Album Review: The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra – Earth Lift

The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra

photo by Zach Nichols; photo courtesy of Media Stew Public Relations

The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra – Earth Lift

Album Review of The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra: Earth Lift

The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra - Earth Lift

image courtesy of Media Stew Public Relations

This album is a unique journey. The band itself is quite unusual, performing a brand of free-form, experimental jazz like one might expect from a progressive rock band utilizing orchestral instruments and unafraid of incorporating broad musical influences.

A most-interesting incarnation of The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra‘s sound at its free-formiest is the drum and strings-driven “The Demented Waltz,” which meanders and is occasionally infused with drum-driven energy. Another example of the group’s rambling style is on “Swara Kakali,” which is fun because the guitar and violin seem to be having a conversation throughout significant portions of the track.

Occasionally, you’ll find vocals in this collection, notably on “When the Levee Breaks,” which has a Rush “Tom Sawyer” vibe, though just a hint more psychedelic, befitting vocals reminiscent of a Robert Plant-Janis Joplin blend. Showing versatility, though, the vocals in “Poison” add authenticity to what can best be described as a psychedelic folk number.

The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra

photo by Zach Nichols; photo courtesy of Media Stew Public Relations

Those particular songs stand out within the collection primarily due to their variance from the Galactic Cowboy Orchestra’s central sound, that of free-from, experimental, orchestral jazz. If you like experimental music performed by talented musicians – if you like music unlike that you’re likely to hear elsewhere – then The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra’s Earth Lift is for you.

Looking Ahead

You can catch The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra live. The band’s next performance is Saturday, March 25th at Excelsior Brewing in Excelsior, MN. You can find all of the group’s upcoming performances as they’re added here on the “shows” page of the band’s website.

Album Review: The Susan Constant – Wherever It Is You Are Now

The Susan Constant

photo by Timothy John Smith; photo courtesy of The Susan Constant

EP Review of The Susan Constant: Wherever It Is You Are Now

Nineties-influenced college rock. That’s the simplest description of The Susan Constant‘s musical style. Harmonies, melodies, and songwriting drove this style to the top of the charts, while bands sporting this hooky sound dominated college towns like Athens, Charlottesville, and East Lansing. The best of this brand of alt-rock – this catchy, poppy, energetic subgenre – took root at the end of the eighties and provided the most melodic rock music of the following decade. From R.E.M. to The Smithereens and The Verve Pipe, from Semisonic to Spacehog and The Wallflowers, and even to a certain extent Hootie and the Blowfish, this was heartfelt college rock club music with a peppiness that suggested its message wasn’t too deep, even though often it was. The most widely-heard current music that has some of its ancestry in this bloodline comes from bands like Maroon 5 and Train.

The Susan Constant - Wherever It Is You Are Now

image courtesy of The Susan Constant

The Susan Constant, however, is a bit of a throwback. I’ve been following this band for a couple years now. Of course, all those comparisons are just to give you an idea what to expect. What makes me a fan of The Susan Constant is that, while this region of the alt-rock map is decidedly less crowded now than it was 20 years ago, I believe this band sound would have an uniquely identifiable even during the sub-genre’s heyday; not surprising, I suppose, since they’ve had more recent music from which to draw inspiration, as well. In any case, “I’m Not the One” from The Susan Constant’s June 2015 release Keepers EP is still a regular on my personal smartphone playlist.

The Susan Constant

photo by Timothy John Smith; photo courtesy of The Susan Constant

So I’m glad to finally get a chance to review a Susan Constant recording, its recently-released five-song EP entitled Wherever It Is You Are Now. And yes, to no one’s surprise, there are some catchy songs in this short collection. “The Set Up” kicks things off with an alt-rock musical crash, leading into quirky-guy vocals for a tune that’d be well-placed on a Barenaked Ladies album. It’s followed by “I’ve Got Friends,” whose tempo is similar to Talking Heads’ “And She Was” but vocally more like R.E.M.’s “Stand.”

“Leave Me Behind” sports an almost electronically-staticy overriding sound, combining well with hooky stops and starts that could have led to an uncomfortable sparseness in spots; instead, this is a full-sounding, energetically not-as-happy-as-it-seems tune that hints at what Jimmy Eat World might perform if it ever ventured this far into The Susan Constant’s musical neighborhood.

It’s followed by track number four, my new favorite Susan Constant song, “Science.” Paul Sennott hits that insistent college alt-rock vocal sweet spot on this one – all the energy of a full rasp while actually employing just a hint of it. Combined with a persistent, catchy rhythm and a musical soup that sounds a bit like a bumblebee in one spot and ends abruptly, it’s a song you’ll remember and want to request on the radio, but you’ll have no idea what the song title is.

The Susan Constant

photo by Kevin James; photo courtesy of The Susan Constant

The disc ends all-too-soon with “The Hour Hand,” a smoothly rolling rocker that builds to emotional alt-rock screams before succumbing to the inevitable, softens, and provides Wherever It Is You Are Now with a comfortable send-off. And yes, coming more than a year after The Susan Constant’s last release, this EP is a bit like being served your favorite appetizer but leaving the table hungry because you had saved your appetite for a full dinner. It’s not enough, but it’s really good.

The EP release party was November 12th at The Middle East in Cambridge. I couldn’t get to that show, and the only show so far this year was a January 14th Pawtucket, RI gig at News Cafe. I don’t see any others scheduled yet, but I will be watching the band’s website and its Facebook page for them.


Album Review: Peter Vitalone – This Side of the Dirt

Peter Vitalone - This Side of the Dirt

image courtesy of Media Stew Public Relations

Album Review of Peter Vitalone: This Side of the Dirt

Peter Vitalone‘s voice is interesting. It’s at-times straight-up rock-gravelly, a bit like Bruce Springsteen but with a smoother edge, while sometimes adding more gravel to his voice resulting in a sound reminiscent of Randy Newman channeling Bob Dylan. On the whole, though, it’s rough with round corners, fitting the songs well but not necessarily being instantly identifiable. Peter relies on strong songwriting to bring out the best in his versatile voice.

Because of its variety of influences, This Side of the Dirt is kind of a difficult mid-tempo, mainstream rock disc to get a read on. The performance is tight. The band is talented. The songwriting is precise. And there’s a cool, classic rock organ line that drives several tracks. So I’ve knew from experience the distinctive elements of the album would reveal themselves over the course of multiple listens. It took a couple dozen listens to develop favorites, since the hooks are subtler and not particularly in-your-face. Typically, that means an album will hold up over months and years and become a longtime favorite, and in that sense I don’t expect This Side of the Dirt to surprise me.

Peter Vitalone

photo courtesy of Media Stew Public Relations

Peter kicks the disc off with the energetic “Into Me I See,” his voice’s rough edges summoning the lyrics’ emotion and laying it bare. That leads into “Everyday is Yesterday (Down South),” a laid-back, Jimmy Buffett-esque, feel-good song whose line “shake it up/and pour that bloody mary/’cause everyday is yesterday down south” could be Peter’s “lost shaker of salt” lyric.

My favorite track may very well be “Old Friend.” It’s mellow with energetic bridges, rock organ-meets-piano at times. With a bit of a Bruce Hornsby flavor behind its melancholy tone, the song seems both defiant and resigned. Mostly, though, it’s a comfortable “old friend” and a memorable, enjoyable listen.

“Man Alone” goes full-on rock organ with some slightly Motown-meets-the-blues-inspired backing vocals; this one might be best absorbed in a black-lit room with a lava lamp.

A couple of my other favorites follow “Man Alone.” “In the Morning” has an energetic, folky pop energy. And it flows pleasantly into “Sofia,” a mid-tempo number that recalls ’70s guitar-driven mainstream rock hits.

Peter ends the disc with “End of the Line” — a fitting end to the album. It provides just a hint of energy on the heels of its haunting lead-in, “Living on the Ledge.” But “End of the Line” doesn’t bring the tempo up too much. It maintains much of the uneasy balance of its predecessor, as if the song’s footing is still a bit uneasy but less so as it slowly builds, defiantly finding its strength before easing off into the sunset. It leaves the listener with a contented sigh as the last rhythms fade away.

Beginning to end, this is a solid disc, a welcome long-term addition to my CD collection. And, if you take a listen, perhaps yours.

Live Review: Alissa Musto at Renaissance Hotel Patriot Place

Alissa Musto

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Alissa Musto

Renaissance Hotel Patriot Place, Foxborough, MA

January 12, 2017

The Backstory

Alissa Musto reached out to me via Twitter just last week. I checked out her music, was impressed, and will be reviewing her album What We Saw From the Piano Bar a few weeks from now. Because of my significant review backlog, and because Alissa had some local shows scheduled, I thought it might be nice to get out to review a gig while the album worked its way through my review queue. And last night’s show was an early 6:00 PM set that I could get to easily from home and still be back by 9:00. Early set in the outer suburbs? If you’ve been following this Blog for long, you know that’s my sweet spot, so on this cooperatively temperate winter evening I zipped down the interstate to catch a live performance.

Some of you may recognize Alissa’s name. Yes, she is the current, reigning Miss Massachusetts. And, as I discovered upon digging into her music, a serious musician. Pardon me, a serious singer-songwriter-musician. In my estimation, she’s got the chops to entertain rooms ranging from intimate jazz clubs to concert halls.

Alissa Musto

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Performance

The set-up is a little unusual at this hotel. The performance space is in the lobby lounge area, but it’s directly adjacent to the hotel restaurant bar, Twenty 8 Food & Spirits. As a result, bar patrons can enjoy the music, as can hotel guests in the adjacent lounge; the lobby is relatively open all the way to check-in at the opposite end leading to the main parking lot, so guests get a taste of the music while coming and going, too.

Alissa Musto

photo by Geoff Wilbur

This evening was a bit of a treat, as Alissa, who usually performs solo, was joined by her younger brother William on guitar. He handled his contributions to the performance with aplomb, especially seeming to excel on some of the jazzier tunes.

Given the setting, Alissa’s performance was a bit toned down; I’m sure I’ll find a way to catch her at a venue appropriate for a livelier performance during which she can fully belt out some of her songs without disturbing guests at the check-in counter. She clearly has the range and power to do it; it’s a testament to her control and professionalism that she was able to deliver heartfelt accounts of some of the more powerful vocal numbers while still adjusting to the mellower delivery requirements. (I suppose I could’ve stuck around after the show and asked her to belt one out in the parking lot afterwards; maybe next time.)

Alissa Musto

photo by Geoff Wilbur

I arrived a couple minutes past 6:00, early in Alissa’s smooth, rich, full vocal performance of the R&B standard “Kansas City.” Over the course of the evening, she covered jazz, R&B, pop, and rock songs old and new.

Throughout the set, Alissa dipped deeply into her broad-based vocal arsenal. My first impression of her was that she had a strong voice with a hint of tuneful gravel. That was on frequent display last night, though just as often she pulled the emotion from the songs via a sometimes evocative, husky hoarseness – again, just a hint – instead. On yet other occasions, she utilized a unique vocal technique that adds texture to her songs; it’s one of the cool, unique elements I’ve picked up on in her vocals – and you know I get most excited about vocalists who have their own trademark elements – but the best description I’ve come up with yet is warbling, and I don’t think that properly conveys its tunefulness or effectiveness.

Alissa Musto

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Back to the evening’s performance, though, I’ll start by recounting the originals. I counted at least three, and there were likely one or two more, as I’m only just becoming familiar with Alissa’s originals and may not always recognize them. Early in the set, she performed “Black Flak,” a smooth number adorned by soft but soulful and heartfelt vocals; the whole song has a bit of a Don McLean “American Pie” vibe to it. And the other song whose name I know – the one song request I made, in fact, since it’s my early favorite from Alissa’s album – was “Brovada.” Lyrically, it’s a very cleverly phrased alter ego song; vocally, both the warbling and hoarse approaches I mentioned earlier were used, to particularly great effect in combination with the lyrics.

The covers covered a bit of ground. Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why” kicked off with serious ivory-tickling and featured a cool, jazzy, small vocal run to things things up, subtle enough to likely be missed by anyone not paying close attention; it’s those little touches, indeed, that make songs truly interesting. Alissa utilized a full piano sound an smooth, extra jazzy vox on Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You.”

Alissa Musto

photo by Geoff Wilbur

But the selection wasn’t limited to jazzy R&B. There was an über-hip version of “Route 66,” a rendition of Maroon 5’s “Sunday Morning” featuring dynamic vocals, and a somewhat torchy performance of “New York State of Mind.” Alicia sang “Desperado” with a slight quaver while moving around rather significantly within the pocket, dancing around the melody, delivering a relatively personal rendition of such an often-covered tune. She emphasized raspiness on “Not Gonna Write You a Love Song,” with crisp keyboardwork accenting her gently powerful vocals. “Maybe I’m Amazed” was performed smoothly but with character in the vocals and with some cool, jazzy phrasing. And Alissa delivered Anna Nalick’s “Breathe (2 A.M.)” with serious vocal texture.

In the end, the song selection of covers and originals hinted at the breadth of Alissa Musto’s capabilities; and, while the room required the softer touch she used this evening, the performance left no doubt about her versatility for multiple venue types and her overall talent as an artist. It’s going to be fun watching Alissa’s career continue to unfold.

Alissa Musto

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Looking Ahead

I can unflinchingly implore you to get to a live performance. Shows like the one at the Renaissance Hotel are mellow and jazzy. I believe the Saturday nights at Jacob Wirth will be much more raucous. So try to gauge the performance by the venue; Alissa does adapt her performances to suit the rooms. You have two more opportunities to see her perform this weekend. Tonight, Friday, January 13th, she’ll be at Tavolo Wine Bar in Providence, RI from 6:30 to 10:00. And tomorrow, Saturday, January 14th, she’ll be at Jacob Wirth in Boston from 8:00 PM to midnight. Alissa lists upcoming shows here on her website.

Album Review: Edge of Paradise – Immortal Waltz

Edge of Paradise

photo courtesy of Edge of Paradise

Album Review of Edge of Paradise: Immortal Waltz

Edge of Paradise‘s Margarita Monet delivers theatrical vocal power with a melodically shrill edge, kind of like Faster Pussycat and their ilk, kings of late ’80s/early ’90s melodic hard rock. But there’s a very modern, edgy, theatrical tone to this band’s music. Think melodic heavy metal meets Phantom of the Opera in a room of funhouse mirrors… but with the emphasis on the metal. Immortal Waltz was produced by rock icon Michael Wagener, too, bringing out the best of this talented four-piece’s abilities.

Edge of Paradise - Immortal Waltz

image courtesy of Edge of Paradise

Immortal Waltz starts strong, with Margarita’s vocal wail fronting a metal wall of music on “Perfect Shade of Black.” The expressiveness of her voice and the theatrical soaring, booming, and progressive-metallic axework and powerful drumming behind her establish a level of rocking that’s maintained throughout.

It’s immediately followed by the most carnival barkerish track in the collection, one that’s become a personal favorite, “It’s My Showtime.” The rhythm is hypnotic, the vocals expressively follow suit, and a late-song blistering guitar solo carries the track toward its carnival-themed finale; the overall carnival flavor (sans barker), however, is most pronounced in the next song, “Immortal Waltz.”

There’s a classic heavy metal ballad on Immortal Waltz, too, “In a Dream.” The vocals here are Monet’s breathiest on this album, and the gentle music crescendoes to power in the chorus, about as metal ballady – and as effective – as it gets. As such, this is probably the most accessible track for reaching fans across genres and subgenres.

Margarita Monet

photo courtesy of Edge of Paradise

It’s followed by the trio of songs that initially attracted me the most, likely due to their well-constructed classic rock/heavy melodic metal cores, upon which Edge of Paradise adds its trademark progressive and occasionally-piercing vocal elements. The first, “Rise for the Fallen,” utilizes a catchy rhythmic hook, a variety of vocal techniques varied to meet the moment, and a classic rock-styled guitar solo bridge. “Ghost,” which was initially my favorite of the bunch, soars and drifts a bit more between its moments of vocal power, while its instrumentation never really exceeds moderate heaviness, even as its axework occasionally blisters; it’s an inspired mix of elements, in fact. And “Break Away” rides a ploddingly-paced progressive intro into its mid-tempo rhythmic power rock, a la “Rise for the Fallen,” providing a cohesiveness to this trio of songs.

“Goodbye” follows, its rhythm combining with a more progressive, symphonic instrumentation to create a song with a more theatrical flavor, trending back toward the songs from the earlier portion of the disc. And the album closes with Monet channeling Dio on the band’s booming cover of Black Sabbath’s “Children of the Sea.”

With Immortal Waltz, Edge of Paradise has carved out an original sound built upon time-tested classic, progressive, and symphonic metal elements. Because of its uniqueness, this album takes a little time to become familiar, but it’s interesting right from the start, and the talent involved is unmistakable.

Beyond the Album

The band released a subsequent single, “Shade of Crazy,” in July 2016 that brought a heavier edge to Edge of Paradise’s trademark sound; the song relies on the expressiveness of Monet’s voice to balance its extra heaviness. Next up, slated for a February release, “Alive” continues that full-on power while deploying an engagingly recurring heavy rhythm. Both songs leave me hopeful for a compelling next album.

The “tour dates” tab on the band’s website currently lists a few upcoming shows. This weekend, you can catch them on Saturday, January 14th as part of the Metal Meltdown at the M15 Concert Bar and Grill in Corona, CA. Other dates currently scheduled are April 21st at The Soundbox Tavern in Simpsonville, SC; April 22nd at The Drunk Horse in Fayetteville, NC; and September 23rd at the Female Metal Event in Eindhoven, Netherlands.

Album Review: Nathaniel Land – My Destination’s You

Nathaniel Land

photo courtesy of Serge Media Group

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

EP Review of Nathaniel Land: My Destination’s You

Nathaniel Land is a New York City singer and songwriter whose roots stem from a musical family – he’s a relative of Robert Hunter of Grateful Dead lore. His press info says that after years as a performing and studio guitarist, Nathaniel developed his songwriting craft under the tutelage of Nashville legend Hugh Prestwood at the New School. He says that he writes and arranges vibrant material in the mold of Max Kearney, Ryan Adams and David Gray.

“I am so excited to release My Destination’s You”, states Land. “The material represents a huge step forward for me on many levels.”

I am sure that every artist strives for progression from album to album. No one wants to get stuck in a groove, and yet it is important to keep the themes and styles familiar to your fans. I would say that this is achieved on this new release, which has extended on the earlier, vaguely R.E.M.-esque sounding album Make This World Our Own into this much more Americana experience. My Destination’s You is rather like Michael Stipe goes country.

Nathaniel Land - My Destination's You

image courtesy of Serge Media Group

The progression from the previous album brings us closer to something more reminiscent of an imagined 21st century James Taylor or Cat Stevens with a grounded Americana country vibe. Nathaniel has a rich, pleasant timbre to his voice, and the record is well-recorded with wholesome production, crisp acoustic guitar, and clean simple construction with just the right decisions being made about the instrumentation. This has been achieved with the studio talents of Chris Cubeta, who produced the album at Studio G, Williamsburg, New York City and Alex De Turk, who mastered it at Strange Weather Studios. All the songs on the album have been written by Nathaniel, and as he says, “The songs reflect my sincere desire to touch and inspire, to help people reflect on their own lives, and to open new possibilities of love and fulfillment.”

Opening track “Emily” quickly makes this desire a reality. There is a longing tone of a traveler’s remorse that colours the song with an identifiable resonance. On a personal level, I think that it can be an exposing method of songwriting. When you write, you can choose to hide behind the imagery you create or you can be intensely honest about your feelings. This is a revealing and open approach to writing and works well here set to a relaxed and syncopated acoustic groove.

“California Blue” is another travelling road trip of a song. Descriptive and easygoing with a rewarding sense of build, enhanced by its sprinkled subtle guitar parts. I can’t imagine anyone who likes this genre of music would not enjoy this; it does everything you would want it to.

Nathaniel Land

photo courtesy of Serge Media Group

There is a similar feeling of musical satisfaction on the next track, “Take Your Chances.” Once again, the swing of the track is perfectly achieved to draw you in, and the melodic acoustic approach combined with the universal message of taking your chances while you can is an appealing one.

I should say that, as the next track “Lonely Life” began, it struck me that, as well as the quality of the songs and production, I was also enjoying the sequencing of the track listing. One song effortlessly moved to the next and took you on the journey no doubt intended by the creators. “Lonely Life” is more uptempo and maybe the most contemporary country pop sound so far on the album. Like a soft Nickelback, and I could see it being the most radio friendly.

“Liar” is the penultimate song on this 6-track EP/album. This was the least penetrable one for me. It’s not that I didn’t like it, just that maybe I needed more listens of it to grow on me. There was a very ’80s sequencer synth part that made me slightly question if it fit with all the other songs as comfortably as maybe hoped. Verdict’s out, but I think in time I will like it, just not so much as the rest.

The release ends with the title track “My Destination’s You,” which rounds off everything very nicely and fulfills Nathaniel’s original desires to speak of love and possibilities in a sincere and inspiring way.

This release does indeed deliver Nathaniel to his hoped-for destination. There are a lot of people trying to make music in this genre, and so it takes something special to stand apart. I think Nathaniel has that, and so it’s not hard for me to encourage you, if you like good quality acoustic-based Americana pop, to go and buy his new record.

Land is currently planning a fundraising event in NYC (February 15th at Rockwood Music Hall) to benefit the Amani Children’s Home. When Land visited the Amani Children’s Home during his travels to Kilimanjaro, he became so inspired by the home he felt it necessary to provide visibility for this organisation through his music. Like his last album release, he has dedicated My Destination’s You to the Children of Amani, and all proceeds from music sales will be donated to the Amani Children’s Home in Karanga, Tanzania.

Album Review: Love Love – Love Love

Love Love

photo courtesy of Love Love

Album Review of Love Love: Love Love

Music journalists love when bands self-title their first albums, mostly because we like to use the word “eponymous.” But I’ll resist because there’s so much more to write about Love Love than its album title choice. Hip, hillbilly-in-a-coalmine Americana. But with a dark side. And a tendency to wail in such a way that you’re both energized and haunted at the same time. And a proclivity toward throwing in some psychedelic, mellow guitar rock just when you think you have the band’s style figured out.

But let’s start with the dark side. This Boston band sure does. I had never even heard of murderpedia until I found myself singing along to this oh-so-catchy, truly demented opening number, “Murderpedia.” Indeed, it sounds as if Chris Toppin and Jefferson Davis Riordan, who, along with bass player Darren Ray, form the core of Love Love, sought out some of the more gruesome entries and wove them into a song. I guarantee you’ll sing along to this catchy, guitar hook-driven knee-slapper… and that you’ll be simultaneously amused and horrified at yourself for doing so. (To be honest, you’ll mostly be singing along with “devil back to hell”; not so horrifying.) Yes, this song is on my phone playlist.

My other favorite Love Love song on this disc is a gravelly-vocalled, psychedelic Americana-folk anthem of unique pride, “I Like You Weird.” This could be a major hit, a movie theme song, the band’s entrée to pop music consciousness. At a minimum, it’s going to be one of your favorite songs on Love Love’s eponymous debut album. (OK, it turns out I couldn’t resist.)

Elsewhere on the album, which totals 14 songs, you’ll have your own favorites, but there are a few I’m particularly drawn to. “Hey Fella”, for example, is a slow-paced, engaging, heavy roots rock behemoth. And “Big Backyard Moon” is a harmonizing, guitar picking, energetic, hillbilly-esque ditty.

“Bailing” extends the Opry-like flavor all the way to Hee Haw territory; lyrically modern with a hint of rock guitar where you’d perhaps expect banjo on a truly old-school country song, but it frequently sports a classic country harmony. Structurally, if you appreciate a well-crafted song, this is a work of art. And it’s followed by singer-songwriter-esque melodic alt-rock “Maryland,” just to keep listeners on their toes.

“Wide Open Skies” is a medium-tempo, ’60s/’70s-flavored travelling song that just screams “Roll the windows down!” to which you will certainly reply, if you live here in New England, “No, not in the winter,” but you’ll still want to.

In the end, Love Love is a style of roots rock/Americana all its own. A pure old sound with a new bent and a propensity to throw in styles you didn’t expect, sometimes in large quantities so they take over a particular song, while always maintaining an underlying Love Love sound. A perfect example comes late in the album. “Love Myself” is one of those “do I have the turntable on the right speed?” mellow, psychedelic tunes that feels as if you’re drifting through the clouds in a black lit room full of lava lamps. It’s followed by “Lost Battle,” a fun, pickin’-and-grinnin’ knee-slapper. And the album ends to the tune of a capella, creaky hillbilly harmony on “Bright Morning Stars.”

Love Love is a unique entity. Boston-based, bizarre Americana.

Album Review: Mary Fahl – Love & Gravity

Mary Fahl

photo by Lisa Hancock; photo courtesy of MelFarina Media

Mary Fahl – Love & Gravity

Album Review of Mary Fahl: Love & Gravity

Mary Fahl‘s powerful, emotional voice stands out, powering this disc that’s probably best categorized as folk, but there’s a power that suggests a concert hall might more nearly contain Mary’s voice than a coffeeshop. It’s as if her voice is echoing through a lush, green, hilly region of the Irish countryside, an image I’ve selected because there’s a bit of almost-operatic Irish folk sound powering Mary’s often-booming yet sensitive vocals. As a result, Love & Gravity occasionally courts the intersection between folk and classical; that’s interesting because I was previously scarcely aware there was such an intersection.

Mary Fahl - Love and Gravity

image courtesy of MelFarina Media

Love & Gravity, a 2014 release, is Mary’s fourth studio album since 2001. She also recorded two albums as a member of chamber pop group October Project in the 1990s.

The album opens with “Exiles (The Wolves of Midwinter),” its haunting power and orchestration providing a striking introduction to Love & Gravity. It’s followed immediately by soaring, echoing “How Much Love,” currently my personal favorite in the collection.

Perhaps the immediately easiest-to-absorb track on the disc is Mary’s exceptionally soaring, emotionally rising and falling cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” though that’s partially due to its instant familiarity. But also partially due to Mary’s exceptional arrangement and delivery, since this song, as performed, is clearly a Mary Fahl song, performed in her own style. Though I’ve heard this song covered a number of times, this is far and away my favorite version ever. You can hear the vocal power soar… and drop. Boom. Wow!

Mary Fahl

photo by Lisa Hancock; photo courtesy of MelFarina Media

“Gravity (Move Mountains, Turn Rivers Around)” is one of those folky songs of power and understanding, a song that takes a thoughtful journey through its own lyrics. And, of course, because of Mary’s amazing voice, the song soars, booms, and roars, quietly and with lush orchestration.

The most ethereal track on the disc is probably “Siren,” a soft, gentle, otherworldly number. Another quickly enjoyable track because of the familiarity with those referenced in the song, is the emphatically, powerfully romantic “Like Johnny Loved June.” (That’d be Johnny Cash and June Carter, of course.)

Mary lends that Irish folky, soaring power to “Dawning of the Day,” her tribute to the 9/11 rescue workers, before closing the disc with an almost lullaby of a tune, though clearly embellished with the vocal power and emotion of a Mary Fahl song, “Meant to Be.”

I know it was released a couple years ago, and so I’m a bit late to the party, but it should be clear I have a particular soft spot for amazing vocalists, and in that respect, Mary Fahl’s Love & Gravity is a gem that seems to capture the spirit and quality of her vocal prowess.

Mary Fahl

photo by Lisa Hancock; photo courtesy of MelFarina Media

Looking Ahead

Mary has several dates already booked for 2017, beginning with Saturday, January 21st in Auburn, NY; Saturday, February 11th in Beacon, NY; and Saturday, February 18th in New Hartford, CT. To find out more information about these dates and see future bookings, currently including scheduled shows from Maine to Georgia to Texas, see the performance dates page of Mary’s website. There’s a May 20th date at Club Passim in Boston; I’ll have that one circled, watching my calendar as it takes shape this spring, hoping my schedule will allow me to get to it.