Album Review: Robert Lee Balderrama – The Great Hall of Smooth Jazz

Robert Lee Balderrama – The Great Hall of Smooth Jazz

image courtesy of Robert Lee Balderrama via Eric Harabadian

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Robert Lee Balderrama: The Great Hall of Smooth Jazz (Bullfrog Records)

Robert Lee “Bobby” Balderrama is a genuine rock ‘n roll legend. He was an original member of Saginaw/Bay City, Michigan band Question Mark and The Mysterians. They recorded one of the most pivotal and essential songs in the pop music lexicon, with the proto-punk classic “96 Tears.” Even to this day, tune into Sirius XM’s ‘60s channel or watch key vintage TV shows or movies and you could very well hear keyboardist Frankie Rodriguez’s signature organ figure that kicks off that tune.

Well, all that hoopla took place back in the mid-‘60s when Bobby and company were just teenagers. Fast forward to the present where Balderrama has spent the last 30 years or more reinventing himself as a blues and jazz player. In particular, the guitar styles of George Benson, Wes Montgomery, Carlos Santana, and others have informed his sweet and smooth musical approach. His new release The Great Hall of Smooth Jazz is the culmination of decades dedicated to his contemporary take on the improvisational art form.

The album opens with the breezy and samba-fueled sounds of “Santa Cruz.” Balderrama’s stinging guitar coupled with Rodriguez’s bright and billowy keyboards fill things out rather nicely. Structurally, the tune volleys between two distinct sections, with Tom Barsheff’s mellow tenor sax bringing it all together.

Robert Lee Balderrama

photo courtesy of Robert Lee Balderrama via Eric Harabadian

“Para Los Dos (For the Two of Us)” is a lovely ballad that sits comfortably as a romantic or meditative piece. Its drifting and languid feel inspires some beautiful and evocative solos from the leader.

“El Camino Rio” features dense percussion by wife Amy Lynn Balderrama and a moderate-to-uptempo groove. The cha-cha rhythms take a swinging detour as Jack Nash’s walking bass sparks things into overdrive.

“Sintiendo Tu Hechizo (Feeling Your Spell)” is a Latin track written by Liliana Rokita. Balderrama brings a flamenco flair to the instrumental tune, blending acoustic and electric guitars for dramatic effect.

“On Beat Street” finds Rodriguez’s ethereal sound design and textures being the star. His work provides a nice bed that gives Balderrama’s Wes Montgomery-meets-Pat Martino fluidity a place to flourish.

“Happy & Go Lucky” made a bit of a splash on national smooth jazz charts. Its buoyant, jubilant melody takes on an Asian persona. It’s also got a crisp and snappy feel.

“Jaz Dude” is another Balderrama composition that features a cool, west coast-type vibe. It is free and open, with some nice turnarounds and changes. It’s also very funky, the way certain textures and melodic elements float in and out.

“Estrella” has a solid pocket via Rudy Levario’s uplifting drums. This is also another example of Balderrama putting the emphasis on melody and atmosphere over gratuitous chops.

Conversely, “Ronnie’s Vibe” is a chops fest! This one swings ebulliently, with plenty of room for all to blow, guided by guest Pete Woodman’s stellar drumming.

“Out of This World” is kind of a digital about-face from some of the jazzier stuff here. It offers value in its heavy danceability and groove.

The 11th track on the album is a bonus tune by the group Le Sonic called “Any Moment.” Balderrama and Rodriguez are the principal co-writers, and it recently hit #1 on the Billboard Smooth Jazz Charts. The spacey and seductive two-chord vamp of keyboards and rhythms provides the backbeat for Balderrama’s signature guitar, along with moody vocals and trumpet. It’s a nice piece and a soothing way to conclude this stellar collection.

Album Review: Stormstress – Silver Lining

Stormstress

photo by Tim Johnson; photo courtesy of Stormstress

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Stormstress: Silver Lining

This is the debut album for Boston’s Stormstress, and it is a return to one of the classic ensembles in rock ‘n roll — the power trio! Identical sisters Tia Mayhem (bass and vocals), Tanya Venom (guitar and vocals), and long-time band mate and ally Maddie May Scott (drums and vocals) comprise this heavy metal brain trust. And the term “brain trust” is not used lightly, as each of their songs are well thought out and strategized for maximum emotional, intellectual and entertainment effect. Prepare to take a trip as this youthful veteran outfit gets inside your head and works its magic.

They open appropriately with a mighty rocker called “You Can’t Hurt Me Now.” The song addresses personal empowerment and standing up for one’s self. The message is a timely and direct hit as Venom puts her antagonist on notice, “never running out of reasons to cry, found out too late who you really were inside, now I’m shutting the door to lock you out… and you can’t hurt me now!” It’s a great mix of staccato guitars, pumping bass, and thunderous drums that grabs you from the get go!

Stormstress – Silver Lining

image courtesy of Stormstress

“Paint the Mask” is another strong song about being true to one’s self and not being a slave to hiding behind an inauthentic mask. In other words, quit trying to please others at the risk of sublimating yourself. Venom sings with a heart-wrenching tear in her voice that seems to speak from personal experience. Musically, the hooks and harmonies are pure pop, with screaming guitar that echoes Michael Schenker, Ritchie Blackmore and Neal Schon.

“Internal Divide” begins with a deep bass rumble that will shake the foundations of your psyche and soul. It’s got an infectious funk groove that supports Mayhem’s semi-rap cadence. There is so much to unpack here. With each line of the song the blue-haired bassist is approaching self-discovery and unpeeling all those layers of emotional bondage like an onion. It all comes together with this hook, “What’s in my heart, what’s on my mind, the static and the noise… There’s a voice that whispers in my ear at night, echoing between the walls in my mind, threatening my feelings held inside… creating this internal divide.”

“Fall With You” takes a slight detour and makes way for a beautiful ballad. Again, this is one from the heart, and Venom delivers a song that tackles aspects of love, trust, and the trepidation of taking a leap of faith with someone. The song is wonderfully augmented by a string quartet comprised of Jacquay Pearce (violin), Hannah Schzde (violin), Eden Rayz (cello) and Peter de Reyna (upright bass), with orchestration by the guitarist. It’s a radio-ready power tune for a modern generation, with elements of Scorpions, Lita Ford and Heart.

Stormstress

photo by Tim Johnson; photo courtesy of Stormstress

Stormstress shifts musical gears for the exotic “Gold.” Armenian musician Mher Mnatsakanyan plays a woodwind-like instrument called the duduk to open this piece. The atmosphere in the song is one of mystery and historical perspective. The hook “All that glitters… isn’t gold” seems to speak to the distractions in our present day society with watching the shiny object. The blend of Venom’s extreme metal vocals and the group’s more traditional harmonies are a gripping juxtaposition.

“I Wish I Could” is a slow and soulful number that speaks to the complex dynamics at play with the human condition. The lyrics say it all, “I wish I could give you my heart… but I know you’d wreck it. Wish I could give you my trust… no, not for a second. Wish I could give you my love… but I can’t let you in.” The band pours so much angst and pathos in this song. Anybody with a pulse has got to be moved. Included is a brief bass solo by Mayhem that really opens up the tune.

“Corpses Don’t Cry” is probably one of the heaviest and most personal empowering sentiments on the album. With the spirit of Ronnie James Dio in tow the band takes on evil spirits, with a full court press. They sing, “Come at me now I’ve got nothing to lose… I can’t be broken because I’ve already died!” It is cathartic, with some incredible rhythmic accents and breakdowns. They wrap things up with an “unveiled” reprise to “Fall with You.” This time it is done semi-a capella, with just the backing of strings. You really get to hear all the nuance and beauty in the trio’s voices as well as the message of the song.

Stormstress

photo by Tim Johnson; photo courtesy of Stormstress

One would be remiss not to mention the flawless and intricate production by Liz Borden and Sarah Fitzpatrick. From the richness of the instruments to the attention to bring out all the frequency response in the vocals, it’s a world class product! These songs will get inside your mind and soul, if you let it. Go ahead… take the ride!

Looking Ahead

Stormstress’ live gigs this year have extended from Boston and New York to Detroit and Chicago. At the moment, per the “Tour” section of the band’s website, the only upcoming shows currently booked are in Provincetown, MA – on May 28th, July 22nd, August 19th, September 23rd, and October 14th – but there’ll surely be more dates added soon, so be sure to check the website regularly and/or follow the band on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).

Album Review: Dean and The Singing Blue Jeanne’s – Crossing the Boundaries

Dean and the Singing Blue Jeanne's - from "Persuasive"

photo courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller (from “Persuasive”)

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Dean and the Singing Blue Jeanne’s: Crossing the Boundaries

This is the debut album for guitarist/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Dean Bailin and vocalist Jeanne Waller. But it is by no means their first rodeo. Both Bailin and Waller are NYC natives, with a hefty resume of production, side, and session credits in support of a laundry list of multi-genre musical artists. Perhaps Bailin’s biggest claim to fame was as a member of Rupert Holmes’ band in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. His signature guitar licks on Holmes’ mega-hit “The Pina Colada Song” registered with fans and audiences around the world. And Waller toured the country in several high society orchestras and show bands.

Dean and the Singing Blue Jeanne's – Crossing the Boundaries

image courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

After releasing a series of successful videos on various social media platforms for the majority of these songs over the last two or three years, Dean and The Singing Blue Jeanne’s emerge with a comprehensive audio document of said tracks that is nothing short of amazing.

The album opens with the vibrant and jovial “Fantasy House.” It’s a funky patchwork of kitschy social and celebrity references that will keep your mind and feet engaged. Bailin’s jazzy guitar filigree is exciting and Waller’s intricate vocal harmonies suggest the quirky sensibilities of the Tom Tom Club or B-52s. Bailin and Waller just have fun and let their imaginations run wild.

That’s followed by the Motown-influenced track “Enter This Night.” It’s a fresh and modern take on the classic “girl group” phenomenon, with Waller’s uncanny abilities to stack her vocals and take on the personas of three singers. (Hence, the multiple “Singing Blue Jeanne’s” reference.) Bailin’s sublime production (i.e., baritone sax, guitars and keyboards) gives the undeniable impression of a full ensemble. This track just makes you feel good, as a lot of classic pop songs used to do!

Dean and the Singing Blue Jeanne's - from "I Believe in You"

photo courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller (from “I Believe in You”)

The chameleonic duo shift musical gears once again for the piano-tinged “I Believe in You.” Bailin handles the lead vocals here and, with each line, seems to be giving himself a pep talk. Landlords, bill collectors – everyone has their hand out. But the song is all about believing in oneself, no matter the odds. The Wurlitzer-like piano and “everyman/everywoman sentiment” recalls some of Billy Joel and Roger Hodgson’s classic work.

“Samba de Loves Me” is a cleverly worded Latin-flavored number that sets a dreamy romantic tone. It’s a smooth and intoxicating blend of Brazilian rhythms, acoustic grooves and Bailin’s Larry Carlton-like lead guitar. Waller sings the surreal lines, “Tonight’s a carpet ride through the looking glass where nothing matters but which way the wind blows… and if I get swept away, that would be okay.” And, with that, you are transported to an island never never land! Smooth jazz, Philly soul and Steely Dan-like hooks converge on the swinging “Persuasive.” Waller hits notes that reach for the stratosphere and really sells it. Her voice is slightly overshadowed by the surprising mid-section bass solo bridge by the legendary Jeff Berlin. This is sophisticated pop for the big kids.

Dean and the Singing Blue Jeanne's - from "Samba de Loves Me"

photo courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller (from Samba de Loves Me)

The first of two live guitar-based performances by the duo can be found in Bailin’s “A Dose of My Affection.” It has a gospel/blues quality that recalls some of Jeff Beck and Jan Akkerman’s solo fusion work. “Three Coins in a Wishing Well” follows and seems to evoke the mystical and supernatural, with tales of gypsies, Satan’s daughter and the precipice of fate. Stevie Nicks or Adele might have a go with this one.

Funk and soul seem like comfortable havens for this duo and the tune “Rebind” seems to merge Motown, Philly and NYC-derived “doo wop” like no other. Waller delivers a lovely lead vocal, with superb and rich harmonies. Bailin’s underpinning of Wes Montgomery/George Benson-flavored guitar bits totally supports a light funky feel.

Dean and the Singing Blue Jeanne's - from "Rebind"

photo courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller (from Rebind)

The title track “Crossing the Boundaries” is, perhaps, one of the most ambitious songs on the album. It deals with elements of spirituality, déjà vu and the relationships between one another. The sound design is grand in scale and envelopes your senses, with the lyrical hook, “Crossing the boundaries of flesh and spirit… Our voices cry out, we both hear it… Talking ‘bout fate, talking ‘bout love and talking ‘bout you and me.” It summons up music similar to the Alan Parsons Project, Toto’s deeper cuts, and the like.

The album concludes with the second live track called “Blown Away in Awe.” Here, the diverse guitar stylings of Bailin seem to evoke the spirit of classic bluesman Roy Buchanan. His string bending and laid back approach sum things up on a perfect note.

Dean Bailin and Jeanne Waller have spent many years behind the scenes. Crossing the Boundaries finally puts them in the spotlight and it’s a beautiful thing to behold.

Album Review: Samo Salamon – Dolphyology: Complete Eric Dolphy for Solo Guitar

Samo Salamon

photo by Janin Vezonik via Samo Salamon (press kit)

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Samo Salamon: Dolphyology: Complete Eric Dolphy for Solo Guitar

Eric Dolphy was a jazz saxophonist, bass clarinetist and flautist who emerged in the ‘50s and ‘60s and recorded for prominent jazz labels like Prestige and Blue Note. Although he left us way too young at 36 years old, he crafted a legacy of genre-defining work that changed the face of modern bebop. Dolphy stealthily walked that line between melodic convention and out-of-bounds freedom like few others. Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, John Lewis, Chico Hamilton and Ornette Coleman were just some of the bandleaders who were graced by Dolphy’s harmonic genius.

Samo Salamon – Dolphyology

image courtesy of Samo Salamon

Samo Salamon is a world renowned musician who was selected by Guitar Player magazine as “one of the hottest 10 new guitarists in the world.” And Salamon is, indeed, globally recognized for his collaborations with everyone from Howard Levy, Paul McCandless, and Donny McCaslin, to Fareed Haque, Tim Berne, and countless others. The intrepid guitarist came to this current project out of the experience of pandemic lockdown. With a lot of time on his hands, he put it to good use revisiting and exploring the intricate music of Eric Dolphy. This music had never really ever been interpreted for guitar before. As Salamon puts it: “I tried to approach Dolphy, but in my own way. First, I transcribed all the compositions by Dolphy and arranged them for solo guitar. I improvised on tunes—sometimes in free improvisation, and in other cases, following the harmonic structure. I have played Dolphy’s tunes throughout my career, improvising on them, but rarely in a solo setting; probably because of fear or respect.” Well, now Salamon takes on the songs of a master head on and bravely documents them in posterity for all to hear.

Samo Salamon

photo by Ksenija Mikor via Samo Salamon (press kit)

This is a full-length two-disc set of Dolphy deep cuts and classics recorded by Salamon in his living room with one microphone and the natural acoustics of his home. According to the liner notes, all tracks were recorded in one take and often include sonic “enhancements” like the meows of his cat in the background. On this release you get nearly 30 tracks total, with 14 cuts per side. First off, many of the tunes were originally performed in an ensemble setting and on some type of woodwind, no less. Salamon’s innate ability to re-arrange these compositions for guitar give them a unique character right out of the gate. His use of string bends and ringing harmonics really stand out and are a nice touch. Some of Dolphy’s more well known compositions like “Out to Lunch” and “Iron Man” really stay true to the heart of the music’s original intent, shining the spotlight on avant garde passages and angular intervallic runs. “245,” “G.W.” and “Straight Up and Down” run the gamut from fearlessly technical and unorthodox to jaunty and seemingly disjointed.

Many of the tunes are performed on six-string acoustic guitar, but Salamon also integrates 12-string guitar and mandolin into the mix as well. Cuts like “The Baron” and “Burning Spear” benefit from the thicker depth of the 12-string. He also employs some really slick quick note phrasing and flamenco-like flourishes as well. “Lady E” and “17 West” seem to stand out for their more traditional blend of balladry, modern bop and blues.

Perhaps it is human for a musician to be in awe of one’s heroes, feeling they may not be up for the challenge. But, suffice to say, that is not the case here. Salamon is a consummate artist that seems to have embodied the heart and soul of Dolphy. And considering the oft non-linear nature of these tunes, that is no mean feat.

Single Review: Anissa Lea – “Be My Baby”

Anissa Leaby Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Anissa Lea: “Be My Baby” (E & A Music Productions)

Anissa Lea is a talented and versatile young vocalist from Detroit, Michigan. As the world knows, the city of Detroit has an esteemed reputation for producing some of the greatest rock, jazz, pop and soul music of all time. And Anissa Lea embodies all of that and then some. She possesses vocal skills and a sense of music history that extends way beyond her years. With a love for everyone from Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington to Peggy Lee and Billie Holiday, she has an uncanny knack for stylistically borrowing from these musical legends while simultaneously evoking an approach that is all her own.

One artist, in particular, that really made an enormous impression on Lea early on has been the recently dear and departed Veronica “Ronnie” Spector. Spector, of course, was one of the progenitors of the “girl group” concept as frontwoman for The Ronettes. The Ronettes had a string of early ‘60s hits, including “Baby I Love You,” “(The Best Part of) Breakin’ Up,” “Walking in the Rain” and, unquestionably, one of Spector and The Ronettes’ biggest smashes “Be My Baby.” And that is the song in question here.

Anissa Lea puts her own spin on “Be My Baby” that blends a contemporary jazz-pop sensibility, with a funky spirit and groove. She’s joined on the song by some of the best side men and session artists in the biz, including Kurt Krahnke (bass), Rob Emanuel (drums), Adam Allen (guitar), Stefan Kukurugya (piano), Keith Kaminski (saxophone) and Justin Garrett Walter (trumpet).

The track sizzles with sincerity and respect to Spector’s original version. But, then, the song elevates to a surprising smooth and jazzy feel, as Lea’s dulcet Billie Holiday-meets-Peggy Lee-type phrasing thoughtfully delivers the song’s urgent message, Kaminski and Walter’s rich wall of sound envelopes your senses. The addition of Allen’s mid-song acoustic guitar solo is icing on the cake. Lea cleverly sings just a tad behind the beat, thereby not only giving the song a thoroughly fresh perspective, but adding to the danceable syncopation of the rhythm section. It’s a sweet and reverent tribute that deftly walks the line between contemporary and nostalgia.

Anissa Lea’s version of Ronnie Spector’s “Be My Baby” is now available on all streaming platforms. For more information just go to www.anissalea.com.

 

Single Review: Le Sonic feat. Robert Lee – “Any Moment”

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Le Sonic feat. Robert Lee: “Any Moment” (Generic Records/The Orchard)

Guitarist Robert Lee Balderrama hails from Saginaw/Bay City in the “thumb area” of Michigan. It was there that he was instrumental in the launch of the seminal proto-punk/garage band Question Mark and The Mysterians in the early ‘60s. The teenage Mexican-American quintet scored a #1 hit with the organ-driven classic “96 Tears.” The song has been a staple in popular culture and on oldies radio and Sirius XM in perpetuity. And Rolling Stone magazine deemed it one of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”!

Le Sonic Feat. Robert Lee – Any MomentOver the years, Balderrama went on to play with Tex-Mex rocker Joe “King” Carassco and also fronted his own blues band and smooth jazz ensemble. Over the last decade or so Balderrama has partnered with Mysterians’ keyboardist Frank Rodriguez and has concentrated on the jazzy side of things. Under the moniker “Robert Lee Revue” he’s released two albums: For the Love of Smooth Jazz and City of Smooth Jazz. One of his compositions “Happy and Go Lucky” reached Top 30 on the Billboard Smooth Jazz Chart.

Currently, Balderrama has formed an alliance with multi-faceted songwriters/producers Mike Rogers and Gary Lefkowith. The duo call themselves Le Sonic and have created a legitimate modern jazz hit with the video and audio single “Any Moment.” The tune is based on a fairly simple two chord vamp that is hypnotic and seductive. Balderrama is a student of Wes Montgomery, George Benson, and Carlos Santana, and he weaves the essential melodic elements of said mentors into his silky smooth guitar lines. Rodriguez lays down a billowy bed of velvety piano tones that are the foundation of the tune. Topping things off are vocalist Dennis Collins and trumpeter Jim Hynes. Collins, who sings the ethereal song title’s refrain, has worked with Roberta Flack, David Bowie, Billy Joel, Al Green, George Benson and Bob Dylan. And Hynes can be heard on themes for Masterpiece Theater, CBS This Morning, NBC Sunday Night Football, and CBS Evening News.

“Any Moment” is vying for #1 spot on the various music industry charts, including Billboard, Media Base Smooth Jazz and Smooth Jazz Network.com . For more information on Robert Lee Balderrama just go to www.facebook.com/robertleerevue.

Album Review: Galactic Cowboy Orchestra – Flirting with Chaos

Galactic Cowboy Orchestra

photo courtesy of Media Stew Public Relations

Album Review of Galactic Cowboy Orchestra: Flirting with Chaos

Galactic Cowboy Orchestra‘s Flirting with Chaos is an experimental progressive rock album that pushes around the edges of prog rock, producing a collection that stimulates the mind as the music takes you in unexpected directions.

The opening song, the title track, kicks off with a dissonant wall of noise that quickly descends – ascends? – into a blend of riffs and a repetitive almost-hook amid what’s still primarily cacophony to those of us without a significant progressive bent. Having reviewed a broad variety of music over the decades, though, I totally get what they’re doing, and I know it means there’s some pretty cool music on its way – and, indeed, that’s the case here. Meanwhile, I also realize edge-pushing, knowledgeable musicians will absolutely dig it, enjoying its residence pretty far on the experimental outskirts of the rock ‘n roll spectrum. Beyond the hints at what’s to come, if you take only one other thing from the disc-opening track, it’s that near-hook musical progression that appears continually throughout the album. It’s the glue that holds this collection together, no matter what directions the individual tracks take.

Galactic Cowboy Orchestra – Flirting with Chaos

image courtesy of Media Stew Public Relations

Next, indeed, as expected, “All for the Taking” settles into a stride more appealing to a broader listenership. That near-hook from “Flirting with Chaos” actually reappears here as if it were foreshadowed, but it’s mixed into an almost prog-Blondie vibe, with some shredding guitar during the bridges, and the line “It’s all for the asking, for the knowing, for the taking” playing a prominent role.

The fiddling on “Triple S” add an Irish folk song vibe to the heavily percussive soundbed, whose steadfast progress gives way to flights of fancy during a two minute long early-to-mid-song bridge, giving way to a more frantic musical section, only really returning to the heavy nature occasionally, as other musical structures weave in and out. I’m not really sure exactly what the three Ss are in “Triple S” – low S, high S, and middle S? – but there are three distinct elements in the track.

The meandering nature and the exploring adjacent riffs, related runs, and different structural patterns continue throughout the album, though individual songs feature different musical densities and heavier or lighter song structures. For example, “Unresolved Discrepancies” exhibits a lighter, airier feel than the preceding tracks, marking a bit of a change. “21st Century Schizoid Man,” meanwhile, incorporates classic rock riffs and a punk rock attitude.

You’ll continue to recognize the cohesive style throughout the rest of the album, with subtle differences. “Jazz Crimes” bips and bops (that’s jazz terminology, right?) sparsely throughout, except for its occasional exploration of richer, fuller tones. “Woodshread” leans heavily into the violin’s most violent high end but mellowing into a more classic rock-influenced bass and guitar rhythm.

Vocals return on the second-to-last track, “No Stranger to the Fall,” which adds Bowie-like musical and vocal elements to the vocals portions, with crunchy guitar distortion and bumble bee-like dream sequences rounding out the mix before is circularly spins to its conclusion.

And “Flirting with Oblivion” closes things with a sound that’s akin to classic guitar rock noodling atop a chirping wall of sound that seems like it could be from an orchestra or recorders, though I’m sure it’s not.

In all, Flirting with Chaos is an interesting mix of influences melded into a cohesive whole throughout the album by some exceptional musicians. So, if you dig some musical, almost jazzy experimentation in your prog rock, these cats produce some really interesting soundscapes on Flirting with Chaos that’ll definitely be to your liking. And regardless of your musical tastes, as long as you like rock ‘n roll in some form, while you’ll need to be in a “proggy mood” to fully appreciate the album, I get the feeling a Galactic Cowboy Orchestra concert will be an awesome, enjoyably exhausting musical feast for the senses.

Looking Ahead

Though there’s nothing currently listed, but you’ll find upcoming gigs on the “Shows” page of the Galactic Cowboy Orchestra’s website or on the “Events” tab of the band’s Facebook page.

Single Review: Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings – “Highways”

Bridget Davis & the Viking Kings – "Highways"

image courtesy of Bridget Davis

Single Review of Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings: “Highways”

We at the Blog are big fans of the unique, original, memorable style of Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings. They have an easily identifiable, pleasant, rolling, laid-back Americana style but with a constantly-present, persistent rhythm that varies from song to song yet makes even the most mellow song seem energized. Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings are the perpetual motion machine of Americana. And their songwriting and delivery style is such that, if you heard them on the radio, you’d say to yourself, “Self, it’s Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings.”

Well, it has been a while since BD and the VKs graced our headphones with something new, nearly five and a half years between I Wasn’t Planning on the End and the new single “Highways,” released earlier this year. In all that time, the band hasn’t missed a beat.

Bridget Davis & the Viking Kings

photo courtesy of Bridget Davis

Opening with a warm texture and bass-guitar interplay (cool to listen to on headphones, since they reside in different ears), “Highways” utilizes many of the ingenuities in the band’s familiar, favorite bag of tricks to support Bridget’s soft, sweet, yet surprisingly dynamic vocal style. Those familiar with the band’s previous work will find the tempo most similar to that of “Transient,” as “Highways” differs from much of the band’s song catalog in that it’s actually as slow-tempoed as its music makes it seem, though it’s sonically more kindred to the faster-paced “Elizabeth” or the slower-paced “I Wasn’t Planning on the End.”

In the end, “Highways” is a welcome reintroduction to Bridget Davis and the Vikings Kings’ easily recognizable, original, trademark sound. If you’re unfamiliar with the band, let this be your introduction. There’s a hint of folk styling and country-leaning Americana energy in Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings’ music, an energy built on and originality, tempo, detailed songwriting, and deliberate performance structure that will appeal to a broad swath of musical tastes. To the band: Welcome back to our playlists. We’ve missed you.

Looking Back

Those who have been with us here at the Blog from the beginning will remember our other two Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings reviews. First, I reviewed one of their live Rockwood Music Hall shows as item #8 in my 9-part “Road Back to Music Journalism” series, in which I chronicled events that led me back to writing – and starting this blog – after a dozen years away. A few weeks later, I reviewed their album I Wasn’t Planning on the End. So if my review of this song interests you, be sure to check out the other words I’ve written about this talented ensemble.

Looking Ahead

Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings hinted in this Facebook post this spring and confirmed with me just recently via e-mail that there is more music coming; “Highways” was just one of several songs recorded live at the Figure 8 Recording studio in Brooklyn. They’ll likely be released one at a time in advance of an eventual EP release. Whether the songs are released individually or all at once, we can’t wait to hear them!

Single Review: Kristian Montgomery & The Winterkill Band – “Secret Watering Hole”

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Kristian Montgomery & The Winterkill Band: “Secret Watering Hole”

Boston-area singer-songwriter Kristian Montgomery is not one to let grass grow under his feet. When the pandemic hit in full swing last year he dove into his inner psyche and soul, coming up with enough fresh material for an album’s worthy triumvirate of creative output. The result of that labor resulted in 2020’s The Gravel Church, 2021’s Prince of Poverty, and the soon-to-be-released A Heaven for Heretics in January 2022.

Kristian Montgomery & the Winterkill Band – "Secret Watering Hole"

photo courtesy of Kristian Montgomery

Surely, Montgomery’s blend of reflective blues and country rock songs combined with his rich, slightly worn and emotive voice is starting to catch fire with fans and critics alike. Montgomery was recently nominated by the prestigious New England Music Awards on the strength of his Prince of Poverty release. “Secret Watering Hole” is a brand new single from the aforementioned upcoming A Heaven for Heretics and continues his blend of an Americana aesthetic, mixed with vivid imagery and detailed storytelling. The song is draped in southern gothic charm and Cajun-laced magic. References to New Orleans and Mardi Gras are supported by a soothing bed of layered guitars and a relaxed, swampy back beat. It’s kind of a meeting of classic styles that match the melodic poetry of The Band, with the groovy laid back sounds of The Allman Brothers Band.

“Another crawling out of the American gutter record” is a quote, found on Montgomery’s own bandcamp page, in response to his last full-length release. Other references to his current single and his previous catalog suggest the slightly outsider world view of like-minded compadres such as The Highwaymen, Sturgill Simpson, Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt, and Chris Stapleton.

The current single “Secret Watering Hole” was produced by Joe Clapp at Ultrasound Studios and captures a sound and mood that is contemporary, yet intimate and timeless.

Looking Ahead

Of course, the album A Heaven for Heretics, which contains “Secret Watering Hole,” is scheduled for a January release. [I’ll be writing that review on or after the album’s release date. -GW] Also keep an eye on the “Events” page of the band’s website for future performances and on the band’s Facebook page for the latest news about Kristian Montgomery & the Winterkill Band.

Single Review: Eliza Neals – “Sugar Daddy”

Eliza Neals w King Solomon Hicks

photo courtesy of E-H Records LLC

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Eliza Neals: “Sugar Daddy” feat. King Solomon Hicks (E-H Records)

They call her the “Detroit Diva.” And, indeed, blues rock singer-songwriter/keyboardist Eliza Neals proudly wears that title as a badge of honor. The opera-trained blonde bombshell has been on the international music scene for more than two decades. She is a true independent artist, with a series of critically-acclaimed R&B-flavored albums to her credit. Neals has shared the stage and collaborated with such luminaries as Buddy Guy, Kenny Olson, Joe Louis Walker, Popa Chubby, Howard Glazer, and a host of blues and rock greats.

No doubt, however, perhaps her biggest influence can be found in frequent co-writer and mentor Barrett Strong. Strong, of course, is a legendary singer-songwriter that made his mark, first at Berry Gordy’s Tamla Records. His iconic “Money (That’s What I Want)” was the company’s first big breakout hit. The prolific tunesmith went on to write a series of songs for Gordy’s subsequent landmark enterprise Motown Records. “ I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “War,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today)” are just some of the chart toppers he and fellow composer/producer Norman Whitfield conceived within those hallowed studio walls.

Eliza Neals – "Sugar Daddy" feat. King Solomon Hicks

image courtesy of E-H Records LLC

That little history lesson brings us to today’s single at hand; the feel good summer of 2021 smash entitled “Sugar Daddy.” The tune was originally written by Strong, but re-arranged, with additional lyrics by Neals herself. The song features young NYC jazz/blues guitar sensation King Solomon Hicks on backing vocals. Michael Puwal (tremolo guitar/additional drums), Chris Vega (bass), Michael Galante (drums), and Tyrone Smith (Hammond B3/saxophone) round out this first rate band. It’s a light-hearted kind of tale that focuses on a relationship from an, appropriately, female perspective. In it Neals sings: “Well, I’m just a girl, and you know that I look real fine. But I love that man, he drive me outta my mind. He puts his lips to my ear, said what I love to hear… I’ll be your sugar daddy, you’s my man!” It carries on with that pseudo-romantic track for a minute, but then, when Neals finds her man fooling around with someone else, the tables get turned quickly in the bridge. She exudes gritty comeuppance, with the lines, “I take his money and I go and I play the town, and he knows my love ain’t true. People all say he should put me down. He’s a fool, he’s a fool, he’s a doggone fool!”

“Sugar Daddy” has a lot of bite and bluesy bravado, thanks to Neals’ raw, soulful vocals and Hicks’ stinging Robert Cray-like riffs. He lays the groundwork for the song’s balance of good-natured free-spirited fun and serious house rockin’ street cred. The tune has been a staple on Sirius XM’s BB King’s Bluesville channel since this past July. But that’s nothing new for the “Detroit Diva.” She’s been in consistent rotation on that pivotal blues network since her seminal Breaking and Entering album hit the charts in 2015. “Sugar Daddy” simply continues that groovy path of excellence for the incomparable Eliza Neals!

Looking Ahead

Eliza has a few upcoming shows listed on the “Shows” page of her website. On Saturday, December 18th, she’ll be at the South Orange Performing Arts Center in South Orange, NJ. On Saturday, February 12th, she’ll be performing at the Cincinnati Winter Blues Experience II in Cincinnati, OH. On Tuesday, April 26th, she’s scheduled to perform at the iconic 100 Club in London [where I saw Bob Malone in 2015 – GW]. And on Saturday, April 30th, she’s be at Jamey’s House of Music in Lansdowne, PA. Be sure to check Eliza’s website for more details on those shows and others as they’re scheduled.