Five Nights in London #4: Tom Lukas

Tom Lukas

Upstairs at The Distillers, Hammersmith (London)
October 30, 2015

Tom Lukas

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Geoff’s Night Out: Five Nights in London #4

I’m in London for five nights and plan to review one show each night. For Friday night, Night #4, I had a few options, but the one that sounded the most interesting was going to take two trains and a bus to get to and from. Typically, I’d like to see more than one band on the bill, and I had really planned to focus on original music this trip, but I made an exception. The Distillers is a room multiple people I respect have played. Therefore, I opted to see a show there just so I will have seen the room in person next time I see or hear it mentioned. Plus, I checked out Tom Lukas’ music online before the gig and thought he’d be worth seeing in person.

Live Review: Tom Lukas

Tom Lukas

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Tom has a gravelly, expressive voice (though he surprised me by losing the gravel on one tune in particular), a range that allows him to perform well across a broad spectrum of styles, a variety of guitar tools that help keep the guy-with-a-guitar thing fresh longer. On this evening at The Distillers, Tom put those to use across three sets of cover songs.

He selected a fun track to open the night with, The Lumineers’ “Ho Hey,” absolutely nailing the song with and emotional, rough edge to his voice. Hey followed that with one that engaged the night’s early crowd a bit more, Ray Lamontagne’s “Trouble.” In fact, the theme throughout the night was Tom’s gravelly vocals, good vocal range, and ability to vary his style of music and tempo well.

Speaking of varying styles, and because I’ve already described his style, I’ll just mention a few of the more notable songs in Tom’s repertoire. On his rendition of Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,” Tom rounded some of the original’s rough edges but added a few vocal flairs of his own. Vance Joy’s “Riptide,” meanwhile, is a song that really suits Tom’s voice, and he delivered it with great energy and a bit of a modern style.

Tom showed off his tempo change skills with Jack Johnson’s “Better Together.” His version of “Every Day I Have the Blues,” meanwhile, was relatively clean, crisp version but still with a bit of his cool rasp. Tom got a bit funky later on with a cover of Blackstreet’s “I Like the Way You Work.”

Tom’s cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine” was a subtle departure, in that he showed off deeper vocals without his trademark gravel — a great choice for this song, one that impressed. His interesting arrangement of Pharrell’s “Happy” came across more rocking and rootsy than the original. And it took me a few seconds of Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit it” before I decided his cool rendition was worth gettin’ jiggy wit.

Indeed, it was a smorgasbord of great songs all night, also including Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside,” the oft-covered “Brown Eyed Girl,” Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” and a rendition of “Summer of ’69” that could almost have been Bryan Adams himself.

So in spite of the fact I caught a cover night performance, I was treated to a talented singer-songwriter (sans the songwriter portion of his repertoire) performing a broad range of songs, varying his basic style just a bit to fit each of them.

What’s Next?

I have an idea for Night #5, but I’m not sure if I’ll change my mind, and then I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get it posted the next morning because I need to check out of my room and fly back. So if Night #5 gets posted quickly, great. If it’s delayed, well, know you’ll know why.

Five Nights in London #3: Sonya Titus

Saraswati, Sonya Titus, and Bradley

The Troubadour, London
October 29, 2015

Sonya Titus

Sonya Titus; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Geoff’s Night Out: Five Nights in London #3

I’m in London for five nights and plan to review one show each night. Last night, Night #3 was an evening at The Troubadour. A few days after I booked my flight, this became the first show on my docket when Sonya Titus announced she was booked there. As you may have noticed, I’ve written and tweeted a lot about Sonya. Indeed, I’ve urged you to get out to this show. If you made it, you saw a great performance and heard one of the voices I most frequently recommend.

For the rest of you, let me tell you about the show. Now, you might notice the review of Sonya’s set is in quite a bit more detail than that of the other terrific artists on the bill tonight. No apologies. I was getting familiar with the other singers this evening, so I’ve written my usual brief live review summaries. However, I was already so familiar with the songs in Sonya’s performance I opted to chronicle them accordingly. Now let’s dive into what turned out to be a full evening of top-shelf vocal performances.

Saraswati

Saraswati; photo by Geoff Wilbur

First Set: Saraswati

Saraswati performs an interesting style of music. She accompanies her sweet, high voice with strumming guitar. She sings all around the song’s melody, offering up her own delivery style — a distinctive, engaging style that pervades everything she performs, including making cover tracks seem like her own. With exceptional execution of her stylistic delivery throughout, overall, Saraswati’s set was an enjoyable one.

Sonya Titus

Sonya Titus; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Second Set: Sonya Titus

Indeed, Sonya’s performance — the first time I have seen her perform live — was much-anticipated, and she didn’t disappoint. She kicked off the set with “Hypnotize,” proving she was in top form this evening. Second song, “Mamma,” showcased the richness of her voice as well her power, while also throwing in some high notes. Sonya followed that with a cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “Guilty,” an interesting rendition in that most vocalists struggle with clarity on this cover, offering more rasp than in the original in order to find the emotion, while Sonya instead was able to deliver it with crystal clear power much more similar to Bonnie’s version. That takes a special talent.

The following song, “Now,” is the song that convinced me about Sonya two years ago due to the strength and delicacy required. This would seem to be a difficult song to match the studio precision in a live performance, yet Sonya pulled it off, including all of the song’s intricacies. She followed it up with her newest song, her first-ever live performance of “Resurrection”; if it’s possible for a song to sound bluesy without actually being bluesy, “Resurrection” does just that, while throwing in a bit of a haunting vibe for good measure.

Next up was another cover, Sonya’s rendition of “Stay With Me,” which is also available online. This is a widely covered song right now, and strong voices always make it sound good. She followed that with her second relatively new song, “The Other Side,” which suggests she may have added a little soulfulness (not a lot, just a little) to her trademark style in recent writing sessions, and it really fits the subject matter of “The Other Side” well. This new song also features an especially catchy rhythm, perhaps the reason it proved a crowd favorite.

Sonya Titus

Sonya Titus duet with Azu; photo by Geoff Wilbur

After that, Sonya brought vocalist Azu onstage with her to cover “Lost and Found.” She had told me about Azu before, and she’s right, he is quite a talent with his great, high, strong voice complementing Sonya’s as a nice duet pairing.

Then Sonya closed her set with a cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine,” a song that shows off her lower register a bit. Worth noting is the nice arrangement that sped things up later in the song, giving an interesting flair to this number.

There’s a reason I’ve written and tweeted about Sonya Titus so much. It’s because, with performances like these in addition to her stellar recordings, she makes me look like a brilliant judge of talent. So glad to have been fortunate enough to catch a set like this while in London.

Bradley

Bradley; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Third Set: Bradley

So how can someone follow a set like that? With his powerful, gravelly vocals, Bradley did a fine job. The first song utilized a build to power, and his vocals were able to sound emotional while still hitting all the notes, showcasing his talent immediately. Through Bradley’s set, he showed off his highs and lows over all tempos, slow and fast, while moving between loud and soft. Indeed, he always had that gravelly thing going on, which allows him to add a kind of bluesy edge to what might otherwise be considered straight-up pop/rock tune. He closed his thoroughly engaging set with “Carolina,” the best of a very good set of songs. During “Carolina,” power built during the song, while being exceptionally vocally emotional. Overall, Bradley’s set proved an exceptional end to an evening of fine performance.

Five Nights in London #2: Blurred Vision and The Bedford

Blurred Vision

 229, London
October 28, 2015

and

Joel Bailey, Alice Gullick, Velvet Engine, Sherika Sherard, and The Lemmingtons

 The Bedford, Balham (London)
October 28, 2015

 

Geoff’s Night Out: Five Nights in London #2

I’m in London for five nights and plan to review one show each night. My slow, cranky travel computer and slightly dodgy internet reception may make it a little difficult to post each day, but I’ll do my best to post as promptly as possible. Night #2 featured a special treat, an invitation-only industry showcase for Canadian band Blurred Vision at 229. I then headed out to Balham to catch live music at The Bedford, where five acts were featured, each playing two two-song sets.

Blurred Vision

Blurred Vision; photo by Geoff Wilbur

First: Blurred Vision at 229

The evening started early with a showcase event for Blurred Vision from Canada. Featuring Iranian brothers Sepp and Sohl Osley on guitar and bass and drummer Ben Riley, the brothers had a viral YouTube hit with a video produced by Babak Payami and then, as a band, recorded an album with producer Terry Brown, who introduced the brothers to their drummer in order to fill out the trio.

The video I mentioned, in 2010, was for their version of “Another Brick in the Wall” in which they changed the lyrics to “Hey Ayatollah leave those kids alone.”

Of course, I know these things now, but I entered the show without an awareness of the video, and ironically one of my first notes about Blurred Vision’s sound was that I could detect a Pink Floyd influence. The band’s heavy-though-accessible style also mixes influences of melody, song-driven bands with that Pink Floyd vibe, and one particular song drew on a bit of late eighties/early nineties Metallica vibe, though not quite as heavy.

The band’s “Another Brick in the Wall” rendition (with its lyric edits) was a little faster with a bit more edge and roughness; it worked well and gave the song its own Blurred Vision spin.

In summary, the short set was a sufficient introduction to this talented power trio’s “tuneful heavy rock with harmonies.”

Then: 5 acts at The Bedford

The format at The Bedford was interesting. There were 5 acts, each performing 2 songs in a first set and two songs in a second set, not quite performing in the same order each set. In all, it was an evening of twenty songs, a bit of a sampler of a variety of artists. As it turned out, my journey out to the venue landed me there just as the first artist was about to begin his second song, so I caught nearly the entire night. I’ll summarize each of the five artists in the order I first saw them, though I’ll cover both two-song sets in each performer’s paragraph.

Joel Bailey

Joel Bailey; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Joel Bailey was onstage when I arrived. and I immediately noticed the smoothness of his voice. He’s a polished singer/songwriter whose voice and tone would likely already make him a coffeehouse circuit favorite. And I do mean “favorite,” as what I’ve heard of his music is all relatively mellow, and he has a firm presence onstage; he’s good with the onstage banter.

Alice Gullick

Alice Gullick; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Alice Gullick was next up. She has a bit of a quirky voice with a great, edgy tone. An engaging singer, she’s clearly folky, with a hint of an Irish flair (or, at least, what you’d hear at an Irish pub’s more progressive singer/songwriter night back in the States). Alice is at her best when she utilizes her full range, from her highs to her low and the appealing way her voice cracks with emotion at times (as on her song “Fire”). She comes across still a bit nervous onstage (she’s still young), but she’s perhaps the most intriguing singer I caught at The Bedford, as with her insistent edge and slightly pop sensibility, she quite obviously has the tools to tap a broader audience down the road.

Velvet Engine

Velvet Engine; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Next up was Velvet Engine, a duo with a very old-school folky vibe. Indeed, quite well-suited to wherever folk music on the bill, there is also a bit of an insistent vocal edge at times. Of note, and showing a fair bit of creative flair, Velvet Engine’s fourth song of the night was a cover of Ghostpoet’s “Meltdown,” which they adapted quite seemlessly to their own style. Well done, indeed.

Sherika Sherard

Sherika Sherard; photo by Geoff Wilbur

They were followed by Sherika Sherard, whose voice is strong, tuneful, and crisp with a hint of a rasp. Combined with the sometimes harsh vocal style that weaves around the tune as much as she follows it, her music is catchy and original enough that she could have some broad pop appeal already. Of note during her sets, particularly showing off her strengths, was the song “We Don’t Need a Reason.”

The Lemmingtons

The Lemmingtons; photo by Geoff Wilbur

The final performers of the night were The Lemmingtons. These musicians have a clear sense of who they are and how to engage a crowd with their onstage shtick, and they do it well. An old-fashioned country music styled group that throws in plenty of wackiness. From traditional, straightforward toe-tapper “Hold On” to a clap-along tune whose title I neglected to note and closing number “Wet Slippery Floor,” The Lemmingtons absolutely know how to engage a crowd.

What’s Next?

Tonight (Thursday) I’ll be at The Troubadour to see Sonya Titus perform. She’ll go on relatively early (about 9:00ish), so if you join me (and if you’ve read my blog you’ll know I think you should because Sonya shouldn’t be missed!), be sure to arrive in time. Still deciding about Friday and Saturday nights.

Five Nights in London #1: Bob Malone

Bob Malone with Amy Eftekhari and Loose Moorings

100 Club, London
October 27, 2015

Bob Malone

Bob Malone; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Geoff’s Night Out: Five Nights in London

I’m in London for five nights and plan to review each show. I have a slow, cranky little netbook computer that isn’t cooperating (I love it because it’s small, but I hate it because it’s slow), and I fell asleep as soon as I got back to my room last after this first show, so I’m not necessarily going to guarantee I’ll get a review up on the night of each show, but I’ll do my best. And I kick off this series with a night at The 100 Club, featuring powerhouse rockin’ blues piano-man Bob Malone.

Loose Moorings

Loose Moorings; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Opening Act: Loose Moorings

Loose Moorings was the first band on the stage, and what amazing power and energy this band put forth. There’s almost a bit more rock than blues in this band. Hard rocking blues guitars, great vocals that were growling at times, simply powerfully tuneful at others. The best description of Loose Moorings, on this particular night at least, would be cross between The Cult and George Thorogood. They set the bar high to kick off the night with their blues-influenced, tear-the-roof-off-the-joint hard rock. Loose Moorings self-describes as “a black denim blues band that rocks!!” I can’t argue with that.

Amy Eftekhari

Amy Eftekhari; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Second Act: Amy Eftekhari

Indeed, that unenviable task fell to Amy Eftekhari, who delivered a more standards-singer/jazz (with a hint of blues) set with her relatively deep, raspy voice, backed by a team of extremely talented musicians, who were given ample opportunity to showcase their skills as well during Amy’s set. It was an odd placement as far as musical progression, nestled between Loose Moorings’ wall of sound and Bob Malone’s… well, Bob Malone. But Amy did yeoman’s work and absolutely earned the crowd’s appreciation and respect.

Bob Malone

Bob Malone; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Headliner: Bob Malone

I’ve known Bob Malone for years. I’ve reviewed his music and even interviewed him for my prior publication, Geoff Wilbur’s Renegade Newsletter, back in 1998. So it was a pleasure to finally see him perform live in a setting such as the 100 Club.

Bob kicked things off with a rousing rendition of “Why Not Me,” showcasing his gruff, engaging, sometimes Randy Newman-esque vocal style. Early on, as well, Bob showcased this talented bandmates skills, allowing them to shine. But really, this night was all about Bob, his trademark rockin’ blues sound on The 100 Club’s piano, and the engaging personality and expression he delivers to the fortunate audience at one of his live performances. And even though this was the last date on a grueling UK tour for him, Bob was spot-on tonight.

Early on, as he built the energy up, Bob brought the room down a bit and held its rapt attention with “Can’t Get There From Here,” a favorite of mine that had exactly the audience reaction it should.

Bob had the room rocking regularly, though, with his high-energy crowd favorites, “Rage & Cigarettes,” “Keep a Certain Distance,” and “Toxic Love,” before again bringing the tempo down with the emotional “Watching Over Me.”

The night closed with uptempo “Ain’t What You Know” and a rendtion of “Stay With Me” that would give Rod Stewart a run for his money. As Bob left the stage, however, the crowd reaction was immediate, and he returned for his encore to play the sentimental, heartfelt, passionate “Paris.”

Bob delivered everything I expected — great musicianship, terrific vocals that perfectly fit his well-crafted songs, and a supporting cast of exceptional musicians. Great kick-off to my stay in London.

What’s Next?

Well, show number two will be at The Bedford tonight (Wednesday night), followed by Thursday night at The Troubadour (in particular to see Sonya Titus perform). Friday and Saturday nights are still up in the air. I’ll keep you apprised as I decide, if I decide in advance.

The Road Back #9: Ilona

The Road Back to Music Journalism #9 (Bonus): Ilona’s Music Industry Showcase

Invitation to a Music Industry Showcase

Summer 2015

Ilona

Ilona, Tony Moore, and KT Parker at Rockwood Music Hall; photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Backstory

I had discovered Ilona’s music early on during my return to new music discovery. In fact, her CD Thunderstorm was the second CD I purchased from overseas. I had also tweeted quite a bit about Ilona’s music as far back as January 2014, and she often replied with thanks. But we really didn’t start communicating until after I ordered the CDs and they failed to arrive. Sound familiar? (It would if you read Road Back #6.) Yes, twice I ordered CDs from the UK from different bands, and both times they failed to arrive the first time. In any case, thus began our communication, as the method I chose to reach out and ask about the CDs was managed by Ilona herself, not her management. Many months later, when Ilona came to the U.S., I tried to connect her with one of my industry contacts. Though it fell through in the end, I was able to be free from work on the day of her showcase, and she invited me to attend.

Ilona

Ilona, Tony Moore, and KT Parker at Rockwood Music Hall; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Why This Was a Step on the Road Back

Technically, I had already decided to start the blog by this time and had set October as the launch date for the blog, but if I hadn’t already decided, this cool event almost certainly would have “sealed the deal.” First, I received an incredibly warm welcome from Ilona, her band, and her management, even though I was “merely” a former music journalist who tweeted occasionally. I’ve been treated well on a variety of occasions with just that background, but it’s still the sort of thing that reminds me how many wonderful, nice people there are in the music biz. Second, wow, it was a very cool event. I’ll review Ilona’s outstanding performance below, but yes, this is the sort of thing that reminds me why I was involved in music for so many years, and it absolutely would have been the final push needed for my decision to return if I hadn’t already made that decision a few weeks earlier.

Ilona

Tony Moore, Ilona, and KT Parker at The Cutting Room; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Live review: Ilona at Rockwood Music Hall; Ilona at The Cutting Room

The night — or late afternoon, perhaps — kicked off with Ilona’s Rockwood Music Hall showcase. She performed a short set for a small, invited audience. The songs I recall from the set were two that show off Ilona’s incredible power vocals, energetic mid-tempo pop-rocker “Back to You” and powerful ballad “I Still Fall For You,” plus her latest single at the time, the countrified crooner “Beautiful Country.” During the set, Ilona showcased her vocals, which are every bit as strong live as they are on her recordings, and her stage presence, as she shares her engaging personality with the crowd in such a way that she naturally wins over the audience.

Later that night, Ilona had a relatively early set at The Cutting Room, and she rocked the crowd, giving another solid, skillful performance. Much of the set was similar to the showcase set, but she also trotted out “Wrong Places,” a song she ably uses for crowd participation purposes and for which she shot her most recent music video. For both shows Ilona was flanked by Tony Moore on guitar and keys and KT Parker on bass.

But that’s hardly a review. So let me tell you about Ilona’s vocals. Just wow. Her raspy voice adds edge to everything from soft rock ballads to uptempo pop-rockers. There is a hint of country in her voice at times, particularly on “Beautiful Country,” and even I suggested there was a hint of country-rock in “I Still Fall For You” in one of my tweets, but while she might be a great country duet partner (as Kelly Clarkson and Shakira have been), Ilona’s sweet spot is power pop/rock. I’d expect to hear her on radio stations that played Kelly Clarkson, Pink, and Jessie J. Songs like “Love is Stupid” and “Move (Together as One)” highlight this sort of energy, as does the newest song, almost blues-rocker “Wrong Places.” (By the way, I predict “Wrong Places” will be a live-show favorite for years to come.)

Ilona also swings a little mellower, especially with a couple of her more recent top trackes, which would place her squarely in the style of some more adult soft rock radio playlists, as well. Listen to “Back to You,” particularly the tuneful vocal wail at the 2:30 mark of the song. (In the “Back to You” music video, it’s at the 2:43 mark.) That’s a power rocker’s vocal chops with a balladic pop/rocker’s sensibilities. “I Still Fall For You” is similar. And, of course, “Beautiful Country” is a country-themed slow song.

Fast songs, slow songs, and an instantly-identifiable, exceptionally expressive, raspy, amazingly powerful voice. Ilona impresses more with each listen, and impresses even more if you’re able to see her perform live. She’s a unique, one-of-a-kind talent with a trademark sound. Exactly the sort of artist worth checking out.

My Return to Music Journalism is Complete; What’s Next for the Blog?

Those are the nine steps that brought me back to music journalism. Starting tonight, October 27th, I’ll be kicking off a series of 5 nights in London with coverage of Bob Malone’s concert at the 100 Club. On Thursday, October 29th, I’ll be at the Troubadour to hear Sonya Titus, who you may recognize as the subject of article #4 in the “road back” series. I’m still deciding where to go each of the other three nights, but I do intend to tweet about it. So if you’re in London, come out and catch some great music with me.

After that, I’ll work to get some additional writers involved, and the blog will become its long-term self, a mix of song/album reviews, live reviews, and interviews. After today, you can expect no more than one article each day, so rest assured if you’re an e-mail subscriber, you won’t be inundated. I hope you enjoy, and here’s to a nice, long run!

 

The Road Back #8: Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings

The Road Back to Music Journalism #8: Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings at Rockwood Music Hall

Spring 2015

Discovering a New Band at a Bar

Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings

photo by Larufoto; photo courtesy of Bridget Davis

The Backstory

I was spending a weekend in New York, and the friend with whom I was having dinner on Saturday evening suggested catching a few sets at Rockwood Music Hall. We arrived mid-set for one group and stayed for two more. The second of the three groups that evening was Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings. Between sets, I found myself standing next to Bridget and struck up a conversation, complimenting her on the band and offering a couple thoughts I had during the set. Even in the decade-plus away from music journalism, I still always examined the music I listened to; I wrote reviews in my head whenever I was at a show or spinning a new CD. And even with all those years away, I still felt compelled to share what I thought, particularly with the musicians themselves. I, of course, was able to quickly share my background, and that has been enough both online and in person to get the attention and appreciation of the musicians with whom I share my thoughts. I enjoy this part of being involved in the music business. And that night in June was no different.

Why This Was a Step on the Road Back

It’s one thing to share thoughts and exchange notes online, but it’s quite another to do it in person. This is what I used to love so much about being a music magazine publisher. Of course, in that moment, I merely signed up for Bridget’s mailing list and planned to look more closely into the music when I got home. But that night, combined with all of the previous steps on the road back (and indeed I had started to consider the thought of a return), was the event that cemented my decision to finally launch this blog. The decision didn’t exactly come immediately. In a sense it did, but it took a few more weeks for me to convince myself. For the launch date, I picked out a week in late October, a time when I would have some vacation days, as a good time to get the blog started with a complete set of informational pages and a flurry of posts. As you can see, that’s what I’ve done. So, even though it wasn’t immediate, step #8 was essentially the last step on my road back. (But yes, there will be a step #9 article. One more thing happened that would have sealed the deal, if it had been necessary, and it certainly convinced me not to reverse course on my decision. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

Live Review: Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings at Rockwood Music Hall

June 13, 2015

Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings

photo by Geoff Wilbur

First of all, apologies for the blurry photo. I bumped a setting on my camera during the evening but didn’t realize it until later that night. But you can sort of make out Bridget and her bandmates in the picture, can’t you? OK, then let’s start the review.

Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings songs’ have what I refer to, for lack of a better phrase, as “engines” – those often-song-long rhythmic hooks that seem to be BD+VKs’ signature (sometimes a bass line, sometimes a guitar line, occasionally drum-based, once in a while even vocal) are the band’s strength, what sets them apart from other bands in their genre. Bridget has great vocals, of course, but I think their songs (not just the songs themselves but their unique songwriting style, namely their songs’ “motors” or “engines” – yes, I can’t decide which word is more descriptive) are their real advantage.

Indeed, when I sought out Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings’ music after the show, I started with the most recent EP, January. And I instantly recognized the songs that had drawn me in during the live show, “The Breakdown” – I easily that song’s “motor” from a couple days earlier – and “January.” Also, perhaps “Jonas,” though I didn’t take any notes at the show, so I can’t be sure. But if you want an introduction to the band’s music, there is no better introduction than “The Breakdown.” The song is one long hook, with a pulsing acoustic rhythm you’ll be hearing long after the song is done and vocals that rise and fall perfectly with the melody and as called for in the lyrics.

As a whole, the folk-rock style embodied by Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings – a sort of alt-rock folk with a pinch of Americana – tends to be song-driven rather than vocalist-driven. And while Bridget’s voice is sweet and clear with an odd waver when called for (well-suited to, perhaps, a Chris Isaak style tune), it’s not the band’s calling card. In fact, it’s just a part. It’s the songwriting, notably the hooks (or “motors”), that define BD & the VKs. This is a band whose music – as expressed through its well-crafted songs – is the reason you can identify the artist so easily when you hear the songs. And I give the group immense credit for forging its own path; I’ve heard so much folk-rock and Americana that just sits on the record sounding pretty but doesn’t distinguish itself. That’s why I’m so high on Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings, a strong band with catchy songs… and a unique sound in a genre in which it’s hard to sound unique.

Looking Ahead

Actually, this is looking ahead to a future article but looking back for the band. About a month ago, Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings released a full-length album, I Wasn’t Planning on the End. My commitment to buy that album when it was released was the last financial musical commitment I made before deciding to return to writing. About a month ago, on the day it was released, I purchased the album. You can look forward to a review of it in the next few weeks. Spoiler alert: I was not disappointed.

The Road Back #7: Danielle Miraglia

The Road Back to Music Journalism #7: Danielle Miraglia’s Glory Junkies CD

Fall/Winter 2014/15

First CD Pre-Order

Danielle Miraglia

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Backstory

I can’t recall exactly how I discovered Danielle Miraglia‘s music, but I believe it involved local live show listings (and the subsequent checking-out of bands listed) because I first viewed out YouTube videos before finding Danielle’s Box of Troubles album available online as a free (“name your price”) download. After months of listening to that album on my PC playlist, Danielle had become one of the artists whose recordings I would look forward to buying as soon as it was released, so I took it one step further and pre-ordered her Glory Junkies CD in the fall of 2014; the album was completed and released that winter.

Danielle Miraglia

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Why This Was a Step on the Road Back

My first CD pre-order was simply one more piece of evidence that I was becoming more involved in the discovery of new music. Since that pre-order, I’ve seen Danielle perform live three times; that’s more than any of the other original independent musicians I’ve been following the last few years. Granted, she performs locally quite a bit, and I happened to be in the right place at the right time a couple of times, but her performances are always absolutely worth it. (I’m partial to her shows with a full band, but that’s no surprise; I do like to rock.)

CD Review of Danielle Miraglia: Glory Junkies

Danielle Miraglia

image courtesy of Danielle Miraglia

The word that best describes Danielle’s vocal style is “can I have more than just one word, please?”. She can rock, she can do sultry, she’s frequently a little raspy and gravelly, she can go extremely bluesy — well, she’s always a little bluesy, but sometimes yowza! Regardless, Danielle’s voice is an unmistakable powerhouse. And most of the time it sounds as if she’s singing with a good-natured smirk. And there’s a good chance that’s exactly what she’s doing. All somewhere on the spectrum from folk to blues-rock to full-on blues, yet every song is identifiably, undeniably, absolutely a Danielle Miraglia song.

Danielle Miraglia

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Glory Junkies tune with probably the greatest hit potential due to its monster hook is the not-quite title track, “Glory Junky.” Lyrically, the song is soaked in sarcastic wit, as well, which only adds to the fun. If you’re looking for blues, you might want to try “Left Hand Turn,” though it’s an absurdity-as-reality style of blues, really the only of its kind on this album, with Danielle wailing the lyrics quite matter-of-factly. Meanwhile, Red Sox fans (and baseball fans and psychology fans in general) will enjoy the slower-paced, folky “Heat of the Win,” essentially a study of misery and forgiveness as it relates to Bill Buckner. “Tear It Down,” meanwhile, delivers a truly rollicking brand of fast-tempo blues. Less bluesy, the slow, lyric-driven “Carmella” really knows how to tell a story; it will play on your sympathy if you listen closely. There’s also a bit of commentary in the twanging surf-blues of “Famous For Nothin’.” But there’s also plenty more pure humor on the disc, from sarcastic zombies at the door in “Coffee-Stained Thank You Cards” to pigeons in, well, “Pigeons.” But be careful what you dismiss as humor; there’s always a bit more “there” there, as is the case with the aforementioned “Pigeons.”

So once again we return to the dilemma of describing Danielle’s musical style. Blues. And folk. And blues-rock. Not so hard. But it’s Danielle Miraglia’s brand of blues/folk/blues-rock. Replete with sarcasm, wit, deep thoughts, great lyrical turns of phrase, and an always-a-little-bluesy vocal style that can navigate all three of those styles (and probably more if she chose to) but still always be undeniably, recognizably her own. Glory Junkies is a fun disc, a musically, vocally, and lyrically satisfying journey. Of course, with Danielle Miraglia at the wheel, it’s no surprise.

The Road Back #6: Next Stop Atlanta

The Road Back to Music Journalism #6: Next Stop Atlanta’s CD

My First International CD Purchase

Summer 2014

Next Stop Atlanta

photo courtesy of Next Stop Atlanta

The Backstory

I discovered Next Stop Atlanta through a compilation album on Bandcamp, Othello Music’s Summer Sampler 2013. I was initially led to that compilation through the band Reachback’s song “Get Up” (a catchy, fun song from a great band), but Next Stop Atlanta’s “Perfection” was the one that captured my imagination. Both bands are pop-punk, but I thought NSA’s brand of heavier pop-punk was a bit more unique. Not necessarily better – I really enjoy Reachback, too – but more unique among the flood of pop-punk I was hearing that summer and just a little closer to my personal taste. A real hard rock act with a bit heavier underpinning while still performing catchy pop-punk.

I downloaded Next Stop Atlanta’s eponymous debut EP (free download on Bandcamp) in the summer of 2013 and listened to it for the next year, adding the free Christmas song release to my collection during the winter, but I found myself increasingly streaming the band’s follow-up EP, The Things You Do Best, from the Bandcamp site. For a while, I waited for a future promised-almost-done album so I could order them both together — I prefer CDs for albums I like to play in my car — but eventually, after a couple delays in the still-never-released new album, bit the bullet and bought the CD (in addition to a CD of the first EP I had previously downloaded for free).

Why This Was a Step on the Road Back

This was my first international CD order. In fact, since the first order got lost in the mail, I even had to reach out to Next Stop Atlanta to get replacement CDs sent. (Thanks, Nik, and I hope whoever snagged the first CDs en route, either here or in the UK, has been enjoying them.)

CD Review of Next Step Atlanta: The Things You Do Best

Next Stop Atlanta

image courtesy of Next Stop Atlanta

The band’s first, self-titled EP was catchy, fun, and rocking. The Things You Do Best, however, kicks things up a notch. In fact, the band’s progress can be easily noted by the new rendition of “Perfection.” The version of “When Perfection is Key” on the first EP is raw, stripped-down, but tight and catchy. On the second EP, however, the song (now just entitled “Perfection”) is beefed up with more power, additional vocal fill (“don’t walk alone tonight!”), a more intricate musical arrangement; it ends up a richer, more developed version of the song, one that showcases the band’s songwriting development between recordings. Indeed, while Next Stop Atlanta hinted at the band’s promise and talent, The Things You Do Best showcases a fully developed, tight rock band, complete with songwriting geared toward its skills. Catchy, memorable lyrics combine with a well-targeted, restrained power on “Always With the Drama” and “Light the Beacons,” the song from whose lyrics the EP title was lifted. The best, most complete tune on this disc, though, and the one I play whenever I want an instant energy boost, is “I’m Not Morrissey.” Listen to this track. It highlights each band member’s special skills, the things that made Next Stop Atlanta such an extraordinary ensemble. The other video from this EP is for “Get in the Van,” a worthy follow-up to “I’m Not Morrissey,” full of pure, unadulterated Next Stop Atlanta energy.

Perhaps the most notable thing about Next Stop Atlanta, and what makes its music so original, is the way it uniquely blends the talents of its band members. Guitarist Nik Taylor generally drives the songs forward, as is the norm in pop-punk, but he also varies the chords more than you’d expect from similar bands and implements monster, catchy hooks. Drummer Anthony Joy is also a hard-driving machine, but he, too, takes liberties, straying from the beat frequently with drum runs that make the songs much more interesting listens, but they leave the bassist holding down the rhythmic fort. Then there’s singer Georgia Peters. No, she doesn’t hit those “how did she do it?” notes, but she comes close, and wow, does she have control of her strong, insistent, powerful voice. It actually took me a few dozen listens to fully appreciate the quality of her vocal skills, and now I wonder why it took me so long; in NSA’s sound, Georgia’s voice is a well-tuned instrument, and it’s easily identifiable, teaming with Nik’s axework to give the band a truly trademark sound. And, of course, I almost feel like I’m shortchanging bass player Blake Sale, but keeping the rhythm in a band like this is more impressive than you might imagine.

Next Stop Atlanta

photo courtesy of Next Stop Atlanta

Looking Ahead

Next Stop Atlanta appears to have parted ways. The group had already replaced its drummer (I presume with a wise choice) since The Things You Do Best, but it has been more than a year since the band’s last original tweet, six months since its last retweet. It’s a shame that exceptional bands like this can go unnoticed long enough to disband before the world gets to hear their music, but that’s the music business. Thanks to Nik for replying to my requests for images to run with this article. I look forward to his next musical venture [Editor’s Note: He joined The Capital after Next Stop Atlanta], and I hope the rest of the band will also reach out to me if/when they’re involved in other projects. What immense talent, and I’m at least glad Next Stop Atlanta’s two brilliantly-crafted EPs will remain their legacy.

For quite a while before the band went dark, there was a new album in the works. Depending on how close to completion it was, perhaps at some point in the future some of that music could find its way to public, too. Personal note to the band: Good luck in your future endeavors, and whether or not you perform together again, thanks for the great music!

The Road Back #5: Marina V

The Road Back to Music Journalism #5: Marina V’s House Concert in Boston

First CD Purchase Directly from Artist; First House Concert

Spring and Summer 2014

Marina V

photo by Emily Hanley; photo courtesy of Marina V

The Backstory

I believe I first discovered Marina V via ReverbNation. The website has rankings based on its users’ listening habits and preferred artists. Occasionally during the early days of my music rediscovery when I was actively searching for new music, I would check the charts of major entertainment cities (Los Angeles, New York, Boston, etc.), figuring if someone was among the best there, perhaps they were worth checking out. Marina V sat high among those rankings in Los Angeles. Upon hearing her music, I was quickly impressed. In the spring of 2014, after listening to Marina V’s songs that were available for free download for several months, I ordered her Inner Superhero CD. It was the first CD I had ordered online directly from an artist. A few months later, I attended a house concert hosted by one of Marina’s supporters in Boston. It was an intimate affair; in fact, during the evening Marina commented that it may have been the lowest attendance she’d had at a house concert. But a small event with before- and after-concert mingling (much like a backstage event at a concert, but much smaller) was a great initial house concert experience.

Why This Was a Step on the Road Back

This was my first CD purchase directly from an artist, which is nice. The house concert was a bigger deal, as it was the first extended time I’ve had to talk with one of the musicians I had discovered since returning. To that point, my circle of music contacts still consisted entirely of people I had gotten to know during my first stint in the music business. But the house concert sparked a desire for the first time to write a live review of the concert or to arrange an interview to help the deserving musician-in-question get more exposure, to the extent I could, wishing with greater desire than I had for years that I still published a newsletter with distribution within the music industry. So yes, this was another step that increased my desire to get back into writing/publishing.

Marina V and Nick Baker

Nick Baker and Marina V; photo by Milena Wilbur

House Concert review

The house concert was fun, but I didn’t take notes and didn’t plan to write about it, so the review will be minimal and purely from memory. It was a small event, with everyone bringing snacks and wines, a lot of mingling before and after the show. At such a small event, Marina and her guitarist/husband/co-collaborator Nick Baker were able to have nice chats with everyone in attendance. Some of the attendees had discovered Marina many years earlier and had attended many similar events, so they were recalling old times. The show itself was quite energetic and dynamic, especially considering the size of the venue. Marina played favorites old and new. There was audience participation, including the passing around of small tambourines. Indeed, “Sunshine Guaranteed” was a big crowd-pleaser. And I was particularly impressed with the acoustic arrangement she and Nick were able to come up with for one of her more rocking songs, “Win.” Overall, an outstanding performance, one worthy of any venue from a living room to a concert hall.

As a side note, during this tour, Marina produced a tour documentary, Enjoy the Ride, chronicling the journey back and forth across the country, including event and tourist stops along the way. If you take a look at the trailer, you’ll even get a glimpse of your intrepid publisher from the 1:09 to 1:13 marks. (I put down my glass of wine, take a camera out of my pocket, and pick up my glass of wine. I think you’ll find the acting to be superb and believable, most likely because I didn’t realize I was being filmed.)

CD review of Marina V: Inner Superhero

Marina V

image courtesy of Marina V

Marina V’s Inner Superhero album is another step forward in what was already an award-winning independent music career filled with memorable songs. As a performer and songwriter, Marina remains one of LA’s award-winning best kept secrets, at least beyond her lucky core market, though the fan base she has built through the years is admittedly relatively large for a still-independent musician. Musically, Marina’s songs tend to be mostly soft rock, though she proves on occasion she can clearly really rock a room when she decides to; vocally, she tends to be a mix of sweet and sultry, while occasionally unleashing her vocal power.

The first four songs on Inner Superhero showcase Marina’s stylistic range. The album kicks off with “Hello,” a song that opens with piano then builds to persistent, pleading musical and vocal power. It’s a great kickoff, followed by “Run,” which may be the best song to start with if you haven’t previously heard her music. This is an extremely well-written soft pop/rock number that ought to grace soft rock radio playlists. The verses open with effective use of Marina’s trademark breathy, sultry vocals, then build along with the music. The verses, the chorus, the transitions… this is songwriting! But that’s not the song that won me over. Instead, it was the following song, “Win,” that convinced me of Marina’s versatility, talent, ability to occupy a broad enough range of musical space to produce an album that would appeal to a broad audience and that would have staying power across multiple listens. Dude, “Win” has some chops. It’s an attitude-filled, mid-tempo, arena-worthy anthem that would be an excellent choice for an ESPN college tournament end-of-day sports montage. Fourth track “Stand,” meanwhile, is a powerful piano ballad with a message that features some of Marina’s soaring vocals. The rest of the album remains solid, as well. Depending on my mood and time of day, one of those might also be my favorite. “Stand,” for example, is perhaps the most powerful ballad on the disc. And Marina’s delivery-with-a-smile adds something really special on light, cheerful tracks like “Light Up the Dark” and “Say Hello.” In fact, watch this video of “Say Hello.” Between the cheerful song and video, I guarantee you’ll be grinning from ear to ear.

Considering her talents, Marina may have an interesting dilemma in her career, though it’s one I think she can navigate easily enough if she maintains the sort of balance found on Inner Superhero. Her distinctive vocal style lends itself to almost-folky soft-pop/rock in such a way that she likely has built a significant fan base that clamors for that sort of song; meanwhile, she has the versatility as a singer and songwriter to reach farther and wider with her music, occupying the much broader singer/songwriter (and occasionally rockin’ signer/songwriter) category. I suspect a mix as found on Inner Superhero can satisfy both audiences; I, of course, count myself among those who, while appreciating a mix of the softer stuff (and she does deliver it amazingly), think Marina really sets herself apart when she mixes in the occasional more rocking number like “Win.” Combine Marina’s world-class songwriting with her vocal and performance style that seems to connect directly from artist to each individual listener (whether live, on video, or on her recordings), and she’s just “exposure” away from much greater success.

Marina V with her Hollywood International Entertainment Award

photo courtesy of Marina V

Marina’s 2-Songs-a-Month Club via Patreon

I just thought I should share that I am a supporter of Marina V via her 2-songs-a-month club, albeit at the most minimal level. Because I “joined her club” while I was not an active music journalist, I plan to continue to honor this commitment going-forward. From a broader perspective — listen up independent musicians — this is a great idea, one that allows her supporters to pledge as little as one dollar per song (which is two dollars per month) in exchange for two songs a month. I think this is something other independent musicians should consider duplicating, if it suits their schedule and career objectives. Marina releases one new original and one new cover song each month. I suspect other artists who may not be such prolific songwriters could substitute a heavier mix of covers, if necessary. As a result, for artists with a large enough following, this could provide a reliable source of secondary income in addition to the usual performance, recording, and merchandise income that’s typically more sporadic. Something to consider, though if you, as a musician, do something like this, you’ll need to dependably follow through. After all, you’re making a commitment to your fans when you do this.

In any case, now that I’ve returned to music journalism, this isn’t the sort of thing I will be signing up for from any other artists. At the same time, since I committed to support Marina while I was still a “civilian,” I will continue. I felt it was important to reveal this support; at the same time, now that I’m a journalist again, please don’t expect me to support your music in the same way, no matter how much I like it. As a journalist, I now have other ways to show my support. But yes, of course, I will gladly honor commitments I made while I wasn’t a journalist. (This is the only remaining one of those commitments.)

The Road Back #4: Sonya Titus

The Road Back to Music Journalism #4: Sonya Titus’ Songs on SoundCloud

My First Music Review Tweet

Summer 2013

Sonya Titus

photo courtesy of Sonya Titus

The Backstory
I think I originally ran across Sonya Titus thanks to a promoted post on Facebook. She has released music on Red Dragon Records, and I was targeted by Facebook with one of Red Dragon’s sponsored links. I think this was because I had previously followed a link from publisher Allen Foster’s Songwriter’s Monthly (when he was publishing it online) about one of Red Dragon’s other artists. Regardless, I followed the link, heard Sonya’s song “Now,” and downloaded it. At the time, I was only listening to music from my PC playlist, so I was really only checking out music that was offered as free downloads. If the song sounded interesting, I downloaded it, added it to my daily playlist (which I listened to whenever I telecommuted), and if I liked the song after several listens, it remained on my playlist. Sonya’s “Now” was a song that only got better and more memorable with each listen. As such, it became the first song about which I posted a music review tweet.

Why This Was a Step on the Road Back

It was only 140 characters, but it was my first public “review” of newly-discovered music in more than a decade. Since then, I’m pretty sure I’ve tweeted more about Sonya than any other artist I’ve written about. What a voice! But I’ll let my review elaborate on that…

Review of Sonya Titus’ songs on SoundCloud

Sonya Titus

photo courtesy of Sonya Titus

I’ll focus on Sonya’s studio recordings; in other words, I’ll skip the live recordings. First, let me say that “Now” has strong, soaring pop (slow, soft pop) vocals and is catchy. Oh, did you already read that, perhaps in an embedded tweet? Let’s try again, then.

“Now” was the first song I downloaded and listened to. The sound of this mid-tempo soft pop tune alone is instantly captivating. Sonya’s voice soars, and her trademark style is most apparent in her ability to carrying any vowels through multiple notes and, it seems, several-syllables. (In “Now,” though the “ooh”s carry much of the song, if you want to hear what I think Sonya does especially distinctively well, listen for the extended “I”s.) Oh, the overall song — its tempo, the ample soaring vocals, the variety, and the memorable lyrical hooks — are enough to make this perhaps the song of the summer of 2013, if only it had received widespread radio play, but there is something distinctive about Sonya’s vocals, and it isn’t obvious exactly what it is. I may be overthinking it — it could simply be the combination of elements in her distinctive, high, soaring, versatile, sweet-yet-strong voice, but I think it’s most obvious when she extends her vowels.

Shortly after I discovered “Now,” Sonya released a video for “Love Transfusion.” This song features more traditionally-structured, straightforward songwriting. With Sonya’s vocals soaring through it, “Love Transfusion” is a heartfelt, memorable love (or not) ballad with dynamic transitions.

Sonya TItus

photo courtesy of Sonya Titus

More recently, Sonya has added two more full original songs, “OK in the Morning” and “Too Late,” to SoundCloud, as well as a cover of “Stay With Me.” The originals are a couple more of my favorites from her song collection. “OK in the Morning” is about what you’d expect, and is a hopeful tune, softly energetic yet mellow but with interesting, dynamic transitions. “Too Late,” meanwhile, opens softly and never really builds much, with her voice sweetly weaving its way through the lyrics. If I were me in charge of ordering the songs on her album, I might close with this, as it would bring a collection of songs to a satisfying conclusion. I almost don’t need to write about the cover — someone with a softly powerful, versatile voice like Sonya’s is bound to do a top-shelf rendition of “Stay With Me,” and she doesn’t disappoint.

A Look Ahead

I have heard the unreleased songs that will eventually complete Sonya’s album, and I can attest to the fact that those yet-to-be-shared are as good as those on SoundCloud, though “Now” is still and will likely always be my favorite. (It has topped my personal playlist for two years now; the song has staying power. So if you spot me around town singing “we are beautiful/just the way we are,” yes, I have this song in my head.) I look forward to being able to review an entire Sonya Titus album one of these days. In the more immediate future, I am excited to finally get the chance to see Sonya perform live. Please come join me on Thursday, October 29th. I’ll be in London, enjoying Sonya Titus’ live performance at The Troubadour.