Album Review: Jay Taylor – Hold On

Jay Taylor

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Jay Taylor – Hold On

EP Review of Jay Taylor: Hold On

That voice. There’s something special about Jay Taylor‘s voice. Something completely country about it, too. Not modern country, though. Not necessarily old-school country, either. I’d call it timeless country. He can do the old-school songs, which are clearly close to his heart, and make them seem modern and appealing to audiences across the country sub-genres. Of course, I raved about Jay’s voice when I wrote this live review a couple months ago. And I’m sure I’ll do it again next time I write about him.

The songs on this five-track EP are earworms. Give them a listen and they’ll come back to you at the oddest times. Hold On is a collection of well-written songs delivered by one of the finest country voices you’ll ever hear.

Jay Taylor - Hold OnThis disc kicks off with the song that hooked me when I first heard it months ago, the title track “Hold On.” Right off the bat, the twanging guitar will grab you, and Jay’s earnestly powerful vocal joins right in, evolving “Hold On” into the hookiest, catchiest, most fun songs about drinking moonshine you’ve ever heard.

“How I Wanted To” is a heartfelt love-lost song with a twang and drum roll that would be at home in the 1970s but delivered with just enough modern pop and country edge that it stakes its claim as a contemporary number, even featuring a timeless harmonica bridge.

“The Green Dress Song” is another pure country ditty. I always think of slower tempos when I think of George Strait, but I can absolutely hear George’s rich, emotional country voice – with just enough country twang – in Jay’s vocals on this charming uptempo song with enough slide guitar to sound as if it came straight from the Opry stage.

The “ohs” in “The Light” suggest balladic Elvis, but Jay delivers it with a rich, full vocal that’s entirely his own. This lyrically interesting crooner about a nomadic soul would be as at-home in an arena with an audience full of lighters (or smartphone screens) held aloft as it would be in a 1950s high school gymnasium during a homecoming dance.

The nomadic soul theme continues with “Hello Railroad,” but this one has more of a Johnny Cash flavor to it. To no one’s surprise, of course, Jay’s voice is up to the challenge.

In summary, Hold On is catchy, engaging country music that will stand the test of time performed by a modern country boy with one of the finest, most versatile voices you’ll ever hear.

Looking Ahead

Jay’s a fun, laid-back showman with a great voice, so I’ll certainly get out to see him perform again whenever I can if I see he’s performing in my area. If you’re in Charlotte, NC, you’ll get a chance when he’s at Tin Roof of December 2nd. And on December 3rd, he’ll be at the Tin Roof in Columbia, SC. Jay’s schedule includes several other Tin Roof stops, in Lexington, KY on Friday, December 16th, and in Louisville, KY on Saturday, December 17th and Friday December 30th. Several 2017 shows are on Jay’s calendar, again hitting the Tin Roofs in Charlotte, Columbia, Louisville, and Lexington. Click on the tour page of his website for more details on those shows and to see when he adds additional dates. Until you get a chance to hear him perform live, though, check out the Hold On EP.

Album Review: Bethan Lees – Ships

Bethan Lees

photo courtesy of Bethan Lees

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

EP Review of Bethan Lees: Ships

Back in September, you may have seen a review I did for the debut single release from UK singer-songwriter Bethan Lees. Time has flown by, and those warm post festival summer days seem like a distant memory as I sit here writing with the rain hammering down on a particularly cold November evening. But November is the month I have waited for if only to get my hands on the new Bethan Lees EP release, Ships, which is out 25th November on Folkstock Records.

If you remember, I was most impressed by what I heard when I listened to her first single “Post Festival Blues” and couldn’t wait to hear the rest of the EP. Well, now I can report that along with “Post Festival Blues,” the EP has 3 other gems on it. The title track “Ships,” the bluesy jazz sound of “Water and Wine,” and the haunting “Sleep.”

Bethan Lees - Ships

image courtesy of Folkstock Records

First and foremost you notice the voice. What a voice! Sometimes sweet and cheeky, and at others, ghostly and ethereal. A slightly husky, whispering tone comprised of such unique melodic tones that it makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. This is a young voice with a depth of maturity that at times seems to channel veteran blues or jazz singers from the past. It is unaffected and not forced, and this naturalness makes her such a pleasure to listen to.

There is a small arrangement for each song based around her guitar and voice. A little bit of drums and double bass, some eerie cello on her title track “Ships,” just enough to colour the songs. To be honest, I think they would have stood up on their own with just her voice and guitar, such is the strength of the material and performance. Maybe this would have brought out even more of the intimacy of her delivery; sometimes when she sings it is like a ghost whispering in your ear. That said, the EP is a great opportunity to hear the embryonic magic of what I believe Bethan will continue to produce.

She has a rare talent, and I believe from what I’ve heard so far she stands uniquely poised for some exciting times ahead.

On December 15th, she is launching her EP with a live performance at The Lamb Inn, Lewes, East Sussex. She is going to be joined by a few of her musical friends, and I would think it will be a fine evening to show off her talents playing tracks from the EP plus even more of her new material.

Catch up with her activity on Facebook or on Twitter.

Live Review: The Accidentals and Carbon Leaf at The Sinclair

Carbon Leaf and The Accidentals

Carbon Leaf and The Accidentals; photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Accidentals and Carbon Leaf

The Sinclair, Cambridge, MA

November 19, 2016

The Backstory

You’ve read Joe Szilvagyi’s review of The Accidentals’ Parking Lot EP here in this Blog. Joe discovered The Accidentals this past summer. Joe and I have vastly different musical tastes; we rarely listen to the same bands. (He’s a terrific judge of talent and a great music reviewer, and I enjoy having him write for me because he’s knowledgeable about styles of music that aren’t my bailiwick, but our personal music collections have very little overlap.) In this case, though, after reading Joe’s review and listening to the band’s recent release, I’ve joined Joe as a fan of The Accidentals’ music. So when I noticed The Accidentals were going to be in the Boston area, I circled the date on my calendar… and then hoped a non-music-related event wouldn’t get in the way.

The Accidentals

The Accidentals; photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Opening Act: The Accidentals

Full of energy and sporting an identifiable sound all their own, genre-busting trio The Accidentals energized a crowd that was mostly discovering them for the first time. If I had to describe The Accidentals’ music, I’d call it a pop-friendly, folk-influenced, classically-progressive, personality-infused blend of catchy songs and impressive musicianship. Combined with an engaging stage presence, this is a group with all the tools for a long, successful career. And there’s even a quirky edge to some of its songs that might lend itself well to independent film soundtracks as an introductory outlet.

The Accidentals

The Accidentals; photo by Geoff Wilbur

On this particular night, right out of the gate, drummer Michael Dause got things rolling, joined soon by string multi-instrumentalists Katie Larson and Savannah Buist. Savannah and Katie swapped lead instrumental duties throughout the set, while vocally, Savannah’s vocals are a bit quirkier, while Katie’s a bit more straightforward folky-indie-rock. And Michael’s voice maybe a little crisply high when he’s asked to lead.

The Accidentals

The Accidentals; photo by Geoff Wilbur

The positive energy from the opening number carried through to the band’s smooth second song, “The Silence,” from the band’s Bittersweet album. (Actually, to be fair, the energy ran throughout the set.)

Next up was a new song, “Stitches and Seams,” an engaging folky alt-rocker featuring Savannah’s quirky vocals atop Katie’s smooth, rich string bed. This was followed by “The Sound a Watch Makes When Enveloped in Cotton,” performed in standard power trio (electric guitar, electric bass, drums) format. Katie shredded on the electric guitar, Savannah rocked the bass throughout (and during the included solo), and Michael augmented his drumming with a brief beat-boxing segment. Altogether, it came across a bit like Johnny Cash… if he was a three-piece, odd alt-rock band.

The Accidentals

The Accidentals; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Skipping ahead, Michael was notably the featured vocalist on an exceptionally enjoyable cover of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer.”

The band then closed with a two songs I recognized from the Parking Lot EP. First was “The End,” a catchy, fun, jug-band-worthy knee-slapper that’s tailor-made to showcase the electric fiddle.

The Accidentals closed their set with “Parking Lot,” the band’s super-catchy EP title track that showcased the group’s live performance at its fully animated best, replete with truly frenetic fiddling; it absolutely, most enthusiastically, brought the house down. In fact, after the show, though the audience was there to see its beloved Carbon Leaf, I overheard several conversations about the terrific “opening band.” I’m pretty sure The Accidentals made a big step toward building a small legion of new fans in Boston with their set.

Carbon Leaf

Carbon Leaf; photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Headliners: Carbon Leaf

Carbon Leaf has been around a while. Since before the members of The Accidentals were born, in fact. And they’ve built a huge fanbase who turn out to see their performances. A large, packed concert hall full of fans enthusiastically singing along… it felt like the sort of crowd that might follow a band like Phish around at times. The audience spanned generations, combining those who’ve known the band for a couple decades with more recent converts. As Carbon Leaf explained late in the set, this year’s touring was a bit light, and the band approached this show a little differently, playing longtime favorites toward the middle of the set and playing deeper album cuts than might be expected at a typical rock concert.

Carbon Leaf

Carbon Leaf; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Carbon Leaf has been said to have Celtic, folk, and even some country influences in its alt-rock style. Indeed, I heard them all throughout the evening.

The band opened with “Miss Hollywood,” its smooth rock backdrop supporting insistent alt-rock vocals.

Later songs churned through Carbon Leaf’s mix of stylistic influences. Many of the catchier songs sport a bit of a slightly-Celtic-influenced Barenaked Ladies alt-rock sound. Just a bit, though, as Carbon Leaf’s music sounds like no one else’s. Or, perhaps, a bit like everyone else’s, as its sound navigates so many styles adeptly.

The first song to get the packed house singing along was “What About Everything,” a poppy alt-rocker with a folk edge. Thus began a string of crowd favorites. In fact, the crowd sang whole segments of “I Don’t Know Where to Begin,” a song quite well-suited for a campfire singalong.

Carbon Leaf

Carbon Leaf; photo by Geoff Wilbur

It was followed by the most hoedown, square dance-worthy ditty of the evening, “7 Brides for 7 Sinners.” And then Carbon Leaf’s biggest-ever hit, “Life Less Ordinary,” was delivered with great rocking energy that, naturally, had the entire audience singing along. Both great tunes, and a back-to-back pairing that showcased the broad diversity within the band’s repertoire.

The Accidentals then joined Carbon Leaf on stage for a single song, a rousing rendition of “Let Your Troubles Roll By” that turned into an extended jam among the talented musicians onstage.

Carbon Leaf

Carbon Leaf; photo by Geoff Wilbur

The next couple songs showcased significant penny whistle work from vocalist Barry Privett, and another sported some psychedelic blues guitar, while great Irish drinking song-styled “The Donnybrook Affair” really brought out the rowdiest side of the crowd.

The two-song encore that ended this raucous evening began with acoustically psychedelic “November (Makebelieve)” and ended with “I Know the Reason” and its big rockin’ hook, a satisfying end to a fun evening.

Looking Ahead

The Sinclair gig was The Accidentals’ last night on the road with Carbon Leaf, but each band has some upcoming gigs.

The Accidentals have a (snow) flurry of Michigan shows scheduled during the remainder of 2016. You can catch them in Grosse Point on November 26th, Elk Rapids and Williamsburg on November 27th, Grand Haven on December 2nd, Rockford on December 3rd, and Traverse City on December 16th. For details on these shows, as well as several 2017 shows (including a January west coast swing with Martin Sexton), check the tour page on The Accidentals’ website.

Carbon Leaf will be in Londonderry, NH on December 1st and 2nd, Philadelphia, PA on December 3rd, Annapolis, MD on December 9th and 10th, Alexandria, VA on December 15th and 16th, and Richmond, VA on December 17th. Further information on those dates, plus a southeast tour in February 2017, can be found on the tour page of Carbon Leaf’s website.

Album Review: Sonic Syndicate – Confessions

Sonic Syndicate

photo courtesy of Head First Entertainment

Album Review of Sonic Syndicate: Confessions

My first thought when I heard “Confessions,” the title track, was that George Michael was singing synth-pop with a heavy backbeat and rock guitars. An intriguing opening track, it announces a brand new sound for Sonic Syndicate, and even as Confessions settles into its heavy melodic synth-infused rock core, it is very much unlike anything else in my collection and quite different from Sonic Syndicate’s prior releases. I’m sure it’s causing quite a bit of consternation among the band’s legion of existing fans.

Sonic Syndicate - Confessions

image courtesy of Head First Entertainment

Indeed, yes, when Nathan J. Biggs took over vocal duties on We Rule the Night, there was a noticeably more melodic shift, but Confessions is a seismic departure. I’m intrigued, but I also wasn’t a devoted fan before the change, so I enter the equation without preconceived notions. The synth-driven beats, pop vocal sensibility, and persistent beat (almost like you’d expect in a dance club) are truly a hybrid sound. On this disc, Nathan and founding guitarist Robin Sjunnerson are joined by Michel Bärzén on bass, as well as other musicians in the studio. And they’ve produced a one-of-a-kind sound worth taking a chance on.

Third track “Start a War” is a standout track, as it builds to power, stops and starts a bit, and plunges forward with an infectious heavy melodic rhythm.

Throughout the album, there are small details – like the guitar run in “Falling,” for example – that serve as hooks while showing the care that went into the song construction and production here. And the bursts of power in “Burn to Live,” strung together with softer vocal bridges and walls of synth and guitar provide the song with an engaging energy.

Beyond that, I suppose “Still Believe” would be a ballad in the scheme of Sonic Syndicate’s sound, with its slower pace, and there’s a seriously pop angle to the vocals, but the heavy drums are still there. Second-to-last song “Closure,” though, is Confessions‘ true ballad, with what sound like soaring strings toward its conclusion.

The album itself concludes with “Halfway Down the Road,” a mid-tempo rocker featuring an old-school classic rock guitar solo; this final song itself is largely unlike the other tracks on the disc.

In all, Confessions is a daring departure for Sonic Syndicate. For the band’s longtime fans, if their musical tastes don’t span the musical spectrum, they may not be excited by the change (to put it lightly). Indeed, I expect the backlash to be brutal from some corners of the metal community, but for those whose fandom is not wedded to a specific genre or sub-genre, it’s an intriguing disc. I tip my hat to Sonic Syndicate for such bold experimentation, and I do have a couple favorite tracks on this album.

Live Shows

Sonic Syndicate’s upcoming live shows, as listed on their website, are tonight, November 19th at Majestic Music Club in Bratislava, Slovakia; tomorrow, November 20th at Simm City in Vienna, Austria; February 8th at Klubi in Tampere, Finland; February 9th at Lutakko in Jyvaskyla, Finland; and February 10th at Virgin Oil Co in Helsinki, Finland. Check the Sonic Syndicate website’s “Shows” page for further details and additional live dates as they’re added.

Album Review: The Lucky Losers – In Any Town

The Lucky Losers

photo courtesy of Frank Roszak Promotions

The Lucky Losers – In Any Town

Album Review of The Lucky Losers: In Any Town

Cathy Lemons and Phil Berkowitz are the lead vocal pair of San Francisco’s The Lucky Losers, a place where the blues meet ’60s psychedelic organ rock while fronted by a cloud-pleasing vocal duo with chemistry and sometimes almost loungy banter. The band is rounded out by Marvin Greene on guitar, Chris Burns on keyboards, Tim Wagar on bass, and Robi Bean on drums.

The Lucky Losers - In Any Town

image courtesy of Frank Roszak Promotions

The Lucky Losers kick off In Any Town with “So High,” whose soaring blues vocals and organ are supplemented by Berkowitz’s harmonica-work and psychedelic lead guitar from one of the many guest musicians on the album, Kid Andersen.

Lemons opens the next song, “It Ain’t Enough,” with a sultry vocal that’ll bring to mind a hot summer day in New Orleans in a shady PI’s office, with the constant hum of the fan obscuring a troubled dame’s pleas for help solving a crime when the cops won’t help, even though she can only pay the investigator with her grandmother’s diamond necklace, and the gumshoe isn’t entirely sure she wasn’t behind the crime all along. Or something like that. And the song maintains that feeling through keyboards, harmonica, and guitar riffs that complement the vocals.

The duo introduces its interpersonal playfulness on “Jackson,” though the true showcase for their banter is “I Can’t Change Ya,” a tune which, itself, has frenetic energy.

The Lucky Losers

photo courtesy of Frank Roszak Promotions

Perhaps my favorite song on the album is “Blind Man in the Dark,” a peppy number that mixes Motown and blues along with almost Randy Newman-esque vocals.

“In Any Town” has the sparse, tumbleweed Western ghost town blues flavor, slow and soulful with Berkowitz’s harmonica riffs punctuating Lemons’ rich, lamenting vocals, complemented by meandering guitar.

And closing track “Small Town Talk” is a vocal duet that just seems like an album-ender, coolly and confidently winding down the record as if it’s playing the performers off of the stage at the end of a show.

Really, beginning to end, this is a solid disc; a collection like this will satisfy loyal fans while expanding these talented singers’ audience.

Looking Ahead

You can catch The Lucky Losers live tomorrow night, Friday, November 18th at The Carlos Club in San Carlos, CA. In December, they’ll also be at the Smoking Pig (with Kid Andersen) in Fremont, CA on Friday, December 2nd and at The Saloon in San Francisco, CA on Thursday, December 15th. To see more information on those dates, new dates as they’re added, and 2017 dates already scheduled in Berkeley, CA, Houston, TX, New Orleans, LA, Englewood, FL, and Vero Beach, FL, check the live show calendar on The Lucky Losers’ website.

Live Review: The Dayz at the Knitting Factory

The Dayz

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Dayz

Knitting Factory, Brooklyn, NY

November 12, 2016

The Backstory

On my final night in New York, I gathered with my oldest group of friends for dinner, some live music, and coffee/dessert in Williamsburg. Well, except that there was traffic that caused some of us to run late, so while the rest of my crew was finishing dinner next door, I zipped over to catch The Dayz at the Knitting Factory.

I’ve known The Dayz’ frontman Dax Callner since my days publishing Geoff Wilbur’s Renegade Newsletter, but I had never seen him perform live with this or any previous band, so I was looking forward to it. I’d heard the band’s music, so I knew I was in for something good.

The Concert

I estimated the set start time incorrectly, so I missed about half of the set. A shame, since what I caught was, as expected, tight, catchy, and original.

The Dayz

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Dayz, at least on their Facebook page, refer to themselves as a “collective.” Elsewhere online they use the more common term “band,” but I kind of like collective. The seven-piece outfit is comprised of Dax Callner (vocals/guitars), Aaron Green (bass), Alix Brd (vocals), Richie Phillips (saxophone), Terry Shook (drums), Alroy Teves (guitars) and Michael Villarosa (keyboards). But, as one might expect from a collective of talented musicians who enjoy playing together, any of them can carry the musical load for significant stretches of a given song. At times in the few songs I heard, Dax, Richie, Alroy, and Michael all ably took the lead and stamped their musical signatures on significant song segments while still maintaining a Dayz sound.

I was just settling in during the end of “Waves,” so the first song I heard in full was “Ascension,” a funky, smooth, jazzy number with great harmonies and a silky sax contribution I really dig. Its hook is in its rising vocal line.

The Dayz

photo by Geoff Wilbur

“Ice Breaks” features a quick-strumming ’70s style and, once into the meat of the song, the sax notably rocks it as hard as the guitars. It was followed by “The Contrarian,” which struck me as having a bit of that David Bowie “Modern Love” vibe but a bit more rockin’ with interesting piano/keys meanderings. Plus saxwork featured as a full solo.

The final song of the evening, “The Fourth Estate,” is truly something special. It could clearly be The Dayz’ signature song, a catchy number that would get any club or arena crowd on its feet and moving. Look for this tune to turn up in pop culture at some point.

And that was it. Short and sweet. A few exceptional songs from a talented collective of musicians.

In a single phrase, I’d probably describe The Dayz as a soulful rock band. Stylistically, However, they deliver the live, party-atmosphere energy of a big-time ska band in rock ‘n roll wrapping with some soulful vocals and melodic jazz elements sprinkled in for original flavoring.

Looking ahead, you can catch The Dayz live December 7th at 8:00 pm at The Bowery Electric.

 

Live Review: Station at Arlene’s Grocery

Station

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Station

Arlene’s Grocery, New York, NY

November 11, 2016

There’s always a place for a solid, fun, melodic hard rock band. Something you’d see on the Sunset Strip in the 1980s. And, of course, across your radio dial during the same time frame. That’s where Station comes in. They’re a fun-loving, talented five-piece that carries that 1980s-style small-venue concert party atmosphere into its rightful place in the current music landscape.

This concert reminded me of my pre-rock journalist days, catching great touring hard rock bands at Paolo’s in Grand Rapids, The Apple Core Lounge in Shelbyville, or the Silver Dollar Saloon in Lansing (before it “went country”). It reminded me of the great “hair band” (I always hated that term — it’s about the music, the performance, and the atmosphere, not the hair) scene in Boston when I was writing for Tough Tracks in the late eighties/early nineties, hitting clubs like The Channel, Axis, Bunratty’s, and Narcissus.

And I’m enjoying seeing this style return to the scene a bit more, since this is the kind of music that can provide that big arena show experience in a small club. At least, that’s true when it’s done right. And Station rocked Arlene’s Grocery with gusto last night. In addition, many of the fans in the packed venue were singing along, enthusiastic to see the band’s final New York City show of 2016. When the crowd knows the words, you know you’re seeing a band with a loyal following.

I arrived as the show was beginning, walking in during “Dressed to Kill,” an ’80s rocker with great rhythm in the vocal, an ever-so-slightly funky edge to an otherwise straight-ahead, forceful rockin’ tune.

Station

photo by Geoff Wilbur

At times during the set, the bands songs reminded me of The Who (specifically “Baba O’Riley”), ’80s Kiss, Nazareth, Faster Pussycat… most often, though, Station’s music was an interesting blend of hard rocking Legs Diamond and more purely melodic Sleeze Beez. Station’s performance was built around ample use of appropriate, well-placed, often blistering guitar solos, an occasionally stage-stealing bass player, and vocals that frequently jumped an octave or two during the more intense segments of the songs.

Other standout songs during the evening included “With Me Tonight,” with a monster lead guitar hook; crowd-pleaser “Everything,” on which the vocals most closely recalled Paul Stanley in spots; and “Never Say Never,” which reminds me of Nazareth during the beginning guitarwork and is driven by a heavy rhythm and vocal screams.

It’s also worth mentioning a couple of the band’s new songs, which show there are some solid new songs in the pipeline. Of course, I’m just guessing at the song titles, but the first “new one” of the evening, “If You Want It Hard Enough You’ll Find It…” features a pulsing rhythm and high, emotional vocals. Ample vocal screams and multi-part harmonies accompanied a well-placed tempo change late in the song.

The other new song of note, “Always Be a Part of Me” sports a medium-fast tempo. It’s a romantic song with emotional vocal highlights, a steady rhythm, and a bit of a guitar hook.

Station

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Late-set standout “Are You Sleeping Alone” struck me as a potential hit, with melodic harmonies and hooks, all within the requisite guitar-heavy framework.

The encore, “I Don’t Want to Know Your Name,” was another song with a potentially broad appeal. Musically, it sported the entire guitar hero arsenal, which a catchy rhythm and exceptionally melodic vocals, rising and falling with power and emotion. A crowd-pleaser, this was a great way to end a gig.

In the end, Station delivers some pretty standard melodic metal fare. The band has its own performance and songwriting style, which is how fans distinguish among this type of band to find their favorites. But the show itself is guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser. And on this night, Station did a fine job of rocking Arlene’s Grocery with an hour and a half of guitar shredding, hard rock screams, and party atmosphere, maintaining an intensity of 10 on a 10 scale non-stop for 90 minutes. Absolutely a band worth catching for those seeking a rock concert experience. I also look forward to hearing what Station’s next album brings.

Looking Ahead

Station has a couple Connecticut shows coming up later this month: November 19th at Cook’s Cafe in Naugatuck, CT and November 29th (with Theory of a Deadman) at The Ridgefield Playhouse in Ridgefield, CT. Check the band’s “shows” page for additional information and future dates as they’re added.

Meanwhile, I’ll be wrapping up my New York trip tonight by attending my fifth show in six nights. I’ll be at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn to see The Dayz.