Album Review: Trysette – Feel So Pretty

Trysette – Feel So Pretty

Trysette

photo by Robin Craig; photo courtesy of Trysette

The Backstory

I was initially introduced to Trysette through some common musician friends. As was so often the case during my hiatus from music journalism, longtime music industry contacts were behind my introduction to a great new musician.

As for Trysette’s backstory, she is a classically trained pianist and a pop singer/songwriter. Her latest CD, Feel So Pretty, was recorded in Los Angeles with a talented supporting cast including Mike Baird (Joe Cocker, Journey), Randy Ray Mitchell (Donna Summer), and Bob Malone (John Fogerty). I became familiar with Trysette’s music through her video for the title track, “Feel So Pretty,” and “Good Day,” a song from her previous album, Le Cafe Ancien, she shared for free download this past year (I believe this past summer); “Good Day” has since been a mainstay on my smartphone playlist.

Album Review of Trysette: Feel So Pretty

Trysette - Feel So Pretty

image courtesy of Trysette

Trysette generally tends toward mellower songs befitting her sweet, high voice. The production on Feel So Pretty is crisp, highlighting Trysette’s voice, and the songwriting is well-constructed, delivered with tight musicianship befitting the caliber of musicians she had surrounding her in the studio. But, of course, a soft pop album is all about the songs, and these are the sorts of songs that grow on the listener with each run through her album.

The first track on Feel So Pretty, the exceedingly pleasant “You Must Know,” opens slowly and builds, constructed to capture the listener. Track two, “Hands on Me,” opens with a sassy, twangy rock guitar line that hints at the lyrics yet to come.

“Under My Skin (Band Version)” highlights more of the nuances Trysette’s voice is capable of. But that’s nothing compared to the depth the piano accompaniment draws out in her vocals during “Like Water.”

The middle of the disc shifts gears just a bit, featuring some songs with impact. The title track is catchy, and it will cause the listener to sing along. So beware, gents, because “Feel So Pretty” will surely provide you with an awkward public moment or two if you add it to your mobile playlist. Catchy, fun tune.

Trysette

photo by Fred Bailey; photo courtesy of Trysette

That’s followed by an emotional rendition of “Chasing Cars.” Trysette’s discussion of how she chose to record this song as her album’s cover song is interesting, and one listen proves the selection of this sogns was a good call; quite simply, this song suits her voice, and she delivers a personal, original version of it.

The next cut, “Keep Me Dancing,” is a soaring, powerful, soft ballad, my favorite pure ballad on the album. It’s a rich, full, orchestral pop ballad suitable for radio airplay and slow dances.

The next song, “City Boy,” is my personal favorite, not because it’s better than the others but, rather, because it strikes a personal chord with me. The song was originally recorded by Trysette a long time ago, but I’m glad she included it on her Feel So Pretty disc. I’m not familiar with the original version, but this is a catchy, lush recording whose lyrics (“The more you earn/The more you spend/The more you got/The more you want“) transcend time, leading into the tuneful wail of “ciiiity boy.”

Trysette

photo by Robin Craig; photo courtesy of Trysette

The home stretch of the disc features songs whose insistence vocals suggest a deeply personal connection. I imagine the last section of this disc, for this very reason, may be many listeners’ favorite. It kicks off with “Is That What You Said,” a soft, sweet, emotional piano ballad. The following song, also balladic, soars, with Trysette’s delivery of the entreaty “This Should Be a Good Thing” giving away the lyric’s true emotion.

The final two tracks, “Take a Bow” and “Under My Skin (Intimate Version)” close the album by showcasing Trysette’s soft, high, strong vocals with their unique, identifiable intonation. Feel So Pretty takes the listener on a pleasant journey, a journey that gets more pleasant with each listen, as different favorite songs emerge.

In summary, Trysette has recorded a unique disc full of well-written soft pop songs, delivered in a unique vocal style. Well worth checking out; within a few listens, you’ll have selected your own favorite tracks.

Album Review: Shayna Leigh – Drive

Shayna Leigh – Drive

Shayna Leigh

photo by Ben Helmer; photo courtesy of MLC PR

The Backstory

I was introduced to Shayna Leigh‘s music more than two years ago at the urging of a longtime music journalist friend. He has terrific taste in music, and if he recommends an artist this highly, I’m usually glad I followed his suggestion. Shayna’s release at the time was the catchy “Drive Away,” and it found a heavy-rotation spot on my personal playlist. A few months later, I found her 3-song EP, The Cold Hard Truth and the Dream, which featured “Drive Away” along with “Next to Me” and “Map of My Heart.” That was enough to completely sell me on Shayna’s talent, and I knew that, if I began writing about music again any time soon, she’d be one of the first artists I’d contact for a review. That was nearly two years ago. A lot has changed for Shayna since then.

In the time since I first heard her music, Shayna Leigh has progressed from a critically acclaimed independent musician to a recording artist with a big-time album release. In July of this year, Shayna’s full-length album Drive was released by S-Curve Records/Universal Music Group; it became available for digital download on July 28th. And December 4th, just a few days ago, was the release date for physical copies of the CD. That is the album I’ll be reviewing…

Album Review of Shayna Leigh: Drive

Shayna Leigh - Drive

image courtesy of MLC PR

Vocal and song-driven catchy soft pop/rock. Shayna Leigh does it well, and she’s instantly recognizable. Not just her voice but her vocal flourishes set her apart. You’ll realize this quickly, as Drive opens with the title track, one that showcases the soft, strong, and unique sides of Shayna’s delivery all in one song. Yes, Shayna has a great voice, but she also has great pop music instincts. Throughout the album, her recognizable tone weaves its way throughout catchy, soft pop tunes.

The song “Drive” was released publicly in the summer of 2014, so I was already quite familiar with it; it is joined by another tune I knew well, one from the The Cold Hard Truth and the Dream EP, now entitled “Next to You,” a song that dances around the melody a bit more than the slightly more directionally straight-ahead “Drive.”

Other songs also jumped out quickly at me. The first of these other memorable songs is “Last Criminal,” a lyrically clever, engaging track that has a unique vibe I first heard a few months ago when its video was released. Indeed, it’s easier to understand that unique vibe when you see the video for “Last Criminal,” a film noir-style short that plays upon the clever lyrics and atmosphere of the song. The other track that engaged me quickly is a very poppy number, “Dirty Laundry,” which paints a graphic and not particularly enticing picture of a slobby, loser boyfriend in its verses, surrounding a catchy pop chorus.

Shayna Leigh

photo by Ben Helmer; photo courtesy of MLC PR

But as much as the aforementioned songs were the quickest-hits in the collection, as I have accumulated album-listens, I’ve actually started to catch myself singing other songs, as well, particularly the uptempo, upbeat-sounding “Goodbye July” and the fast-paced “Crash,” with its insistent, tense energy and cathartic releases.

Also worth noting is second track “Typhoon,” another catchy, pop radio-ready number with a clearly identifiable hook that plays in the pop range of Shayna’s vocals. “Typhoon” is an energetic number that features an accompanying music video.

Shayna shows her softer side on songs like “Paradise Lost,” a song about moving on, putting the past behind, and reaching for a better future. (Yes, “Last Criminal” is technically also a ballad, but “Paradise Lost” is a more traditional pop ballad.)

Overall, Drive is a varied collection of catchy songs that show off the emotionally-connecting voice of a talented, young, fast-rising pop singer, a stellar first full-length effort, a strong album without a weak link. Every listener is likely to have a different favorite; and a single listener may have a different favorite each week.

Obviously I think Shayna Leigh is an exceptional talent, but don’t take my word for it. I provided a couple of links to songs in the text above. Check out her music for yourself.

What Else?

Go to Shayna’s website and get a free download of her Christmas song, “Wake Me When It’s Christmas,” while you wait for Santa to leave her album in your stocking.

Album Review: Alchemilla – Hearts

Alchemilla – Hearts

Alchemilla

photo courtesy of Alchemilla

The Backstory

I discovered Alchemilla‘s 4-song EP, Hearts, through the disc’s producer, who’s an old music industry friend of mine. He was raving about the band, and my old music biz contacts are often great sources for discovering talented new bands, so I took a listen to the advance promo video for Hearts and was intrigued; then, when available, the EP blew me away. Since discovering the band about a year ago, I have tried on a few occasions to catch a live performance but have always had schedule conflicts. One day I’m sure you’ll see a live review of one of Alchemilla’s shows in this blog. For now, however, I’ll give a quick review of this four-track EP.

EP Review of Alchemilla: Hearts

Alchemilla

image courtesy of Alchemilla

Loud. Distorted. Heavy. Real rock music. First song “Live Life Over” kicks off the disc with distorted power chords and a near-wall of sound meant to serve notice that this album will rock you. Hard. Then Kat Burke’s vocals kick in, slicing through the noise with confident strength, demanding attention with each extended vowel; always controlled, never wavering. Commanding “we will not grow old,” this song certainly doesn’t. In addition to well-constructed guitar bridges that form a solid song structure, the necessary (and necessarily blistering) hard rock guitar solo serves as appropriately measured punctuation. It’s clear from the first track on Hearts that Alchemilla will be a raw, rough, energetic live band, which is why I’m still trying to get to a gig. It’s also a clue that the listener is about to hear four well-constructed songs.

Title track “Hearts” follows, and it’s a bit more atmospheric though still 100% hard rock. The vocals are sung distinctly syllablically, with the measured vocal approach matching the plodding power of the ever-growing wall of guitar and vocals that sneak in over the course of the track. Again, as with the first track, the guitar solo hits the spot, though it’s toward the end of “Hearts,” leading into the powerfully fading final vocals.

Alchemilla

photo courtesy of Alchemilla

Vocalist Burke hits some hauntingly almost-awkward (but no, she nails ’em; that’s the intent) high notes on track three, “In My Head.” This is the least wall-of-sound song of the four, or perhaps it only seems so because of the less dense beginning and ending. It certainly is the catchiest of the four, as I more often catch myself singing “there’s someone in my head…” than any other lyric on the EP.

Final track “One Way” kicks off with distorted guitar and power vocals, somewhat like the EP-opener but with a bit more finesse. Alchemilla works in some soaring vocals, driving rhythm, and solid vocal-driven bridges for a solid conclusion to its EP.

Overall, this EP plods, but I mean that in a good way. It has a slow, heavy pace. Like a steamroller. Like a really cool hard rock steamroller. One that belongs in your hard rock music collection and in your earbuds making your ears bleed and your head bang. From a band whose gig seems like it’s probably a must-see. But, of course, when I say this is cement-truck-heavy, well-constructed hard rock, you don’t have to take my word for it. Listen for yourself.

Album Review: Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings – I Wasn’t Planning on the End

Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings  –  I Wasn’t Planning on the End

Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings

photo by Larufoto; photo courtesy of Bridget Davis

The Backstory

You already know the backstory if you’ve been reading this blog. However, the short version is that I discovered Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings purely by accident at a Rockwood Music Hall show in New York. At the time, this album was in production. I decided to order the CD before I decided to return to music journalism. As such, this is the last CD I purchased prior to re-entering music journalism. Because I hadn’t spun this disc enough times before I wrote about Bridget and company a few weeks ago, I saved the album review for later. Or, rather, now.

CD Review of Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings: I Wasn’t Planning on the End

I’ll begin by pointing out that Bridget has an outstanding voice. She hits the notes with clarity and emotion, with the extraordinary control required by this sort of music. Her voice is soft and strong, ideal for the sort of alt-rock/Americana/roots-rock blend her band plays. However, in this particular genre, it is rare for a voice to set a band apart. And it probably doesn’t do the trick here, either. Vocals simply aren’t dominant enough in this relatively laid-back brand of music to prove the difference-maker. To quote your college philosophy professor, great vocals are necessary but not sufficient to set a band apart when playing this style of music. And, indeed, Bridget’s exceptional vocals more than fulfill that “necessary” requirement.

Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings

artwork by Cassie Kelly; image courtesy of Bridget Davis

Indeed, while Bridget and the Viking Kings could have drawn a nice following simply playing a mellow, sometimes vaguely haunting sort of flowing folk-rock, they don’t do that. And it’s all about the songwriting. Indeed, that’s what’s special about this band. Each song, to a varying degree, has an “engine,” as I call it, driving the song. It’s too catchy/grabby to be a rhythm, but it infiltrates too much of the song to be a hook. It’s what makes Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings unique in a style of music in which it might otherwise be easy to get lost among the crowd. And it’s why I ordered this album as my last “civilian” act before starting this blog. I Wasn’t Planning on the End is a heck of a final purchase. The 10-song disc includes 3 re-recordings of previously-released songs plus 7 all-new originals.

“Elizabeth” is an excellent choice to start the disc, as it begins thinly and builds. Ultimately a slow-to-mid-tempo number, its “motor” is largely built upon the slightly-complex drum line; regardless, the slow-build nature of the song is well-structured to engage the listener. It’s followed by “Transient,” an intriguing number that draws a bit of the hauntingness out of Bridget’s voice while powered by bass and rhythm guitar. Debut single “Transient” acted as a “preview” track for the album, released online in advance of the CD release, so I was already relatively familiar with it. As with several of BD & the VKs’ songs, there’s a nice spot mid-song that utilizes silence and the return initially of a single instrument to grab the listener. (Did I mention I’m impressed with the band’s songwriting?)

Next up are two songs re-recorded from the band’s 3-cut January EP. First, that EP’s title track, has a catchy recurring guitar hook that melds with a rhythm-driven “motor” to drive the song along while featuring Bridget’s crisply expressive vocals and other extra, enjoyable nuggets of musical detail. It’s followed by “The Breakdown,” whose catchy little guitar hook is what convinced me to investigate this band’s music in greater detail because they just might be something very special. Because that hook was still dominantly running through my head the afternoon after I first heard Bridget and the Vikes, even though I had only heard it once (and had seen a heck of a good band perform after them, as well). There’s a bit of an Old West feel to “The Breakdown,” as I could see movie musical cowboys swaying to it while on a cattle driven,though perhaps it’s more Great Plains, as I’d more likely visualize a lonely farmer or two lamenting a life as it might have been while staring across their fields, with a soft wind blowing on the prairie.

Bridget Davis

photo by Larufoto; photo courtesy of Bridget Davis

Next up is “Rollaway,” an engaging, well-crafted, fun song driven by a rolling rhythm but punctuated by a tension-building run or two before release. It’s followed by a rendition of “Trouble Comes in the Threes,” the title track from Bridget and the VKs’ first EP. The catchy strumming pattern at the beginning draws the listener in, and it combines with a vocal that seems to whisper even though it doesn’t. Where “Rollaway” goes somewhere, “Trouble Comes…” just sits on its relatively slow-tempoed motor and let’s the listener enjoy.

The album cranks up only a very small notch with “Let Him Down,” and actually, with the motor being a bit more subtle, it almost feels like it has slowed down a touch. It’s probably the purest song on the CD that hits at the core of BD+VKs’ style, even if the band’s style seems to be all about straying from its center, rarely settling in. So it’s a nice job of song placement to have the album centered just in time for the next track, “Sarah’s Song,” which for me is the biggest potential breakout hit of the collection. It is the only song whose “motor” is a background vocal, one that’ll have the listener “oh”-ing along by halfway through. Comparatively speaking, the tempo is relatively faster than the others on the disc, the lyrics are interesting… and then the song throws this Chris Isaak-esque “Wicked Game”-ish guitar bridge to seal the deal. Um, yeah, “Sarah’s Song” is something special.

“I’m Ready” is a bit of a blend of the two previous tracks, with the eeriness of the slower parts of “Sarah’s Song” and the centeredness of “Let Him Down.” The song begins at a much slower tempo with muted instrumental flourishes, though it does build to power in a couple spots and end much noisier than it begins. I’ve seen “I’m Ready” mentioned as an album favorite in comments by some of Bridget’s core fans, which is evidence that, even as a band should strive for music that could attract new listeners (like “Sarah’s Song”) and to grow outward as musicians and songwriters, it’s important for a band to grow inward, to remember its center, to try to create variations on its central theme because that’s what its long-term followers love.

The last song on the CD is the title track, and it’s a bit of a slow, mellow, haunting bookend to the first track. Both guitar and percussion are the slow motors that move forward “I Wasn’t Planning on the End.” The whole song has a bit of a melancholy feel, ending where the album began, a bit mellow and unsure of the world around it, simultaneously definitive and uncertain. Very much Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings.

So yes, this band will never rock your face off or blow your mind with freakish feats of vocal or musical amazingness. But they consistently deliver good songs, vary the tempo, provide hook-type “motors” you’ll remember. If there’s a place in the world for a truly fine, song-driven band — and really, if we’re being honest, that’s at the core of most long-term success in the music business — you’ll find that right here.

Looking Ahead

Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings’ next performance is Saturday, December 5th at 10:00 pm on Stage 1 at the Rockwood Music Hall in New York. I’d be there if I could. I can’t, but if you can, you should go.