Album Review: Dallas Cosmas – The Memory Keys

Dallas Cosmas - The Memory Keys

image courtesy of Dallas Cosmas

Album Review of Dallas Cosmas: The Memory Keys

Dallas Cosmas‘ goal seems to be to push the envelope of progressive alt-rock music. His style is somewhat plodding and gloomy, enhanced by frequent musical dissonance. I’m never entirely sure if I like Dallas’ vocals; he seems to miss a lot of notes. Typically I’m not sure if he’s a little flat intentionally or not, and even if it is on purpose, I’m not sure what I think of it. But I’m also aware that the honest, raw emotional connection of a singer-songwriter, even one whose voice perhaps wouldn’t win any singing competitions, appeals to a large segment of the listening audience, especially so to those who enjoy Dallas’ mood-driven, progressive alt-rock style. And, indeed, after a couple dozen listens to The Memory Keys, there are several songs I can’t imagine would work nearly as well with more polished vox. Indeed, I do really like some of these songs. So if this is a genre you enjoy — or if you’re willing to give some solid, well-crafted, ambitious music enough listens for its quirks to grow on you — give The Memory Keys a shot. This is an interesting release from an artistic, talented musician, an album that’s tremendously well-produced and well worth the effort to get familiar with.

Prototype Musique engineering team

Dallas Cosmas with Martin Pullan, Wayne Rintoul, and Simon Segal; photo courtesy of Dallas Cosmas

Dallas wrote and produced the disc and delivered the vocals, keyboards, bass, and guitar on The Memory Keys. As always, Dallas worked with a talented team. He was joined by Paul Richards on the drums, with Wally Rankin (guitars, backing vocals), Wayne Rintoul (soundscapes, backing vocals), Brother To The Birds (rhyhtms, guitars, loops, backing vocals), Matthew Shadwick (guitar, slide), Evan Englezos (keys), and Simon Segal (keys, treatments) joining him. The disc was directed by Simon Segal, engineered by Wayne Rintoul, and mastered by Martin Pullan for Edensound.

Getting back to the music, though, The Memory Keys takes influences ranging from ’60s Beatles-style pop-rock to ’80s New Wave to ’70s Bowie progressive pop-rock and blends them into an identity all its own. Right off, there’s a late-’60s pop-rock vibe to the album-opener “45 Revolutions” that sets the stage for this record. The following song, “The Midnight Road,” then swings the album in a more progressive pop direction, lyrically imaginative with an electronic flavor to its bass and guitar hooks. I appreciate that there’s a music video for this number on YouTube, as it’s a great introduction to Dallas’ music, as good a litmus test as I can imagine for whether you’re likely to enjoy the rest of the disc… though perhaps not, as it’s not even among my personal favorites.

Dallas Cosmas

photo courtesy of Dallas Cosmas

The plaintive “Bang Bang (The Chorus)” serves up a real sense of anguish, actually reminding me in that sense a bit of an album I reviewed earlier this year, Night Worker from “Les Paul’s” (The Paul’s). Both albums leave the listener intrigued but uneasy as they navigate relatively uncharted progressive waters.

Interestingly, my favorite tracks land near the end of The Memory Keys‘ seemingly purposefully ebbing and flowing musical journey, but there are some cuts in the middle that are worth taking note of, including the haunting “A Part of Me,” the reverb-laden, ’70s-era, experimentally off-balance “Why Don’t You,” and the softly almost-melodic, tensely uncomfortable, emotionally bare “It’s Over Me.”

But, again, it is in the final third that you’ll find my personal favorites.

First is the alt-rock, soundtrack-ready “Meet You Once Again.” I’m picturing it playing in the background during one of those heartbroken montages… or perhaps even during a reuniting sequence at a dingy bar somewhere… or in a cafe while it’s raining outside, especially if there’s an uneasiness that it might not end well.

The strings and the ’60s pop-rock nature of its songwriting, along with a certain warm tone in Dallas’ vocals make “The Promise” an easy track to enjoy, like the alt-rock doppleganger of Billy Joel sings the Beatles in a funhouse.

The uneasiness doesn’t go away on “Green Girl,” a slow-tempoed, flower-childy number whose psychedelic nature comes through via distorted guitar and a tempo that always seems as if it’s going to fall a fraction of a count off but never does.

And then “Good Goodbye” closes the collection with another soundtrack-flavored number, this one a mid-tempo bit that seems as if it might play as the movie’s action fades into the credits.

I enjoy being tuned into the work Dallas and his cohorts at Prototype Musique produce. Such depth of musical background and willingness to experiment produce interesting sounds and albums conceived as a combination of art, expression, and music. I look hearing to seeing what this talented Australian ensemble produces next, both Dallas’ future solo work and the other projects on which he and his team are involved. So far, The Memory Keys stands among my favorites from Prototype.

Looking Back

For those who missed it, Geoff Wilbur’s Music Blog contributor Joe Szilvagyi reviewed Dallas Cosmas’ previous album, Farewell From the Lighthouse, back in June.

Album Review: The Dayz – EP2

The Dayz

photo courtesy of The Dayz

The Dayz – EP2

The Backstory

I’ve been listening to this EP on and off for a couple months now, since long before I reviewed the band’s November 12th set at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. I’ve also known The Dayz’ frontman Dax Callner for a number of years from a previous band of his, as I noted at the beginning of the live review last month. I had heard some of the songs from The Dayz’ previous EP back before I launched the Blog, so I was especially looking forward to hearing the new stuff now that I again have an outlet for my reviews.

EP Review of The Dayz: EP2

The Dayz - EP2

image courtesy of The Dayz

The Dayz are a broad-based modern rock band with progressive pop-rock sensibilities. David Bowie’s take on modern rock with a jazz-rock horn section… or some combination or subset thereof.

The collection kicks off with hooky sax leading into insistent vocals on “This Planet,” with the music climaxing and popping with energy. It’s an ear-catching, attention-grabbing introduction. I’d say it’s one of the strongest songs on the EP, but I can’t find a weak one to make that a meaningful comparison. That’s the thing about The Dayz; they simultaneously feel like a comfortable old favorite and like no band you’ve ever heard before. The more I listen to these songs, the more impressed I am with this band. But I disgress…

The Dayz

photo courtesy of The Dayz

“Apology Song” follows, and you can practically hear the pain in Dax’s vocals, with old standard-esque keys, horn, and drums knowing just where to add emphasis. And I’m a sucker for a great sax solo.

“Ascension” (featuring Jo Hamilton) is a bit of a soaring, mid-tempo, mainstream progressive rock number that leans a bit on the sax to provide an interesting edge to an uplifting song.

It’s followed by “Leonela,” a keyboard-driven number with such a sense of self that you’ll have to re-listen a few times just to make sure it really is an instrumental. At least, if you’re like me and usually hang on the lyrics, you will. It’s a song with a deep, smooth, hip soul; vocals would only detract from its emotion.

And the collection closes with “The Fourth Estate,” a bona fide progressive hipster pop-rock hit if I’ve ever heard one. Live, I wasn’t surprised to see the crowd moved to dance to this number because it’s hard enough to stay in your seat for the recorded song. The hoarse, emphatic vocals combine with a party-sized wall of sound and adept drum, key, and guitarwork… and, of course, a signature sax line past the song’s midpoint just in case the hooks aplenty weren’t already enough. Take a listen; you’ll remember it days later.

The Dayz

photo courtesy of The Dayz

To be fair, a blended mix of sounds like this can take some time to really soak in. The opening and closing tracks are catchy monsters that will bring you back for more while the subtler aspects sink in to give you a full appreciation of the music produced by this ensemble. It’s a fun disc, and it’s hip and sophisticated enough that, if you’ve got headphones on, you’ll feel a little cooler than everyone around you when you listen to it.

Looking Ahead

The Dayz currently have upcoming gigs scheduled January 3rd, 8 pm at Bitter End; January 13th, 7 pm at Drom; and March 9th, 8 pm at Bowery Electric. You can find information about these shows (and others as there are added) by checking The Dayz’ Facebook events page.

Live Review: Ashley Jordan at The Mill 185

Ashley Jordan

photo by John Darrah

Ashley Jordan

The Mill 185, West Boylston, MA

December 15, 2016

Ashley Jordan

photo by Geoff Wilbur

I last (and first) saw Ashley Jordan perform live in August after hearing repeatedly from locals inside and outside the music industry about her amazing talent. I reviewed her new CD He’s Crazy a month later. And on this particular night, an evening with an early start out here in the outer suburbs — practically in Worcester, actually — from one of New England’s finest singers was just the tonic for a Thursday night toward the end of a long work week. This was, I think, Ashley’s first local gig since her trip to the NashNext finals in Nashville in October. It was also a chance to hear Ashley joined by drummer Frank Pupillo; when I caught her set in August, she was performing solo, so this was an interesting added element to the performance.

Ashley Jordan

photo by John Darrah

One of these days, if talent and skill are rewarded, and because I know she has the fortitude and drive to take advantage of the opportunities presented to her, I’ll get to see Ashley headlining a stadium tour. Of course, success in the music business is always a bit of a crapshoot, but Ashley Jordan is playing with loaded dice. So, for now, it’s nice to get to see one of country music’s premier young talents at a club show in small-town Massachusetts.

This was a bit of an odd gig. I love the room — I hadn’t been to The Mill 185 before — but one chunk of the audience was an office Christmas party, and it made for an interesting vibe. Great chance for them to get to hear such a talented singer, and it was clear they were enjoying it, as were the rest of us in the room.

Ashley Jordan

photo by Geoff Wilbur

As often is the case, I didn’t seek out a set list, and you already know I haven’t listened to country radio much in the last decade, so I may get both originals I haven’t heard and cover song titles wrong, but I’ll give it a shot. I walked in during what I believe was the first song of the evening, unless she started early, to the strains of “A Little Time.” If, indeed, it was the first song, it was a great way to start the evening. She followed it with her power-acoustic-guitar-driven original “Drink Some Whiskey.”

Ashley Jordan

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Ashley then launched into the first song of the evening from her new album, He’s Crazy — one of my favorites from the disc, “Blue Eyed Boy.” She captured the emotion of the song exceptionally well, as usual. And then she followed it with a song that unleashed a lot of anger; “I Don’t Know You Anymore,” I believe.

Ashley Jordan

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Next, Ashley launched into her cover of KT Tunstall’s “Black Horse and a Cherry Tree.” I love how she performs this particular cover; it shares a bit of a rockin’ growl edge she’s able to call upon, showcasing her versatility to perform at the rock end of the country spectrum; it’s a capability she shows during a few of her originals, too, but something about this cover really captures it well.

Then came the emotional “So Far Gone,” an original made all the more poignant by Ashley’s well-considered lyrics. It was followed by a strong, dynamic vocal performance during a cover of Maren Morris’ “My Church.”

Ashley Jordan

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Next up, Ashley unleashed some booming vocals during her “Coming Home” cover. And she closed the set just as dynamically with a rousing rendition of “He’s Crazy,” the title track from her new CD. On this night, she delivered it with a particularly emphatic guitar line supporting her always-strong vocals.

The evening continued much longer, of course, but I was just there for the first set, leaving early in the second. Glad I spotted this gig — catching a little Ashley Jordan music early enough for me to get back home and get up for work the next day was the perfect way to spend a Thursday evening. And it was an opportunity to check out this venue and sample a bit of its menu. Pretty sure I’ll be back here, as well, next time I have a chance.

Ashley Jordan

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Looking Ahead

If you haven’t seen Ashley Jordan live, keep an eye on the tour page of her website and on her Facebook page, which is where I found about this show. If you have seen her perform, of course, you’re probably already doing these things.

And while this was her first live performance in several weeks, she has been busy, getting her new single, “Weapon,” played on The Bull 101.7 and releasing her new Christmas song, “Where Are You Christmas.”

Album Review: Lew Jetton – Christmas Past

Album Review of Lew Jetton: Christmas Past

I just downloaded this Christmas album a few weeks ago, and I’m enjoying the heck out of it.  Christmas and the blues go well together, though all-too-often blues artists will try to over-blues a holiday record. Lew Jetton resists that urge on Christmas Past, getting the bluesy energy-to-Christmas spirit ratio just right on this six-song release.

Lew Jetton - Christmas Past

image courtesy of Lew Jetton

Lew kicks things off with a rousing, energetic rendition of “Winter Wonderland.” It’s a great song to rock to, with growling guitars and emphatic piano punctuating this disc-opener. It’s joined by three other Christmas standards, a Chuck Berry-era-esque “Run Run Rudolph,” a version of “White Christmas” performed in a peppy crooning style, and an Elvis-worthy, smooth, soft-rockin’-bluesy, kinda cheerful-sounding “Blue Christmas” (because everyone knows a bluesman loves a blue Christmas).

Mixed in among the standards are a couple Lew Jetton originals that fit the record like a glove. The title track, for example, delivers emotion in the form of a country blues-style reminiscence, with Lew’s hoarse vocals keeping things smooth and a bit sad. As much as I like Lew’s take on the cover tunes, I think “Christmas Past” may be my favorite track on this disc.

The other original, “Christmas With My Baby,” is rather the polar opposite; it’s a cheerful, energetic blues-rockin’ number, carrying along much of the energy of its lead-in, “Run Run Rudolph,” by somewhat emulating its early blues-rock guitar sound.

I enjoy Christmas music only in moderation, so I don’t add to my collection often, but this EP, with its energy, precision, and variety, has earned its spot on my holiday playlist. And it earned a rare Christmas album review.

Looking Ahead

I first ran across Lew’s music when I reviewed his album Rain earlier this year. And he’s planning a new non-holiday release for late spring next year which I’m really looking forward to. In the meantime, keep an eye on the “upcoming shows” page of his website to see if he’s playing near you.

 

Album Review: Lauren Lizabeth – To Be Young

Lauren Lizabeth

photo courtesy of Lauren Lizabeth

Lauren Lizabeth – To Be Young

EP Review of Lauren Lizabeth: To Be Young (Nine North Records)

Lauren Lizabeth

photo courtesy of Lauren Lizabeth

For such a young artist, Lauren Lizabeth has already been turning heads for a while. As far back as 2011, Lauren was nominated by the New England Music Awards for Country Act of the Year. She has some professional stage experience, as well, working with the well-known (well, I’ve known about it for decades), highly-regarded Southern New England Theatre By The Sea while still in high school.

This EP, To Be Young, focuses on Lauren’s emotionally powerful voice; it’s a collection of seven crisply-performed pop and pop-country numbers. Her sharp, clear voice and young-skewing topics, lyrics, and enthusiasm could land her on a Disney TV movie soundtrack; and while her radio genre could easily be pop, some of the tunes herein showcase why she’s finding her early success on country radio with her pop-country stylings.

Lauren Lizabeth

photo courtesy of Lauren Lizabeth

The disc opens with the title track, “To Be Young,” an energetic number on which Lauren’s always-at-eleven vocal enthusiasm is supported by a peppy guitar hook. With its positive energy and youthful appeal, this song could connect with a pretty sizable audience.

It’s followed by “Every Single Night,” whose mid-tempo pop-rock style is supported by a more versatile, emotive vocal and melodic hook and a well-placed guitar run late in the track to help move the song forward. Indeed, this catchy number is one of the two songs from To Be Young that has found a place on my personal smartphone playlist.

There’s something a little special about “Light a Match,” as well, with a very country-esque, brooding bridge showing Lauren’s versatility, tying together this lyrically worthwhile, mid-tempo emotional pop-rocker. It also features a fun country-rock guitar line… because even a strong voice requires well-written songs.

Lauren Lizabeth

photo courtesy of Lauren Lizabeth

“Beginning of the End” is notable as the most ballady song in this collection. Not exactly a ballad, but not far from one, this is another of those tracks that shows a nice mid-range; it’s nice to hear her use more vocal richness at times to offset her powerful high notes.

The last song on the album, “I Hear That,” is perhaps my favorite. It’s a cheerful country-rock ditty that’ll bring a smile to your face. It’s a bit sassy, showcasing perhaps more of Lauren’s personality than any of the others on To Be Young. As with the title track, this song could ring true with a monster breakout audience.

Overall, this is a nicely-constructed selection of catchy songs showcasing a talented vocalist. If pop or pop-country, especially with a bit of young energy, is your cup of tea, check out this disc. Indeed, I have a couple favorites from among this assortment, and I look forward to hearing where Lauren’s musical journey takes her from here.

Album Review: Angie and the Deserters – You

Angie and the Deserters

photo courtesy of Miles High Productions

Angie and the Deserters – You

EP Review of Angie and the Deserters: You

Angie and the Deserters - You

image courtesy of Miles High Productions

Led by the inimitable, engaging voice of Angie Bruyere, Angie and the Deserters have released their second EP this year, You. It’s the follow-up to Blood Like Wine, which I reviewed in September. Angie & the Deserters play a version of Americana that blends country and Western music, adding in a rocking edge from time to time. The Deserters are guitarists Kyle Stevens (Bang Tango) and Danny Hulsizer (Gutter Boy) along with pedal steel player Chris Lawrence. But it’s Angie’s voice that makes this band particularly special. It’s a gravelly type of breathy, and on some of the more rocking songs – notably “Forgetting to Forget” and “17 Days” – she almost seems to be channeling the energy of Chrissie Hynde. Indeed, once you hear the comparison, it’s impossible to unhear.

Angie Bruyere

photo courtesy of Miles High Productions

In fact, Angie’s voice sounds a lot like Chrissie Hynde with a hint of E.G. Daily (whose singing voice you may remember from her role as Phoebe’s former singing partner Leslie on Friends… or her turn on The Voice). And it’s that combination, when Angie’s voice occasionally unleashes a sexy, gravelly rock ‘n roll squeal for emphasis, that you’ll remember long after the disc is over.

The two catchiest tracks on this EP are the aforementioned “Forgetting to Forget” and “17 Days.” “Forgetting to Forget,” which builds to power with a soft edge and features emotional rock guitar bridges, is probably my favorite song on here, though “17 Days” is a close second. “17 Days” kicks off a bit more raucously, with insistent drumming, and carries that mid-tempo energy through to the end.

Angie and the Deserters

photo courtesy of Miles High Productions

Sandwiched between those numbers is the title track, “You.” It’s an engaging waltz; yes, it’s a pure enough waltz that any fourth grader paying attention in music class would be able to identify it. It swoops and sways, punctuated with marching band-style drum accents and, of course, Angie’s voice rising, falling, providing emotion, and adeptly moving around the melody.

Angie Bruyere

photo courtesy of Miles High Productions

That’s not to say the rest of the disc isn’t fine, as well. The strumming and fiddling that open “Stay” set the mood for the EP; combined with a little twang and skillful plucking, it’s likely to be some listeners’ favorite gravelly crooner. Meanwhile, the more ominous “When the Nighttime Comes” and gentler “Goodbyes,” a revamped, more crossover-friendly version of the song that appeared on The Deserters’ West of the Night album, complete the EP, a terrific follow-up to Blood Like Wine.

In the short-term, I absolutely can’t wait for a chance to see Angie and the Deserters live if that opportunity presents itself. Longer-term, I can’t wait to hear what comes next, where these EPs lead Angie and her cohorts on the next step of their musical journey.

Live Review: Fifth Season Quartet at Lilypad

Fifth Season

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Fifth Season Quartet

Lilypad, Cambridge, MA

December 4, 2016

Another great evening of jazz from a group featuring some of the most acclaimed local jazz musicians, the Fifth Season Quartet. The line-up last night was the same as last time I reviewed this group but with one addition. The quartet of Elena Koleva (vocals), Plamen Karadonev (piano, accordion), Greg Loughman (bass), and Austin MacMahon (drums), who I had seen perform last winter, were joined now by standout jazz harpist Charles Overton.

Fifth Season

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The group opened the evening with “Falling Grace,” showcasing Elena’s rich vocals and Plamen’s piano chops. Indeed, throughout the course of the evening, there was plenty of vocal riffing and ivory tickling, but since this is a bit of an all-star cast, there were also several showcases of each member of the band’s individual talents, ranging from true solos to extended jamming led by different bandmates. One such extended bass riff occurred during “Orange Colored Sky,” which may be built around some serious vocal gymnastics but was also delivered with segments of instrumental creativity, as well.

A couple of Plamen’s original numbers were featured during the nine-song set; in each case, Elena left the stage for these instrumental pieces. Mid-set, the band performed “Urban Things,” a progressive jazz number with a bit of a harsh edge, largely focused on the accordion parts. And toward the end of the set, though not exactly an original, the band rocked through Plamen’s arrangement of a Macedonian and Romanian folk number. This arrangement, in particular, brought a great deal of energy to the room. Indeed, much of the set showcased Elena’s amazing vocals, often in balladic form, but this original was the tentpole of a threesome of set-ending energetic, faster-tempoed numbers.

Yes, the energy continued as the group ended its evening with a rousing rendition of “It Don’t Mean a Thing.” A fine ending to a terrific set of oh-so-cool jazz.

You’ll be certain to catch us at future Fifth Season Quartet gigs; they’re what you’re looking for when you crave a jazz-filled evening.