Album Review: Davey O. – A Bright Horizon Line

Davey O.

photo courtesy of Davey O.

Davey O. – A Bright Horizon Line

The Backstory

I first encountered Davey O. at the Philadelphia Music Conference in the mid/late-1990s. At the time, I was publishing Geoff Wilbur’s Renegade Newsletter, and he was trying build his music career. He had a demo cassette with a handwritten name and phone number on it. I remember being impressed by the music on it. He remembers that I wrote a positive review, so apparently my memory is right. And all these years later, while I placed my writing career on hiatus for more than a decade, he built his fanbase, released more music, and became one of the more popular, widely-traveled touring musicians the northeastern quarter of the United States.

Album Review of Davey O.: A Bright Horizon Line

Davey O. - A Bright Horizon Line

image courtesy of Davey O.

Davey O. has a style all his own… and, at the same time, not unlike a lot of other top folk artists. Most importantly, his voice is insistent, tuneful, and carries a lot of emotion, exactly what’s necessary to tell a good story. He also approaches his songs vocally from a variety of angles, allowing his album to contain stylistic variance and remain entertaining from beginning to end. Indeed, on at least a third of his songs, there’s a more western style of strumming, earning Davey the occasional sub-classification of Americana, and rightly so. I’d say his more country songs perhaps categorize him alongside Willie Nelson, while his folk songs would place him onstage with anyone from Bob Dylan to Jim Croce, though Davey’s voice is a bit smoother. And while I wouldn’t classify his voice as gravelly, he is capable of accessing a rough edge whenever he ups the emotional ante. In any case, for anyone whose tastes are triangulated by (or even border) that trio of artists, Davey will hit your sweet spot.

Davey O.

photo courtesy of Davey O.

A Bright Horizon Line opens with “The Easy Work,” a powerful, familiar folk strum that combines with his textured vocals, enhanced by the warm sound of a good acoustic guitar, serving as a welcome and representative introduction to the disc.

The album closes with an intriguing folk version of “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” Davey’s one cover song on the disc, with a full, rich sound interacting well with his pleasingly strained, characteristically emotionally connected vocals.

In between, Davey weaves an interesting trail throughout A Bright Horizon Line, playing to his various strengths, relying on the familiar, textured voice and wisely-selected strumming patterns to connect with his listeners. This man is a true professional, an expert at his craft.

Davey O.

photo courtesy of Davey O.

Davey’s insistent, pleading, rough-hewn vocals drive “In Its Own Time” with a memorable edge that has, I’ve noticed, propelled it to some recognition within the folk community. I, meanwhile, favor “Just For Them,” with its more plainspoken, vocally-rawer emotional connection, combined with some nifty guitar-picking, almost like a folk-lullaby with a thoughtful message.

There’s some humor mixed in with life-examining lessons learned during “Making Good Time.” And you can hear a tortured soul in Davey’s voice during the lament-filled “Ok,” which closes with a pleasantly piano-supported guitar fade.

Davey O.

photo courtesy of Davey O.

The deployment of a harmonica on strummer “Coming Home” is a nice touch, as is the country twang supporting “Nothing Could Go Wrong.” In fact, there’s something seventies pop-folk-country in that song’s flavor; I think I hear crossover potential.

One of the more energetic songs on the record, “My Parade” is about the closest thing to a knee-slapper and foot-stomper you’ll find in this collection, with simultaneous picking and strumming guitar lines combining to boost the tempo. That’s followed by Davey’s poetic folk homage to his hometown, “To Buffalo.”

In the end, Davey O.’s voice and guitar show a bit of variety on the album, which is why it’s so easy to listen to in its entirety. It’s also what extends Davey’s appeal beyond just hardcore folkies. Check out A Bright Horizon Line. Regardless of your preferred genre, Davey’s voice will reach your soul, and the lyrics on at least one of his songs is likely to speak to something deep inside you. Now it’s up to you to give this disc a few listens to find that song.

Davey O.

photo courtesy of Davey O.

Looking Ahead

Davey O. tours widely and almost constantly. Centered in Buffalo, NY, his gigs span hundreds of miles in all directions. Look for shows near you on the tour page of his website. Dates are added as he books them, and there are currently some shows listed as far as 8 months out. Between now and the 4th of July, he’ll be in Pittsburgh, PA (June 1st), Zanesville, OH (June 2nd), Thomas, WV (June 3rd and 4th), Hamburg, NY (June 7th), Clarence, NY (June 9th), Williamsville, NY (June 10th), Hamburg, NY again (June 11th), Lockport, NY (June 14th), Hamburg, NY yet again (June 15th), Andover, NH (June 16th), Clinton, CT (June 17th), Orchard Park, NY (June 22nd), Depew, NY (early June 24th), Williamsville, NY again (later June 24th), Raymond, OH (June 30th), and Lakewood, OH (July 1st). Be sure to check Davey’s website to see if he’s playing near you at some time in the next 8 months, and check back regularly as he adds additional dates.

Live Review: Mychael David Trio at Hudson House Restaurant

Mychael David & band

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Mychael David Trio

Hudson House Restaurant, Hudson, MA

May 27, 2017

Last time I saw Mychael David perform was last summer. (If you recall, I reviewed that show, too.) It turns out he really is as good as I remembered.

This evening’s show in the lounge area of the Hudson House Restaurant and Lounge was in trio format, meaning that Mychael wasn’t performing with his full band. Rather, he was flanked by his exceptionally talented guitarists Pete Early and Howie Swett. Well, technically, Mychael sat on the left, so he wasn’t actually “flanked,” but it was just the three of them.

I caught the band’s first set this evening. They opened with “Nobody Wins,” displaying Mychael’s rich, deep, versatile voice in fine form. It absolutely soared during this song.

Mychael David & band

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Mychael followed that with “I’m From the Country,” a Tracy Byrd song he performed with a bit more twang and during which he showed off his country growl. Next up was “Folsom Prison Blues, during which Mychael featured the deep, powerful, booming side of his voice.

Mychael continued to mix things up a bit, singing a mid-tempo, mid-range number, Mark Collie’s “Even the Man in the Moon is Crying.” Indeed, he has range, and his voice is warm, rich, and strong throughout that range. It’s always a great pleasure to get to hear Mychael David sing.

After letting Pete handle the vocals on Alan Jackson’s “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow,” Mychael unveiled a couple of the songs on the band’s upcoming album, to be entitled Heroes and Honkytonks.

First up was “Won’t You Put Your Badge Back On,” a song paying tribute to law enforcement, recalling simpler times, and referencing classic television shows. And, of course, performed impeccably. It was followed by “The Dog Don’t Know Sit,” an old-fashioned country-tempo strummer; a fun number, obviously (as if the title didn’t give that away).

Mychael David & band

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Mychael then returned to covers, with “Good Hearted Woman” up next, just confirming that, with the detail in richness in Mychael’s voice, he can sing anything country. And beyond, apparently, as the band closed its set with a rousing rendition of Bob Seger’s “Night Moves,” a version that included an impressively stretched-out “waiting on the thunder” wail.

Always a pleasure catching a Mychael David show and hearing him breeze through a broad range of country music sub-genres, all with a bit of a classic country tilt. And he surrounds himself with exceptional musicians, as Pete and Howie’s guitar playing occasionally stole the show from Mychael’s voice– no easy feat.

Looking Ahead

Per the “tour” page of Mychael’s website, his next gig is Saturday, June 24th in Sterling, MA. On Wednesday, June 28th, he’ll be in Merrimack, NH. And on Thursday, June 29th, he’ll be performing in Northborough, MA as part of Northborough’s summer concert series, returning to the concert series where I reviewed him last summer. Additional shows listed are: Sunday, July 2nd in Wells, ME; Friday, July 14th in Sturbridge, MA; Friday, July 21st in Auburn, MA; Saturday, August 5th in Winchendon, MA; Saturday, August 12th in Boylston, MA; Sunday, August 20th in West Boylston, MA; Thursday, August 24th in Hampton Beach, NH; Saturday, September 9th in Sterling, MA; Sunday, September 24th in Loudon, NH; Saturday, October 21st in Haverhill, MA; and Saturday, November 25th in Clinton, MA. Go to the website for additional details about those shows, and check periodically as Mychael adds addition dates to his concert calendar.

Album Review: “Les Paul’s” (The Paul’s) – A Mile Until Dawn

"Les Paul's" (The Paul's)

photo courtesy of Paul Robert Thomas

Album Review of “Les Paul’s” (The Paul’s): A Mile Until Dawn

As you may recall from when I reviewed their Night Worker album last summer“Les Paul’s” (The Paul’s) are Paul Odiase and Paul Robert Thomas. The Pauls. That album, Night Worker, was an overt homage to David Bowie. A Mile Until Dawn is another mid-tempo, seventies rock-influenced disc, with a little broader range of influences. Still, though, my first comparison would be to Bowie, as the disc’s somewhat hauntingly stretched vocal and guitar lines clearly have their roots in that same ’70s prog rock neighborhood.

An inviting guitar intro kicks off the disc, providing the opening riffs to the medium-hard-driving “There’s Nothing New Under the Sun.” With a hooky riff, pop-inspired synth elements, and an engaging tempo, it provides a catchy kickoff of A Mile Until Dawn. The following track, “You Just Kiss and Tell,” continues along a similarly rockin’ pace, adding a little vocal, lyrical, and musical conflict to the mix.

"Les Paul's" (The Paul's) - A Mile Until Dawn

image courtesy of Paul Robert Thomas

Like any artistic envelope-pushing progressive rock disc, though, A Mile Until Dawn isn’t just a straightforward rocker. “A Thousand Eyes” adds an ethereal element with guitars dancing in the distant mist, or so it seems.

“Anna Frank,” meanwhile, takes a more foreboding tone, suited to its subject matter, as “Les Paul’s” (The Paul’s) prove again they’re willing to tackle heavy issues in their musical collections.

Personally, I’m a bit fond of the faster-tempoed numbers on this disc like the two album-openers and “I Knew You Once,” a bit danceable and rather memorable. Also, I’m struck by a couple tracks that show a bit of New Wave influence: “Don’t Kick Me When I’m Down,” which also sports a rather punk attitude, and ’80s synth-y “No Use Crying Over Spilt Milk,” which suggests to me something that might spring from a collaboration between David Bowie and A Flock of Seagulls. Both of these tracks have grown into personal favorites.

The two final songs, “You Screwed Me Up” and “You F-cked Me Up” are two versions of the same repetitive-heavy-beat-driven song, presumably one a more radio-friendly version of the other. This heavy-rhythm-driven, combatively low-to-mid-tempo power rocker pounds along beginning to end, a bit of a progressive jam-rock number that’ll have listeners banging their heads and mock-drumming as the album draws to a close.

As with the previous album of theirs I reviewed, “Les Paul’s” (The Paul’s) have delivered another disc of artistically progressive, classic rock-influenced rock ‘n roll, simultaneously familiar and envelope-pushing.

EP Review: Jimmy Lee Morris – Campervan

Jimmy Lee Morris

photo courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

EP Review of Jimmy Lee Morris: Campervan (Automix Records)

Jimmy Lee Morris - Campervan

image courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

UK-based singer-songwriter Jimmy Lee Morris is a talented artist with no pretense. He writes songs that define the term “folk.” In other words, they are down to earth, and about people and relationships, with resonant melodies and memorable hooks. This four song EP Campervan is Morris’ latest and follows the 2016 album Wilderness Wood.

Jimmy Lee Morris has been crafting songs since the ‘80s, fronting bands such as Mojo Filter and The Collaborators. He’s worked with Pink Floyd producer Ron Geesin and has toured extensively throughout the UK and Denmark.

Jimmy Lee Morris

photo courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

With this current effort, Morris provides a lean and economical window into his creativity. “Campervan Song” opens the EP in a pleasant and forthright manner. This bears a well-thought-out melody with lyrics that address escape and the open road. It’s all about being self-reliant and throwing caution to the wind. Simply, the song states: “And here’s to the camper that never breaks down, and here’s to the journey it takes us upon, and wave to the others as we go along, it’s just you and me on the road.” And you get this traveling troubadour kind of feel too via Javier Forero’s driving percussion and Clare Lees’ light and billowy flute.

Bethan Lees

Bethan Lees; photo courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

Although Morris wrote all the material here no one could accuse him of being dictatorial or autocratic. Bethan Lees is a young and very special vocal chanteuse, and Morris is more than happy to place her in the spotlight on his beautiful tune “Amor Compartido (A Love We Share).” Bethan has an angelic and lilting soprano that sends this lovely song into stratospheric trajectory. It’s entirely sung in Spanish, and the rhythm section of Morris on acoustic guitar, along with Richard Leney’s lithe bass, Javier Forero’s percolating drums and producer Simon Scardanelli’s tasty lead guitar give this a brilliant salsa feel.

Jimmy Lee Morris

photo courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

“When I’m Gone” is a bluesy-flavored number with a classic Beatles-meets-Jim Croce kind of vibe. It’s a song about love and longing. Anyone that has ever been separated from their significant other or main squeeze for any length of time will certainly appreciate this. Phillipe Guyard chimes in with a wailing sax solo that really kicks.

The final selection in this brief, but fine, collection is another rootsy kind of tune called “Temptation.” As is Morris’ style, he is direct and to the point in the communication department. In this he sings: “I’m holding you, you’re holding me, I’m loving you and you’re loving me. We don’t need no complication, just give in to your temptation, stay with me.” This has a real down home feel courtesy of Morris’ mandolin and Duncan Campbell’s countrified Dobro.

 

Live Review: Martin and Kelly at Chopps

Martin and Kelly

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Martin and Kelly

Chopps American Bar and Grill, Burlington, MA

May 23, 2017

Jilly Martin and Ryan Brooks Kelly are a local country duo with a good pedigree as is apparent from the list of big names they’ve shared the stage with. Also, more importantly to those of us who care about such things, they’re outstanding musicians and performers. When sampling their music in advance of this evening, the song that convinced me they were a must-see was their catchy, fun original “Young, Broke, and Beautiful.” Both have strong country voices – Jilly’s is a sweet, high voice well-suited to classic country, while Ryan’s is a modern country voice with a bit of an edge, with the added ability of throwing in a good twang when called for. Together, their voices blend exceptionally well, so it’s a real treat to hear them sing harmonies, and they find a way to work to their own vocal strengths in their originals.

Martin and Kelly

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The performance space at Chopps is in the bar area of the restaurant, adjacent to the lobby of the Marriott Hotel in which it’s located. As a result, the musical performances tend to be a little subdued. On this particular night, Martin and Kelly delivered a performance well-suited to a toned-down environment like Chopps, with patrons enjoying their music both actively and passively. I stayed for the first half of their 3-hour time slot and thoroughly enjoyed myself; I always love the food, service, and setting at this restaurant, so when there’s good live music here, I’m an “easy sell.” I do, however, look forward to catching Martin and Kelly in a livelier environment one of these days to see more of their energetic side.

Martin and Kelly

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The duo opened with their rendition of Thompson Square’s “I Got You,” with their vocals blending solidly when they harmonized. Next up, Jilly got to show off her vocal chops on Sugar Land’s “Something More.”

Jilly’s high and soft-but-strong vocals were particularly well-suited to Kasey Musgraves’ “Merry Go Round,” while Ryan’s voice displayed an emotional edge on Scotty McCreery’s “Carolina Moon.”

There were other noteworthy covers I caught during the evening’s performance. For example, there was a rendition of “Make You Feel My Love” that was sung sweetly by Jilly, somewhat like a lullaby. Thomas Rhett & Tori Kelly’s “Die a Happy Man” offered them an opportunity to showcase their sweet harmonies in a nicely blended duet. And Willie Nelson’s “Always On My Mind” afforded Ryan a chance to put his sweet crooning skills on display, while Jilly picked up the second verse strong, and the song lent itself to some classic harmonies, too; certainly, this is one of the duo’s strongest covers.

Martin and Kelly

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Also notable was Martin and Kelly’s rendition of Joey + Rory’s “Cheater, Cheater.” Jilly channeled Johnny Cash, it seemed, for some of the low notes on this picker and grinner, while Ryan’s guitar did its best banjo impression. And the duo delivered a fun country version of Avicii’s “Wake Me Up,” with Jilly and Ryan taking on Aloe Blacc’s vocal line by swapping the vocals back and forth, adding an interesting texture to the song.

Later in the first set, Jilly sported a bluesy country edge to her vocals on her rendition of Reba McEntire’s “Why Haven’t I Heard From You” – perhaps her strongest cover vocal of the evening, and certainly the one that showed the most range. And early in the second set, Ryan’s vocal was at its most half-growly during Eric Church’s “Hell On the Heart.”

But, again, this duo shines the brightest during Martin and Kelly originals. The original they performed during their first set was “I’m Gonna Kiss You,” on which both singers seemed to play to their strengths.

Martin and Kelly

photo by Geoff Wilbur

And, of course, just as the clock hit my personally previously-determined exit time, three songs into their second set, the duo cranked up “Young, Broke, and Beautiful.” So I stayed for one extra song. Simply wow. It’s an energetically fun original with well-crafted vocal harmonies, Jilly and Ryan’s individual vocal parts each residing within their own personal sweet spots and blending perfectly together, augmented by a nice supporting guitar line and subtle hooks. This one’s radio-ready and hit-caliber. And a great time for me to call it a night, to end on a high note, at the conclusion of my own personal favorite Martin and Kelly original… though I’m sure I’d’ve enjoyed the remaining 90 minutes of the band’s program if I hadn’t wanted to get home.

Looking Ahead

Martin and Kelly’s upcoming concert schedule has them crisscrossing New England, with many shows in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. plus the odd Rhode Island gig and a few shows in Verona, NY. Check the “Shows” page on their website for upcoming dates on a schedule that’s already packed until the fall and starting to fill in beyond, as well. According to Martin and Kelly’s website, their next few shows are… tonight, May 24th, at Sylvan Street Grille in Salisbury, MA with 101.7 The Bull; Friday, May 26th at World of Beer in West Hartford, CT; Saturday, May 27th at the Tin Rooster at the Turningstone Casino in Verona, NY; Tuesday, May 30th at a WOKQ event in Seabrook, NH; Thursday, June 1st at the Boston Harbor Hotel in Boston, MA; Friday, June 2nd at Station Eight in Marshfield, MA; and Saturday, June 3rd at the Whiskey Barrel in Haverhill, MA.

Album Review: Hobo Chang – Beast

Hobo Chang

photo by Tom Eyers; photo courtesy of Hobo Chang

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Hobo Chang: Beast

Hobo Chang - Beast

cover artwork by Paul Rumsey http://www.paulrumsey.co.uk/; image courtesy of Hobo Chang

Hobo Chang are a band from North East Essex in the UK and comprise of Fiona Harmon, Nick Munt, Phil Pain and Andrew Kearton. Together on this album release Beast, they have forged a sound like an illicit affair between ’70s prog rock and its snarling New Wave nemesis. There is a darkness and underground mood to the album. A swampy, lo-fi vibe creating a hypnotic and swirling sonic landscape with a vaguely disturbing mood that matches the album’s artwork of a struggling bull in a straight jacket. Fiona Harmon, the lead singer, has a voice that conjures up an intriguing crossover between Siouxsie Sioux, Dolores O’Riordan, and Cerys Matthews. Generally, the vocals are placed low in the mix and become a layer of texture within the music; an ethereal ambiance, like a sea washing against the shore. The band describe their sound as “a dark psychedelic funky train ride, experimental, apocalyptic and soulful with their roots in blues, jazz, reggae and the good bits of rock.”

Beast is a DIY approach to making albums. Only available as a download album through the band’s Bandcamp page, it is an indicator of the more accessible and modern way for bands to release and promote their music without the restricting, traditional expenses.

Hobo Chang

photo by Stuart Armitage; photo courtesy of Hobo Chang

The album is a dark, enveloping set of 10 songs. Not much light and shade within its tension, but I found it a fascinating listen and enjoyed the compelling journey of discovery. They have been getting many positive endorsements including musical poet John Cooper Clarke who said, “They’re a fantastic band, one of the great unsigned; I love them.”

You can catch the band live in the UK on the 28th May at Cosmic Puffin Festival or on 7th July at the 3 Wise Monkeys in Colchester. (Those are the dates currently listed on the “Gigs” page on Hobo Chang’s website; check back for others as they’re added.)

EP Review: Lillet Blanc – Lillet Blanc

Lillet Blanc

photo courtesy of Lillet Blanc

The Backstory

I discovered Lillet Blanc’s music while checking club listings (and sampling bands) to decide which live show to catch while in New York a few months ago. My final decision from among those I liked was based on time slot and neighborhood, so I went to a different gig that night. But Lillet Blanc’s EP was a free download, so I grabbed it, gave it some more listens, and decided it needed to be reviewed.

EP Review of Lillet Blanc: Lillet Blanc

Dream pop. Lillet Blanc’s Facebook page says “Lillet Blanc is the dream pop project of Emily Rawlings and Sean Camargo.” It’s jangly pop music with a floating, cloudy, dreamy film serving as a musical fog machine, residing in the same musical zip code as bands like Mazzy Star or Widowspeak but with Lillet Blanc’s offerings trending more out-of-focus and blurry, to the extent it’s possible for a kaleidoscope in or out of focus.

Lillet Blanc EP cover

image courtesy of Lillet Blanc

The first track of this eponymous 3-song EP (and, as I’ve written before, music journalists love reviewing self-titled collections because we get to use the word “eponymous”), “Foul Play” jumps right into the jangle, with the clean but slightly distorted guitar line reminding me a little of some of Amy & the Engine’s music. Even the breathy, kinda-squeaky (but not really), half-whispered vocal hints at a kinship, as if they might well share a stage. But Amy’s music is pure, catchy, mainstream pop-rock, while Lillet Blanc’s brand of pop is a bit much more ambient and “artsy.” Lillet Blanc’s entire style gives “Foul Play” a feeling of introspectiveness stronger than its lyrics warrant. In all, it’s a fun meander – I can’t call it a romp – through a well-performed song in an interesting, too-cool-for-it-all style.

Lillet Blanc

photo courtesy of Lillet Blanc

“Drenched” follows, a bit more atmospheric in nature. Or at least more dominantly atmospheric, much like the ethereal, eponymous 2013 EP of a now-defunct UK band I liked, Trophy Wife. “Drenched” seems to meander a little more drunkenly that the other two songs, its sound and vocal tone ever-so-slightly (though clearly intentionally) off-kilter. It serves as a nice midpoint in the collection.

The disc closes with a movement back toward the awakened side of dream-pop, with a couple catchy, subtle guitar hooks carrying the load during “Now and Yours.” There’s almost a hint of The Police’s early work in rhythms that occasionally bubble to the surface. Of the EP’s three tracks, this might reach most beyond the band’s core audience, serving as a good introduction to attract fans who might not otherwise typically sample their music. It caps off a solid collection of songs, an intriguing introduction to Lillet Blanc. I’ll be curious to see how this group’s sound and songwriting evolve from here.

Looking Ahead

Lillet Blanc will be performing Wednesday, May 24th at The Gateway in Brooklyn. Follow Lillet Blanc’s Facebook page to be alerted to future performances.