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