Album Review: Dallas Cosmas – Farewell From the Lighthouse

Dallas Cosmas

photo courtesy of Dallas Cosmas

by Joe Szilvagyi, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Dallas Cosmas: Farewell From the Lighthouse

Dallas Cosmas - Farewell From the Lighthouse

image courtesy of Dallas Cosmas

Regular listeners of Radio Diego from the Netherlands are probably already familiar with Dallas Cosmas. He currently has two songs from his latest album, Farewell From the Lighthouse, climbing their Twitter Top 40 chart with “Where Did You Go” cracking the top 10.

Dallas’ experience from a quarter century in the Australian music industry is clearly evident as he uses music to express recent personal loss. Each song is a tapestry of guitars and synthesizers wrapping the listener in a sense of suburban angst. Even when dreaming of getting to paradise like the damsels and dragonflies, the music lingers in a sense of defeat.

Dallas Cosmas

photo courtesy of Dallas Cosmas

It’s easy to wallow in the rich production, restrained drumming, haunting keyboards, and emotive guitar work that fill this album. Tales of loss are told from a place of comfort while looking at an uncertain future. The only thing that mars the recording is Dallas’ singing, which is mostly flat and occasionally off-key. I guess this reinforces the middle class sensibilities that make the music easy to connect to.

Album Review: The Kings of Jade – Ready or Not

The Kings of Jade – Ready or Not

The Kings of Jade

photo courtesy of The Kings of Jade

EP Review of The Kings of Jade: Ready or Not

The Kings of Jade - No Pain No Gain EP cover

image courtesy of The Kings of Jade

Rock. Hard rock. Melodic hard rock. The heyday of the Sunset Strip. The Kings of Jade recall an era when melodic hard rock ruled that stretch of Los Angeles real estate and dominated the American airwaves. Sure, it had been renamed “hair metal” by the end of its run, but this harkens back to a day – decade, actually – when it was all about the catchy, guitar-driven hard rock music, and musicianship was always more important than the genre’s accompanying flash and glitz.

Driven by the band members’ talent, The Kings of Jade are 1980s hard rock with a bit of a rougher edge. The band is reminiscent of bands like Babylon A.D., Dangerous Toys, and Hurricane, with a healthy dose of Shout at the Devil-era Motley Crue, Pornograffitti-era Extreme, Hurricane, and Trixter. Raucous, rattling, and rolling, No Pain No Gain is intricately fun to listen to and clearly suggests an amazing live show.

The Kings of Jade

photo courtesy of The Kings of Jade

First track “Ready or Not” opens with a classic melodic metal echo chamber buzz before the guitar builds and drums and vocals come crashing in. It’s a great way to draw listeners in and hit them with exactly the brand of power rock The Kings of Jade specialize in.

“Danger” utilizes another classic melodic metal intro technique, starting with guitar, adding drums, then launching into the energetic number, which features a fan-shoutalong-worthy “Danger!” opening its chorus and well-placed key changes throughout to maintain the energy. It increases the energy level a notch from “Ready or Not,” charging straight ahead without pausing to take prisoners.

The Kings of Jade

photo courtesy of The Kings of Jade

The third track, “No Pain No Gain,” mixes more nuanced hard rock guitarwork and vocal emotion but carries forward “Danger”‘s energy level. The energy level and lyrical content suggest this could be an ideal get-fired-up song for an athlete getting pumped up for a big game, a clubgoer preparing for a night out, or, really, anyone trying to get psyched up for another day of fighting life’s obstacles.

The Kings of Jade

photo courtesy of The Kings of Jade

All of the tracks feature energetic solos that fit within the song while showing off some flashy axework. “Ready or Not” showcases a blues-influenced solo, while “Danger”‘s is more straight-ahead blistering. “No Pain No Gain” features a more finesse-driven solo.

Talent. Versatility within the melodic hard rock/metal framework. Though still relatively new to the Los Angeles scene, The Kings of Jade are the complete package. This should be no surprise, if only because of the band’s frequent Whisky gigs and the high caliber of acts with whom the band has performed. But it’s easily confirmed by a single listen to this Tonio Ruiz-produced 3-song EP, Ready or Not.

The Kings of Jade

photo courtesy of The Kings of Jade

Looking Ahead

You can check out the tour dates section of The Kings of Jade’s website to keep up with the band’s upcoming dates. The band is opening for L.A. Guns on July 29th at Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles. Watch for other dates. The Kings of Jade play regularly, so I suspect there will be other dates appearing on the band’s calendar soon.

Album Review: Parent – Parent

Parent

photo courtesy of Parent

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Parent: Parent

“Parent” is the album title and name of this acoustic duo featuring Rachel Kern on vocals and Jason Brown on acoustic guitar. They first met in a park in Manchester in the north of England in 2013. Their shared interest in music and the arts soon found them working together, initially playing live and then collaborating on the songs that would eventually become this debut album. Over a period of 8 months, new material was written and then bounced between them to see which ideas were most engaging to develop.

Building on their preferred style of acoustic guitar and vocals, one song was chosen for enhancement with string arrangements. Such was the impact of the finished piece, more of the songs were given this magical touch. It was an emotional moment for Jason Brown: “‘You’re Not Broken’ was the first one to get the treatment. The string arranger is my wife Sarah, which is handy for us! Sarah is proper old school, and everything was worked out on the piano and hand written. When she played me her ideas for ‘You’re Not Broken’ I was simply blown away.”

Parent - Parent album cover

image courtesy of Parent

Jason’s wife, Sarah Brandwood-Spencer, had the sumptuous task of writing all the string arrangements for the album, and it has been done with great delicacy. It’s as if each song had a secret that needed to be unlocked, and by letting her unconscious respond to their moods and lyrics, Sarah has been able to weave an empathic thread through the album, hearing the cry of each song’s soul.

Of the 12 songs on the album only “Tipperary” remained as it had been originally conceived, and it’s nice to hear that connection to the album’s creative origin.

In addition to the music, I must also say how I particularly liked the attention given to the package design. The use of the Paul Klee painting Burdened Children for the album cover is inspired and suits the mood of the music as well as being sympathetic to much of the lyrical content and, of course, the name of band and album itself.

The thoughtfulness of the album artwork is continued throughout the album’s musical content. There is a complex but relaxed air about this album, an assuredness of performance and a poised grace. The production is bright and the quality of sound belies its homegrown creation. It could be argued that the modern way for making great recordings is to forgo the traditional moribund studio approach and embrace a more natural organic experience that comes from recording in the comfort and familiarity of your own home surroundings. This is what Parent have done and it really makes for a well-worked and sonically satisfying album.

Parent

photo courtesy of Parent

Upfront and centre in this musical soundscape is Jason’s beautiful-sounding Taylor acoustic guitar, and from its resonant and rich roots everything else grows. As I already mentioned, the ideas for tunes and words have been passed between Jason and Rachel, and where interest for one or other party has been piqued, the songs have been developed and the sparks of mutual intrigue have ignited into wonderful dark songs of loss, betrayal and longing.

Woven in and around these songs are the aforementioned string arrangements of delicate intricacy and powerful emotion. You can hear the attention to detail and musicality of these unique arrangements and can instinctively tell, as Jason said, that Sarah has worked from the ground up, piano and manuscript, old style creativity. There are moments in the string arrangements that remind me of James Taylor’s first album, especially on the song “You’re Not Broken,” but these are fleeting and on the whole they sparkle with originality.

The combination of the strings with the bright acoustic guitar and dark lyrics sung with Rachel’s warm jazz tones and close harmonies have made an album of deep intensity. Sarah Brandwood-Spencer adds piano to the song “Until Then,” and Matt Steele plays piano on “Trying” and “Maneater,” whilst the whole album was recorded and co-produced by Mick Routledge and mastered by Paul O’Brien.

Parent

photo courtesy of Parent

This album has a luxurious resonance. I wonder if the songs are not some kind of cathartic personal journey of healing for the writers. An intense journey ending in a slightly unsettling but ultimately peaceful calm.

Parent by Parent is a work to be proud of and stands forthright as a modern way to make music. If you’re someone who needs a sound reference to hang it on, then I would suggest there is maybe a passing shade of ’80s album Eden by Everything But The Girl in the jazzy vibe and voice.

This album is artistically clever and, whilst thematically downcast, it has a voice both distinct and contemplative. It’s like standing in an overgrown sun-dappled wood in summer or walking along a desolate sandy beach at low tide as the sun sets on the sea. Moments in time that can regenerate the soul.

When Parent play live they are accompanied by a stunning string quartet, and their shows sell out fast. No dates to put in your diary at the moment, but the band specialise in “pop up gigs,” so you would be best advised to keep an eye on their social media links: Facebook; Twitter; Bandcamp.

The album is released as a CD and download album on the 17th June 2016.

Album Review: Analog Heart – Sun Here I Come

Analog Heart

photo by Shivohn Fleming; photo courtesy of Analog Heart

Analog Heart – Sun Here I Come

Backstory

I first heard Analog Heart late last summer at Worcester’s stART on the Street festival. I rocked through the band’s entire set, grabbed the download card the band was handing out for “Merrimack Jane,” and drifted away. This was during that period of time during which I had committed to launching Geoff Wilbur’s Music Blog but was still keeping it quiet. As time passed, “Merrimack Jane” became a staple of my personal playlist, so when I assembled a list of bands I wanted to contact to offer reviews, Analog Heart was on that initial list.

The band’s backstory began in 2010 when singer Liz Bills placed a craigslist ad and connected with guitarist Jesse Cohen and drummer Austin Ferrante. In 2012, the band recorded its debut, self-titled album. That same year, Liz entered American Idol and made it to the Hollywood portion of the show, placing in the women’s top 30. The trio added backup vocalist/rhythm guitarist Guy Jerry in 2015. And they’re all joined onstage by “Greg,” the prerecorded bass tracks that have solidified a revolving-door bass player situation.

Album Review of Analog Heart: Sun Here I Come

Analog Heart - Sun Here I Come

image courtesy of Analog Heart

Distorted guitar hooks and power rock vocals. Analog Heart’s songs are much more than that, but those key elements are where everything starts. At its best, the band churns out songs that boom, rattle, rattle, and rock! (Yes, they rattle twice.)

The album cover sports a psychedelic look that meshes well with the first impression Analog Heart made when I caught last summer’s festival set. And, indeed, this disc blends a ’60s/’70s classic psychedelic rock flavor with a modern alt-rock vibe, hard rock power, and some down ‘n dirty swamp-rockin’-boogie guitar licks.

Sun Here I Come kicks off with rock ‘n roll authority. First is “Whoa,” a rollicking number that thumps, rattles, and rolls its way right from the get-go. It’s followed by “Merrimack Jane,” which adds a bit of Southern rock outlaw flavor to the mix.

Analog Heart

photo by Shivohn Fleming; photo courtesy of Analog Heart

By this point, the speakers won’t stop shaking, and it’s obvious guitarist Cohen and Bills may have discovered a modern, somewhat crisper, 2010s spin on Skynyrd-meets-Joplin with a hint of Hendrix-meets Ann Wilson thrown in for good measure. With Ferrante’s pounding drums and Jerry’s steady rhythm guitar rounding out the group (with, of course, “Greg”), Analog Heart is a barely-contained explosion whose music would fit well in a black-lit basement rock club or a weekend-long festival.

Analog Heart slows it down a bit, as well… to what most bands would call mid-tempo. In fact, there are a few mid-tempo songs on the disc that really stand out for me. Aside from the first two tracks, the other three I carry with me on my phone are: “Let It Go,” a song with a slow-build buoyed by a slick opening rhythm, Bills’ insistent vocals, and Cohen’s well-placed distorted guitar licks; “Try to Get Along,” which grabs the listener with catchy, distorted guitar and crisp, clear, emotional vocals; and “Sun Here I Come,” which again pairs powerful vocals with a monster guitar hook. The trend? Yes, guitar shredding with powerful vocals. That’s rock and roll.

Now, if you insist on a sensitive touch, there is a ballad on the album, “Like a Dream,” that showcases the powerful-yet-sensitive side of Bills’ pipes, though even while enjoying a beginning-to-end ballad, you can still feel the barely-restrained energy that’s what puts the “power” in a power ballad. But when “Like a Dream” is over, put your lighters away because Analog Heart is unabashedly a rock band. And songs like full-octane rock-fest “Flickering By” and “She’s Rock and Roll,” which mixes psychedelic and power rock, will remind you if you forget.

Analog Heart

photo courtesy of Analog Heart

At risk of stating the obvious, the power of Bills’ vocals and Cohen’s guitar licks, combined with the band’s ability to write songs that showcase those exceptional skills, ensure Analog Heart has an opportunity to be a festival, club, and arena favorite; the band’s albums (if Sun Here I Come is any indication) should appeal to modern heavy alt-rockers and psychedelic rockers alike. I’m looking forward to hearing a lot more from this talented ensemble in the future.

Live Gigs Ahead

Analog Heart lists four upcoming shows on its website: Saturday, June 11th at ONCE Lounge in Somerville, MA; Friday, June 17th at Luthier’s Co-Op in Easthampton, MA; Saturday, July 25th at the Byfield Music and Arts Festival in Byfield, MA; and Sunday, July 10th at Great Scott in Allston, MA. This is a great live band; get out to a gig if you can!

Album Review: Courtney Conway – 21 Days

Courtney Conway

photo by Annie Warren; photo courtesy of Courtney Conway

Courtney Conway – 21 Days

The Backstory

I first discovered Courtney Conway‘s music more than two years ago. It was my introduction to the song “21 Days” via a YouTube video, the first video released well in advance of Courtney’s full-length album bearing the same name. I loved the music and the irreverent feel of the video and I tweeted about it. In the spring of 2015, I heard Courtney’s softer single, “Sweet On You,” and added it to my SoundCloud Spring 2015 Listen-at-Work Playlist which is, as its name suggests, a playlist I listen to at work. Back then, though, I hadn’t yet returned to music journalism.

Of course, now the Blog has been up and running since October, and I’m still contacting my favorite discoveries from the last few years one-by-one; recently, I finally reached out to Courtney about reviewing the album 21 Days. And I suppose it’s a bit of a spoiler ahead of the review, but I was pleasantly not-at-all-surprised by what I heard.

Album Review of Courtney Conway: 21 Days

Courtney Conway - 21 Days album cover

image courtesy of Courtney Conway

This is straight-up modern, catchy, radio-ready country with plenty of “new country” trimmings but a timeless voice that would be comfortable with country music of any era.

Album-opener “21 Days” is a twang-filled, emotional plea that’s a great introduction to Courtney’s vocal skills, with insistent vocals surging atop the music through most of the tune but also filling lightly-instrumented spots, as well. There’s sass, sweetness, and power. And, of course, that entertainingly unsettling “21 Days” video.

Song two, mid-tempo strummer “There’s the Door,” has a chorus you’ll want to learn quickly because it’s so fun to sing along with. Lyrically interesting, musically upbeat and catchy, it may just be my personal favorite from this collection, though I’d hate to have to choose.

Courtney Conway

photo by Annie Warren; photo courtesy of Courtney Conway

Next, Courtney seems to be channeling her inner Carlene Carter on “Dance,” an uptempo, swinging country dancehall number, replete with some energetic ivory-tickling and Chuck Berry-esque guitar licks. Also, when I sing along, I replace “twist it, sister” with the name of Dee Snider’s old metal band… just for fun. And “Dance” oozes fun. But back to country music, while Courtney’s voice is reminiscent of Carlene Carter on “Dance,” the song itself seems to be a first cousin to Patricia Conroy’s “You Keep Me Rockin’,” as it absolutely channels that same rockin’ country energy.

That’s followed by “Sweet On You,” which takes advantage of another of my personal weaknesses (and possibly yours, too, though you’re loath to admit it) – I love a good “na na” song. Yes, really. But no, that’s not really what you’ll notice most about it. Courtney’s vocal control is impeccable, and the song itself is sweetly memorable.

Courtney Conway

photo by Annie Warren; photo courtesy of Courtney Conway

With so many great tracks on 21 Days, I could point out the reason each might be your favorite song, but I’ll stick to a few notable highlights.

You’ll get a bit of that Jimmy Buffett-esque country-reggae rhythm on “We Are In Love.” “Hard to Forget” is perhaps the purest ballad on the disc, and it has the earmarks of a potential country chart-topper, with Courtney showcasing her vocal power, sensitivity, and range. “What If You Do” is an insistent plea bound in a catchy rhythm. And “Free Like the Summer Breeze” and “Daddy’s Little Girl” are mellow tunes – “Free” is mid-tempo, while “Daddy’s” a ballad – that tug at the heartstrings like only a great country song can.

Her vocal range and tone, versatility, variety of country style, and ability to make the listener believe and feel what she’s singing are all reasons Courtney Conway’s music belongs in any real country music fan’s collection. And she also appeals to those of us whose musical tastes center elsewhere but appreciate a talented crossover artist. In a country music scene that produces so many solid-but-unspectacular artists, I’m always happy to share with my readers one who stands out from the crowd while still remaining pure, true-blue country.

What’s Next?

For Courtney, she just announced that she’s about to hit the road across Australia in a production of Always… Patsy Cline. The tour dates are listed here in the announcement on Courtney’s website. I hope it’s a successful tour, and I hope she’s back in the studio soon, too, because I can’t wait to hear what Courtney comes up with next.