because Mark lets his smooth-yet-textured voice tug at the listeners emotions via carefully crafted lyrics, which touch upon everyday people’s experiences and emotions.

Mark Webb - Home

image courtesy of Gold Ship Records

EP-opener “Queen” is a mid-tempo twanger with enough thump supporting soaring musical and vocal moments to satisfy fans of multiple country music sub-genres.

It’s followed by “Can We Make It Right,” a soft-touch, mid-tempo number that’ll get the listener swaying side-to-side with its rhythm, seasoned by Mark’s Southern-sweet vocals and guitar-strumming with a more Eagles-like soft country-rock flavor.

I’d consider “Come Back Home” as a more traditional country song in the vein of “Can We Make It Right.” In tempo and vibe, though, this also recalls for me the Eagles; in this case, “Peaceful Easy Feeling.”

Sandwiched between the two is “Weak Enough,” a relatively pure country ballad-style track. It opens with sparse strumming that emphasizes the raw, heartfelt tenor in Mark’s voice. A little slide guitar twang joins in, as the music builds with the song’s emotion. Altogether, the song is well put-together, tugging at enough heartstrings with its odd refrain “I’m not weak enough to leave you now.”

Mark closes the EP with “Friend of Mine (Just Like You),” another emotional tune, this one a slow, soft-touch ballad on which his rich, full voice particularly shines. It’s deep, heartfelt country music with perhaps a hint of folk and just the scarcest country twang. Mark sings as if he’s pouring his heart out on this one, and it feels like the sort of song that would quiet a room as the audience connects emotionally and soaks it all in. Terrific end to a solid disc.

From beginning to end, Home is an enjoyable listen. It’s an EP that shows off Mark’s considerable talent. And hopefully it marks the beginning of big things for this talented country singer/songwriter.

Looking Ahead

Mark has a few upcoming live dates listed on his website, including a Saturday, September 17 show in Bristol, TN at the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion and a Thursday, October 13th Fall For Greenville gig with Turnpike Troubadours at Peace Center Amphitheater in Greenville, SC. There are also some dates listed with information TBA. Keep an eye on the “tour” page of Mark’s website for further information about catching him live.

Geoff’s Night Out: Ashley Jordan at Loft 266

Ashley Jordan

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Ashley Jordan

Loft 266, Worcester, MA

August 24, 2016

As I’ve mentioned before, I often strike up conversations with people about local music. And during several of those conversations, with both fans and people within the music scene here in Massachusetts, I have been asked “Have (I) seen Ashley Jordan?” From the “where there’s smoke there must be fire” school of music journalism, I finally made a point to catch Ashley last night during her Wednesdays-in-August residency at Loft 266. And though I was only able to stay for her first set, I can confirm that there is, indeed, fire.

At just 23, Ashley has been performing for 10 years and is a recording studio veteran, as well, with four albums in the past six years. A quick glance at her bio shows a long list of awards dating back six years; she particularly seems to have swept most of the local country music award categories the last four years. If one of the next batch of young country stars comes from Massachusetts, it’s a good bet Ashley’s your gal.

Ashley Jordan

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Performing an acoustic set of mostly originals last night, Ashley showcased her broad range. When she sings quietly, I hear a bit of Clare Bowen in her voice – that’s “Scarlett” to fans of the TV show Nashville. Some of her mid-tempo, high-but-spunky/powerful bits recall Dolly Parton; when you hear it, you’ll know what I mean. And I’m not sure which blend of young pop-rockin’ country stars she reminds me of when she sings with strength, but her mellow-to-power vocal runs suggest she could be one of the special ones.

A couple of the originals that made an impact – there were more than two, but these were the only ones whose titles I jotted down – were “Angels,” which shows shows vocal range, and “He’s Crazy,” which features a range of vocal dynamics. (Both songs are featured on Ashley’s new album, He’s Crazy.)

A notable cover was Ashley’s rendition of “Black Horse and a Cherry Tree,” as it shows off a richer, soulful low end and some energetic howls that hint at the full extent of her vocal talents.

The one thing I was left wanting at the end of set was a chance to hear Ashley perform with a full band. An acoustic set is fine, but I can just imagine the songs with their full arrangements…

Looking Ahead

Tonight, Thursday, August 25th you can catch Ashley at the Hard Rock Cafe at Foxwoods (Mashantucket, CT). I’m sure that’ll be a heck of a show. And next Wednesday, August 31st, she finishes her August residency at Loft 266 in Worcester, MA. She also currently has two September gigs scheduled, both at Perfect Game in Worcester, MA – Friday, September 2nd and Friday, September 16th. You can keep abreast of Ashley’s live performance schedule via the “Tour” page on her website.

 

Album Review: Simon Scardanelli – What In The World?

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Review of Simon Scardanelli’s newly re-released 1981 debut album: What In The World?

Time and its passing are no one’s friend. It’s a fleeting mistress whose seduction of your youth soon leaves you withering on the branch and you stare back behind you and wonder how the futures you planned became the memories of the past. Why, I hear you say, should I speak so coldly about this passing of the years? Well, to my mind time has moved too swiftly for the undeniable musical talents of Simon Scardanelli. Too long ignored, it seems inconceivable that 35 years have passed since What In The World?, his 1981 debut album release. It is a great injustice in the musical firmament that greater notice has not been taken of the brilliance of Simon Scardanelli. In 2016, he released the wonderful Make Us Happy, perhaps his best album to date. Now he is sticking his head above the parapet again, in his own belligerent and self-determined fashion, by re-releasing this long forgotten album.

Simon Scardanelli

photo courtesy of Simon Scardanelli

I know he had second thoughts about re-visiting this so many years later. As is Simon’s way, he never felt the original album back in 1981 was good enough but maybe hoped it could be a springboard to the next chapter. Falling out with the studio over the mixes and not co-operating with its promotion didn’t help sales, and so the album came and went. After the ice had thawed he managed to regain control of the recordings, and presented here for the first time is his take on the record with his preferred mixes and track listing which both differ from the original vinyl release. Mind you, I think you may be hard pressed to remember the original LP unless you are the die hardest of die hard fans.

For those that don’t know, after this album Simon went on to play keyboards in mid-’80s band the Boomerang Gang, and then in 1988 he formed, with his Canadian compatriot Shark, the duo Big Bam Boo who signed to Polygram and released the album Fun, Faith, & Fairplay.

Anyway, this is all 30-odd years ago, and much musical water has flown under the bridge. Simon has made many great albums, and his current style is far removed from what he was doing back in ’81, so I think it is very brave to go back and release a debut album that may confuse some listeners. Actually though, if you are a fan of Simon’s work, then you will find something tantalising in this time capsule.

Remember this was the time of Kraftwerk, Talking Heads, Bowie’s German period. A transition from ’70s prog rock to new wave synth pop. If you take this album with those thoughts in mind, you can see how it would stack up.

It opens with the track “Astral Suicide,” a slice of lunacy and pomp that immediately sets the bar. It is quickly followed by a crazily catchy song “A Pocketful of Spies,” something that could easily have been charted by someone like “The Thompson Twins.” Both these songs have all the hallmarks of embryonic Scardanelli. If you are familiar with his later releases you can hear that unique voice starting to warm up to what it will later become. You can hear the non-conformist lyrical style developing and the ear for a good tune. You can sense he is on to something and time will set it free.

The track “Day After Day” is proto synth city. I know that Paul McCartney was credited as being ahead of his time with his use of the then-new synth technology on his 1980 album McCartney II. Here on this track, Simon shows similar pioneering spirit, and some of the sounds did put me in mind of the outakes on that McCartney album.

There are many contemporaries that you can hear in the music, maybe Bowie in particular. But I know that Simon did not listen to much other music for fear of being influenced. This is why, most likely, he has never conformed to a genre or style throughout his career. The album was recorded in Germany, and a lot of free reign was given to the creative process. I think that a lot of fun was had in the studio pushing the technology and creating the layers that so identify this music with that time. Simon and studio engineer Nigel Jopson hired Kraftwork’s sequencer only to find it so complicated they didn’t use it in the end. You can picture the size of the equipment then, the wires, patch bays, knobs and generally unwieldy nature of the technology.

There is a bridge developed through this album between the last gasp of prog rock and the emergence of New Wave. As you get nearer to the end of the album you hear that prog rock influence in tracks “Those In Peril” and “You and I.” There are momentous crescendos of dynamic pomposity, sweeping you up and taking you back to those memorable musical times.

The album is an exhausting but pleasurable listen. It is relentless in its voracity with a brief moment of calm on the piano ballad “Lately,” which seems to juxtapose the rest of the album.

The final title track of the album “What In The World?” is maybe the closest you get to more familiar Scardanelli. Driving guitars and layers of synth lines make the audio connection to Big Bam Boo and then possibly even to his band venture Dr. Scardo in 2013. It is a fitting end to the album and both fascinating as a time piece and enjoyable as an album of music.

Any filmmaker or TV ad man that is looking for good genuine ’80s music that hasn’t become hackneyed by overuse should take note. This is a real gem of undiscovered ’80s music. Fresh, authentic, and at times exceedingly catchy. For fans of ’80s music it is a definite must, and for fans of Simon Scardanelli it is a revealing and rewarding listen.

 

Album Review: “Les Paul’s” (The Paul’s) – Night Worker

Album Review of “Les Paul’s” (The Paul’s): Night Worker

"Les Paul's" (The Paul's) - Night Worker

image courtesy of Paul Robert Thomas

“Les Paul’s” (The Paul’s) are Paul Odiase and Paul Robert Thomas. Hence, the clever name. And while I may take issue with their punctuation, their music grew on me steadily over the course of multiple listens.

On The Pauls’ new disc, you can clearly hear the David Bowie influence. Some songs are upfront and overt about it, but you can hear the essence throughout. In the album’s promo material, the songs “This Song,” “On Charles De Gaulle Street,” and “Night Worker” are specifically called out as Bowie tributes. But stylistically, almost the entire disc clearly bears a Bowie-esque flavor.

Night Worker opens with “Say I,” a soft-touch but medium-fast-tempo number whose horns give it a festive nature and whose music video drives home its anti-war/pro-peace lyrics.  It’s one of a few tracks that particularly stand out on this album

“Night Worker” is a good, somewhat progressive, old-style soft rocker, mixing a Bowie-styled soft gravel vocal with a guitar line that softly drifts in and out of the song’s steady rhythm.

Possibly the sneakiest catchy track in the collection is mid-tempo “Peat Bog Soldiers.” Supported by an ’80s-reminiscent heavy synth backdrop, an infectious beat, and an earnestly important vocal delivery, the song’s irregular rhythm belies its earworm quotient.

It’s immediately followed by well-matched, faster-tempo, synth-driven “Six Feet Under,” whose lyrical phrasing and vocal fast-slow tempo are nearly hypnotic.

The album winds down with mellow, late ’70s/early ’80s Bowie-esque “Till My Day is Done,” pop-rock-slightly blues “Those Schizophrenic Blues,” and, finally, faster-tempo “Down, Down, Down,” a tune whose serious delivery is probably the main reason it’s not a full-on dance number.

In all, “Les Paul’s” (The Paul’s) deliver an album that makes some interesting artistic choices, paying tribute to David Bowie and using his ’70s or ’80s sound as an inspiration, jumping off from that starting point to explore surrounding artistic directions. If that sounds interesting to you, you’ll likely find a few tracks on here you’ll quite enjoy and, eventually, sing along with.

Album Review: Staircase Wit – Get ‘Em Next Year

EP Review of Staircase Wit: Get ‘Em Next Year

When I’m out, I often chat with people about the music they like, and sometimes I discover interesting new music that way. In the case of Quentin Harrington, the singer/songwriter behind Staircase Wit, I found his 4-song EP, Get ‘Em Next Year, as a result of a conversation with someone in his family. While people are often mistaken about their relatives’ talent level, this was not one of those cases. This dude’s got some serious songwriting chops. And he’s a versatile musician, as well; he recorded most of the guitar and bass parts on Get ‘Em Next Year, recruiting friends to fill out the sound.

Staircase Wit - Get 'Em Next Year

image courtesy of Quentin Harrington/Staircase Wit

Quentin’s songs are energetic pop-punk numbers delivered lightly instrumented and with attitude. The songs turn interesting phrases, change tempos, and entertain.

First track “It’s Useless” reminds me of Wally Pleasant, a full-on acoustic aural assault with clever lyrics and a mischievous delivery; this folk-delivery-on-steroids style made me reconsider Wally Pleasant, realizing the man whose style I had always considered quirky folk was actually an acoustic pop-punk performer years before the genre existed.

The music calms down a bit on “Cigabutts,” a strong example of a more laid-back style.

The cello and vocal harmonies on “Cello, You Got a Bass” are courtesy of Julia Knowles. This song is a soft, engaging songwriting departure, adding a rich sound during the cello parts but a musical sparseness elsewhere, while also maintaining its edge with a snippet of well-placed dialogue, as you’d expect inserted into a movie soundtrack music video.

Quentin Harrington/Staircase Wit

photo courtesy of Quentin Harrington/Staircase Wit

Get ‘Em Next Year closes with the restrained energy of mid-tempo, youthfully nostalgic “Night of Our Lives.”

My favorite song on this EP changes by the day, depending on which songwriting angle fits my mood. This recording is one of those cool discoveries where you can hear the songwriting talent in a relatively raw, bare bones format, enjoy the catchy, fun songs, and wonder what comes next from the music’s clearly-talented creator.

Background

This album was the culmination of Quentin’s persistent desire to continue pursuing his passion for music. He was previously in the band Our Names Forever, which achieved a level of local success, gigging regularly in Cambridge and performing at venues like the main stage of the Palladium in Worcester. You can hear his former bandmates on this recording during some of the group vocals on “It’s Useless.”

Quentin’s creative pursuits currently include screenwriting and photography, but he continues to write songs, as well. I certainly hope he’ll again feel compelled to share some of his new songs with the world.

Album Review: Greg Nagy – Stranded

Greg Nagy

photo courtesy of Greg Nagy

Greg Nagy – Stranded

Backstory

Greg Nagy is well-established as one of the top bluesmen in Michigan. But his star has risen nationally with his last two releases, Fell Toward None and Stranded. Now, I was on hiatus from writing when Fell Toward None was released, so I haven’t heard it, though I did catch Greg’s band live in the interceding years (February 2013, to be exact). While Fell Toward None received national praise, it’s Stranded that really launched Greg into the national consciousness, earning him additional global accolades, chart-topping results, and some high rotation on XM/Sirius radio. All of this acknowledgement of his talent is well-deserved… though I suppose I should have prefaced that with a “spoiler alert.” Then again, I hand-pick a lot of my favorite artists to review – people I think you’ll be glad I introduced you to, if you don’t already know them – so it probably isn’t a big spoiler.

Album Review of Greg Nagy: Stranded

Greg Nagy - Stranded

image courtesy of Greg Nagy

When you think about great blues, it starts with the voice, and Greg Nagy has that voice. It’s not a deep blues voice but more mid-range – and, technically, a mid-range vocal is probably a high blues vocal – but it packs in the emotion. You can hear the passion and, in Greg’s case, you get a consistently strong voice with just enough gravel to convey every feeling that goes with the lyrics. But it’s also about the music. And Greg’s guitar sings as soulfully as his voice. After hearing Stranded, you’ll learn what learn what Michigan blues fans – and an increasing number of blues fans nationwide – already know. If Greg Nagy releases a new album, be excited. And buy it. The guy’s a rare talent.

Greg Nagy

photo by J. Bowler; photo courtesy of Greg Nagy

Stranded opens strong, with Greg’s mid-high vocals filled with emotion, as “Stranded” has an almost country edge to its true blue soul. Oh, you’ll be singing along to this one quickly. It’s simultaneously playful and melancholic. Starting the disc with such energy is an auspicious beginning.

“Walk Out the Door” begins plaintively before adding a bit of energy mid-tune, morphing into a soft-but-rockin’ blues number periodically for the chorus before softening again during the bridges and verses; it’s the sort of song you’d possibly hear in a hotel bar scene in a movie.

Greg slows it down in multiple bluesy styles. His Nagy-fied version of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” is centered on a rich, full, soulful wail with a pulsing rhythm, while “I Won’t Give Up” builds and soars slowly, hopefully, and with a bit of a bluesy gospel rattle. And “Run Away With You” is a gospel-flavored, soft R&B-seasoned, yearning crooner.

Greg Nagy

photo by J. Bowler; photo courtesy of Greg Nagy

The collection adds a little more texture with funky Delta blues number “Long Way to Memphis.” “Been Such a Long Time,” meanwhile, adds playfulness to that funky blues.

Finally, “Sometimes” is worth mentioning, as Greg pulls together funky blues with an R&B backbeat and a guitar line that seems to speak, more like a supporting vocal than a guitar at all.

And, of course, any good blues album ends either in a blaze of instruments or a drawn-out ballad. Stranded chooses the latter with “Welcome Home,” a gravel-vocalled, heart-on-his-sleeve, soft-touch keyboard and guitar driven slow fade into the sunset, ending the disc with the musical equivalent of a satisfied sigh.

Greg Nagy

photo by Geoff Wilbur

In summary, Greg Nagy’s Stranded has earned its spot at the top of various 2015 top ten lists. It landed in my top three. This dude hits every note, puts emotion in every word, and all the while comes across as cool as the other side of the pillow. I don’t have many blues albums on my personal playlists, but this one earns its spot with every song.

Looking Ahead

Greg has a couple gigs currently scheduled later this month – Friday, August 19th at Slo Bones Smoke Haus in Frankenmuth, MI, and a pair of afternoon sets on Saturday, August 20th at Fritz Park in Grand Haven, MI.

Beyond that, Greg’s site currently lists a couple Moriarity’s gigs in Lansing this fall (Fridays, October 21st and December 16th) and a Saturday, November 12th gig at the Backyard Blues Festival at Buckingham Blues Bar in Fort Myers, Florida.

Greg is planning to return to the studio this fall with the goal of a new album release in early 2017. The dude’s a workhorse, though, so I’d suggest also checking his website regularly to watch for additional live dates.

Live Review: The Buckinghams at Fifth Third Ballpark