EP Review: Caisy Falzone – Your Time

Caisy Falzone

photo courtesy of Caisy Falzone

I reviewed one of Caisy’s gigs at Pianos in New York back in February. Now, I’d like to introduce you to her EP.

EP Review of Caisy Falzone: Your Time

Caisy Falzone‘s voice is a little raspy, a bit emotional, and relatively alt-rock, and she utilizes it to good effect in a singer-songwriter setting. Coming across sometimes as hoarse, other times as gravelly, and often kind of hoarsely haunting, Caisy’s delivery actually reminds me most, from among those I’ve reviewed in Blog, of Sophia Ward (of local Boston-area band TOS), just in more of a singer-songwriter format (rather than in TOS’s more raucous rock-band setting).

Caisy Falzone - Your Time

image courtesy of Caisy Falzone

The EP itself, Your Time, is a nice little collection. It’s stripped-down singer-songwriter fare, rough-hewn a bit, primarily just vocals and chord-strumming with the occasional background vocal track. It showcases Caisy’s pleasantly raspy voice and her lyric and melody writing skills. It doesn’t purport to be a big production album; rather, it’s a nice little EP. Pleasant, easy to listen to, and a good representation of Caisy’s fun live gigs. I do wonder what these songs would sound like with a full band and lush production. Quite different, I suspect, but they’d still be the same well-written songs powered by Caisy’s sweetly gravelly voice. As much as I’d love to hear that rendition of these four songs, Your Time really does remind me of Caisy’s live show. And with that goal in mind for this recording, I’d change nothing.

Caisy Falzone

photo courtesy of Caisy Falzone

Though none of the songs are fast-tempo, three of the four are mid-tempo. “Hold Me Down” is a bare-bones number, with Caisy’s voice showing vulnerability, in sync with the lyrics, her strumming gaining in intensity over the course of the song as the mood of the song ever-so-slowly builds in intensity, as well.

“Your Time” has a really cool tempo, with Caisy’s vocals carrying more emotion than their simplicity might otherwise suggest. On the whole, it’s a slow-things-down, thoughtful, melancholy number that’ll bring any room down emotionally… by design.

If I had to pick a favorite on this EP, it would be”Drift.” There are some cool lyrical elements; I’m oddly fond of her use of multiple “you (I) know”s as lyrical bridges; this track also has the best subtly catchy guitar-strum hook, used sparingly but just often enough.

Caisy Falzone

photo courtesy of Caisy Falzone

“Feel So Good,” the disc-ender, is Caisy’s ballad. It’s a nice tempo change. She sings with a more haunted tone, “bringing the room down” again with her melancholy delivery, not quite sad as much as simply exhausted.

As I mentioned at the beginning, Caisy’s Your Time EP is a good representation of her live performances. If you’ve seen her perform live, these songs will carry your memory back to the night of her show. If you haven’t, well, this is what she sounds like. I’d suggest snagging this four-song collection from Bandcamp, and I’d definitely recommend getting out to a Caisy Falzone gig. Bring friends. Drink. Enjoy. Make it a fun night.

Looking Ahead

The events page on Caisy’s Facebook page lists one upcoming gig, Jun 16th at Lovecraft in New York. If you check her Facebook page periodically, you can see other upcoming shows as she adds them.

Live Review: Behind the Songs at the Hard Rock Cafe

Behind the Songs

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Behind the Songs

Hard Rock Cafe, Boston, MA

June 6, 2017

One of the cool things about curated music events like this one is that the talent has been sifted through by a music industry insider who is staking his or her reputation on the caliber of talent in appearance. As a result, they are often talent-packed events that offer a chance to discover several future-favorite artists in a single night, with a much higher hit-to-miss ratio than a typical multi-band local club night.

This particular event was organized under the banner of Nina Pickell‘s new venture, Off the Stage Music. Behind the Songs was designed as a Nashville-style songwriters’ night, with the main portion of the program consisting of five songwriter-performers on the stage at the same time, each discussing and singing one song before passing the baton to the next. Charlie Farren kicked the show off with a short set. Then the special guest for the evening, Paige Davis, sang a single song before retiring to the audience and returning for a short set at the end of the evening. During the main portion of the program, the five songwriters – Annie Brobst, Julie DiOrio, Chris Ruediger, Justin Piper, and Alissa Musto – shared the stage. It’s a format that’s similar to those used in other songwriter-friendly cities, and there’s a plan for this to be the first event of a series here in Boston. Given the relatively full house at this gig, it’s certainly off to an auspicious start.

I was quite looking forward to this event. Obviously, you’ve read about Alissa Musto here at the Blog, as I’ve reviewed a live show and her most recent album already this year. And I had been watching the calendars of half of the remaining six artists, hoping to catch convenient live performances from them. So I knew to expect great things from this line-up.

Charlie Farren

Charlie Farren; photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Opening Act: Charlie Farren

Obviously nobody’s “opening act,” Charlie Farren is a local rock icon. From his ’80s days in The Joe Perry Project and Farrenheit to today, working on his 17th solo album, Charlie Farren is a rock star in every sense of the word, and by opening the music for the evening, his presence was a strong encouragement not to be late.

Charlie kicked things off with a short, three-song set. He began with “When You’re Nobody’s Somebody,” a heartfelt, gravelly number somewhere between soft and mid-tempo, filled with power – a rock star’s rock song. Next up was a bluesy, growling rocker, “Hold Me Down and Love Me,” that recalled the best of classic ’70s/’80s guitar rock. And he closed his set with “The Powers That Be,” another timeless rock song that sported a “Baba O’Riley”-esque guitar riff.

The set was a terrific appetizer, serving as encouragement to catch one of Charlie’s full concerts when the opportunity arises and also setting the table for the talented performers to follow.

The Main Event

The songwriters-in-the-round portion of the event featured five songwriters – award winners and rising stars – taking turns talking about and performing their songs. The unique Boston spin on this Nashville-inspired songwriters’ night was the variety of genres involved, a diversity of styles so broad that each transition between artist nearly required a bit of gari to cleanse the palate.

The evening consisted of five orbits around the room; i.e., each songwriter eventually performed five songs. Below, I review the night performer-by-performer rather than cycle-by-cycle.

Annie Brobst with Ryan Dupont

Annie Brobst with Ryan Dupont; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Annie Brobst

The first performer of the songwriters’ round was Annie Brobst. Annie was joined onstage by her guitarist, Ryan Dupont. My first instinct was to call her a Miranda Lambert-reminiscent country singer, and, indeed, she talked about how many of Miranda’s songs she covers during her performances, so I suspect that’s not a bad comparison. To the extent she strays from the Miranda position on the country spectrum, Annie voice tends toward that of the classic, timeless stars.

The first song she performed – the one that sparked that comparison – was “What’s a Girl Gotta Do.” Annie’s second song, “(Stone in) Still Water,” was emotional and powerful with a bit of old-school country flavor. “You’ll Love Again” showcased Annie’s strong, emotional voice and was powered by a super-catchy guitar line. “Ghost” was a true-blue country music story-song delivered with an interesting flavor – I think I heard a little Jim Croce in the delivery. And Annie’s final song, “Paper Weight,” utilized great lyrics (yes, with a little anger) driving a power and edge to her vocals, punctuated by dramatic guitar pauses. Indeed, Annie performed a variety of songs that showed off her broad country range.

Julie Diorio

Julie DiOrio; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Julie DiOrio (of The Dirty Dottys)

Next up was Julie DiOrio. What a dynamo of excited, crowd-engaging energy! Another attendee at my table called her “adorable,” and, indeed, that’s apt. Julie was also the only of the five songwriters to attempt to sing the bass line (and other instrument parts) in a couple of her songs. Her first song, “This Nonsense,” was one of those. She sang half of the song each in its original (smooth) version, the second half in its band (alt-funky and a little edgy) version, with the tune getting frantic toward the end. “Ain’t Got the Time” combined crunchy, classic rock guitar supporting funky soulful vocals. Perhaps a hint of Amy Winehouse; in the neighborhood of Elle King. “Dragonfly” was a funky-cool song with a herky-jerky, fun tempo. “Not Too Call,” I think (messy handwriting), was a dynamic, fun tune featuring vocal gymnastics and a ukulele. Of course, “ukulele” renders the word “fun” redundant, but so does “Julie DiOrio,” so I’ll stick with it. And Julie’s final songwriter’s night tune, “The Furniture,” was soooo lyrically clever with an edgy, swingy, alt-rockin’ sound. And it, like so many of this charming songwriter’s songs, came to a cool, abrupt ending.

Chris Ruediger

Chris Ruediger; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Chris Ruediger

Chris just graduated from high school this spring. The dude is 18 years old but has a veteran, calm, confidence stage presence and a voice that has that certain je ne sais quoi that makes you sit up and say “Duuude!” (or maybe “wow” if you’re not a “dude”-sayer). This event also doubled as the EP release show for Chris’ five-song EP, Secrets.

He began with the first song on that disc, “One Way Ticket,” based in a college rock sound but with a versatile voice that ranges from thin and alt-rock edgy to big and full depending on the song’s requirement. Chris’ first single, “Summertime Story,” showcased nice variety, tempo, and vocal groove. I noted that I really liked the deep bridge that seemed to be hiding a secret in its stylistic depth; now I’m not sure what I meant by that, but it will probably be obvious when I listen to the song again while preparing to review the EP. Next up was a medley in which Chris utilized an interesting texture, and his higher voice and vocal rattle (not exactly a growl) put an interesting spin on what included, at a minimum, portions of “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Jolene,” and “House of the Rising Sun.”

Chris referred to the Marvin Gaye groove in “Secrets,” and yes, you could really hear some R&B influence, Chris’ performance even hinting at a near-syncopated rhythm in spots. His last song of the night was “Forgive Me,” again featuring that unique timbre in Chris’ voice, combined with lyrics delivered with an urgent insistence. Chris connected so well with this song it actually gave me goosebumps, the sure sign of a song well-sung. This young man has talent to spare and a humble but confident attitude that will take him far.

Justin Piper

Justin Piper; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Justin Piper

Songs without lyrics. Justin is a guitar instrumentalist. But, you know, by halfway through his opening number, I forgot there weren’t any lyrics. “Rolling Blue Hill” sported an engaging verse, bridge, and a catchy chorus. On “Nova Scotia,” you could hear the song rise and fall, build and relax as it told its story. His third song, whose title I missed, painted very specific pictures for me; whether or not it was the picture Justin was painting, the images I “saw” were of a walk in the woods, maybe a stream, birds, a waterfall, rapids… Next up, Justin delivered a very flowing musical cover of the Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home.” And he closed his evening with “When I’m Alone”; as an example of speaking with his guitar, one section of this closing number made me laugh, though I wonder if that was an appropriate response given the song’s title. With a broad range of musical influences driving his guitar stylings, Justin was a terrific inclusion in this inaugural Behind the Songs songwriters’ night.

Alissa Musto

Alissa Musto; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Alissa Musto

Finally, Alissa Musto. What I think of this tremendously talented young artist is well-documented, first in my review of a live show and then in my review of her album What We Saw From the Piano Bar. An adept, precise, catchy songwriter with a hint of gravel in her voice that connects instantly with an audience when she sings emotionally and, of course, killer piano skills, this was an ideal setting to showcase Alissa’s talent.

She began with “Runaway,” doing her jazzy-pop keys and vocals thing. Man, can she wail emotion, especially impactful when using it sparingly at the edges of rich verses. This particular song rises and falls with her emotions detailed in the storytelling lyrics. Next up was “Temporarily”; dancing pianowork combined with a rich, powerful voice that she unleashed for emphasis periodically. Here, as elsewhere, Alissa exhibited the sort of powerful vocals you might hear in a lounge scene during a James Bond movie, and she combined that with a jazzy-pop edge, as if she was singing with a smirk every now and then. Très chic. Next up was “Black Flak,” a song Alissa really gets lost in, and tonight was no exception, as she delivered serious vocal inflection and soaring waves of powerful piano.

Next up, “Pictures on the Wall,” one of my favorites from What We Saw…, a song I caught myself singing along with throughout. This one’s a fun piano song (Billy Joel-meets-Peanuts‘ Schroeder), in which Alissa combines great voice inflection with worth-listening-to, well-crafted lyrics. She closed with an as-yet-untitled song, fun and engaging. I’ll just say the tune was ambitious, confident and clever as f—; inspired songwriting, just our luck. Such a rare, polished (and yet still developing) musical talent, and she’ll be working on a new album this summer, so you can count on reading more about Alissa Musto in the Blog.

Special Guest: Paige Davis

Paige Davis

Paige Davis; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Paige Davis sang one song in-between Charlie Farren and the “main event,” and she returned at the end to sing four more tunes. An award-winning country artist at just age sixteen, Paige was a welcome “special guest” this evening. My assessment at the beginning of the evening, based solely on her performance of “Better,” was that she has a sweet vocal with a hint of a twang. Paige connected emotionally with this song, which rises and falls, utilizing stop-start strums from the start.

Among the four songs at the end, Paige’s performance of the soft song “I’ll See You in My Dreams” displayed her breadth of skills. This short set proved that, while her vocals are sweet, she knows just where to crack her voice for emphasis and vary her tone for emotion. She’s a strong performer now, already selected New England Country Act of the Year in 2017 at this stage of her career, and she’ll only get better.

Looking Ahead

As I said at the beginning, events like this where the artists are selected for their excellence are a great way to discover multiple fantastic new performers in a single location. Designed to be the first of a series, Behind the Songs was a rousing success, so I expect to see – and attend – more of them, events showcasing more of the many special artists in our music-talent-rich city.

Album Review: Jimmy Lee Morris – Gallery

Jimmy Lee Morris

photo courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris


We’ve reviewed several of Jimmy Lee Morris‘ recordings in the past here at the Blog. After I initially reviewed Wilderness Wood last spring, Jimmy contacted the Blog about writing some reviews for us, and as he’s such a talented wordsmith, he has been a terrific reviewer for us, too. Of course, since then he has continued to release music, rather prolifically, and he remains one of our favorite folk musicians. I reviewed his two-sided single last summer, and contributor Eric Harabadian reviewed his recent Campervan EP, which was a February release. Jimmy’s newest full-length album, Gallery, reviewed here, dropped on June 2nd.

Album Review of Jimmy Lee Morris: Gallery

Jimmy Lee Morris - Gallery

image courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

Relatively light and cheery from beginning-to-end. That was my immediate reaction to Gallery. And how could it not be, as most of the songs feature the mandolin, a cheerful instrument if ever there was one. Gallery as a whole recalls for me Jimmy’s Wilderness Wood album in its upbeat, hopeful reminiscence and nostalgia. As usual, though the songs mostly reside within a tight range of singer-songwriter-folk, he explores all manners of style, energy, and influences, resulting in an album that engages and surprises (in small ways) around each corner of this 8-song collection.

Javier Forero

Javier Forero; photo courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

Jimmy again surrounds himself with exceptional talent. On this CD, Javier Forero provides percussion, cajon and drums and Tim Kent plays octave guitar. Gallery was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Simon Scardanelli, who also supplied glockenspiel on two tracks.

“Mandolin Dreams” kicks things off in enthusiastically folky fashion, a high-tempo romp about a “vintage eight-string mandolin.” Then “5 O Clock in the Morning” quickly brings the tempo down, with Jimmy’s emotional, precise vocals straddling the border between melancholy and reminiscent. It’s followed by “Take Me Home,” which, musically true to its lyrics, is a mid-tempo drinking song with a sea shanty flavor. See what I mean? Small surprises.

Tim Kent and Jimmy Lee Morris

JLM with Tim Kent; photo courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

One of the songs that grew on me slowly to became a now-favorite, the title track “Gallery” is particularly slow-tempoed; Jimmy’s soft, sentimental, thoughtful croon carries the tune throughout.

“Stargazing” immediately lightens things up, though, with its playful melody and lyrics, like a romp through a meadow on a sunny day, when everything’s in bloom. “You and Me (Clinging to a Song)” maintains that energy, the two songs providing a back-to-back sunshine infusion, the latter with a bit of seventies radio-friendly folk-pop sprinkled into the mix.

Jimmy Lee Morris

photo courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

Penultimate number “Looking Back” sports a rich guitar sound as it builds from super-mellow to merely mellow, a hopeful song in which Jimmy deploys a particular warmth in his vocals, emoting in such a way that the words sound particularly profound, whether or not they actually are.

The disc ends much too soon with the song that quickly became my personal favorite and remains my very favorite on the disc, “End of the Road (’69 Campervan)” an energetic ode, presumably, to Jimmy’s much-sung-about campervan. The song becomes a bit ’60s pop-rock during the chorus, melding well with the old-school radio-friendly folk verses and bridges. In all, a well-crafted song to end a superb eight-song disc.

As always, Jimmy Lee Morris writes well-designed songs, surrounds himself with talented musicians and a top-notch producer, and performs his songs earnestly with an overarching sense of folk-rock fun. As a result, Gallery is yet another Jimmy Lee Morris album worth checking out.

EP Review: Wilkes – No Filter Part 1

Jason Wilkes

photo courtesy of Jason Wilkes

EP Review of Wilkes: No Filter Part 1

The first of a series of two EPs Jason Wilkes plans to release under the moniker Wilkes, No Filter Part 1 is a 3-song collection of catchy, hooky, acoustic, singer-songwriter, radio-friendly country-flavored rock songs. Or are they rock-flavored country? Their position on the country-to-rock scale varies a bit by song, though Wilkes’ songs are of crafted songwriter-caliber, so the modern country hits with which they share sonic similarity are definitely not the cookie-cutter ones. There’s a small-town, relatable feel to Wilkes’ music, yet a worldly singer-songwriter vibe to his thoughtful lyrics and intricate melodies, perhaps Middle America’s answer to Gavin DeGraw. Indeed, his delivery reminds me a little of DeGraw (who I consider the quintessential NYC singer-songwriter of his generation, so it’s not a comparison I toss around lightly), though their completed works feel quite different.

Wilkes - No Filter Part 1

cover photo by Tim Harman; image courtesy of Jason Wilkes

Jason Wilkes himself is no music biz neophyte; he’s been around the industry for a while, from since he was a teenager. For twelve years, Jason was a member of High Flight Society, releasing three records on Word Records/Warner Brothers Records and touring the country, toward the end of their run touring as Sam Hunt’s band. Jason also toured for three years as bass player, backing vocalist, and co-lead vocalist of the Christian rock band Disciple.

EP-opener “Let’s Go Back” is my personal favorite. It kicks off with Jason’s rich, textured voice and a hopeful, upbeat tempo. Bridges add warmth to the song, ramping up to the insistent, singalong-worthy choruses. This is a song that paints a rich, reminiscent story-picture with its uplifting tempo and style.

Lyrically, “Not Forever” could theoretically continue the “Let’s Go Back” story, though it’s more clear about the not-so-happy ending. Still, the hopeful, poignant nature of the memories recalled in the song and the uplifting music result in a fun musical romp through somewhat deeper lyrics than found on a typical “romp.” There’s a quick stop-start in the song, in particular, that serves as quite a hook.

Jason Wilkes

photo courtesy of Jason Wilkes

“Grown Up” is No Filter Part 1‘s ballad. Sonically, this is the most traditional-country-styled track among the three, in a sentimental ballad format that sounds quite familiar. The arrangement in “Grown Up” is pretty stripped-down, with Jason’s hoarse delivery doubling-down on the song’s sense of emotional rawness. Of the three, this is perhaps the track to which you feel as deeply as you listen while it’s playing, with a final guitar strum easing you and your emotions down to a soft, pensive landing.

This is an exceptional 3-song collection. When Jason contacted me a few months ago about a review, as soon as I sampled the songs I was quite excited about writing this review and sharing the music with my readers. It has taken longer to get through my review backlog and get to this EP than I had hoped, but I’d suggest you not delay making this part of your collection. Jason has made it available for free download via this link. I’m looking forward to his Part 2 EP. Of course, I’ll review it when it’s available, but now that you know about Wilkes, I doubt you’ll wait for my review to get your own copy.

Album Review: Sheila Landis & Rick Matle – Beautiful Things

Sheila Landis & Rick Matle

photo courtesy of Sheila Landis & Rick Matle

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Sheila Landis & Rick Matle: Beautiful Things (SheLan Records)

The Detroit-based duo of vocalist Sheila Landis and guitarist Rick Matle are two of the finest purveyors of the improvisational art form. They have decades of performance, individually and collectively, between them. Of all the music-oriented activities they are involved in, the appropriately titled Beautiful Things finds them working in their favorite habitat: playing live for appreciate crowds. All 15 of the selected tracks here were recorded at various venues around the Motor City, including the restaurant Beans and Cornbread, The Jewish Community Center of Metro Detroit, and The Village Theater at Cherry Hill in Canton, Michigan. Several of the tunes on this album were hand-picked favorites of Landis from the Ella Fitzgerald songbook. Essentially, the concept behind this project recalls the classic recordings and arrangements between Fitzgerald and guitarist Joe Pass.

Sheila Landis & Rick Matle - Beautiful Things

image courtesy of Sheila Landis & Rick Matle

They begin this superb collection of primarily traditional American standards, show tunes, and cover songs with “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.” This one really swings out of the chute, with a light and airy feel. Matle’s 7-string guitar allows him to accompany himself on bass lines that parallel the chords and melody. Landis’ elastic vocalizing on top gives this song a very full and multi-dimensional quality.

Louis Jourdan’s “Knock Me a Kiss” follows, with lyrics that playfully laud cake, pie, and sugary confections in the same breath as love. Landis uses her voice in a lot of non-traditional ways on this recording and her “trumpet” solo here is convincingly quite good.

The duo slows things down a tad for Dinah Washington’s “Fine Fat Daddy.” It’s a languid walking blues tune where Landis takes a lot of liberties with her time and phrasing. Matle adds some nice inflections throughout, with some thoughtful delicate playing.

Sheila Landis

photo courtesy of Sheila Landis & Rick Matle

Next in the set is a piece by Antonio Carlos Jobim called “Vivo Sonhando.” This is a breezy and relaxing samba that fully spotlights their collective talents. Landis’ command of vocalese and melody is unique and self-assured while Matle’s subtle use of chord inversions and melodic choices moves this piece like a full band.

As aforementioned, Landis is a big fan of Ella Fitzgerald as evidenced by her uncanny and effervescent style. She pays tribute to her specifically here, with her original composition dedicated to the legendary singer entitled “When in Doubt, Make Coffee.” It’s a clever take off on “I Won’t Dance, Don’t Ask Me” and she sings in an appropriately caffeinated-fueled alliterated style.

Other highlights include another bluesy Landis original called “Taller in the Morning,” Matle’s flamenco vibe on “Besame Mucho,” the classic “Girl from Ipanema” and a stunning and sweet take on “Tenderly.”

Kudos go to Matle for the stellar production on this live recording. The performances are so pristine and delicately rich that you can hear a pin drop. Highly recommended!

Live Review: 2nd Annual Arlington Porchfest

The Stacking Stones Band

The Stacking Stones Band; photo by Geoff Wilbur

2nd Annual Arlington Porchfest

Arlington, MA

June 3, 2017

The Arlington Center for the Arts‘ second annual porchfest event, featuring bands performing on porches around town, was divided into two segments, from 12:00 to 2:00 in Arlington Heights, then 2:00 to 6:00 in East Arlington. I made it to the East Arlington portion of the program.

I had two performances in mind for this event, and neither artist disappointed. In between and briefly afterward, I walked the streets of Arlington and caught some other good music, as well.

The Stacking Stones Band

The Stacking Stones Band; photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Stacking Stones Band

My first porch of the day was inhabited by The Stacking Stones Band. The first targeted band of the day, I had been trying to get out to see these guys for at least a year, so I jumped at this opportunity. I stayed for eight songs and heard a blend of blues, rock, and just a hint of folk-country in the band’s musical mix. They kicked off with “So Familiar,” which displayed a little distorted, somewhat psychedelic blues-rock guitar and a hint of Joplin in the otherwise bluesy vocal, with a slow blues-based rock rhythm.

Also worth noting was “You & Me,” a hooky, medium-fast tempo blues-rocker that carried a hint of a “Sweet Home Alabama” vibe, “Roses All Around You,” which could’ve been the musical sibling of CCR’s “Fortunate Son,” and the band’s rendition of “Tulsa Time,” with showcases some terrific vocal harmonies and a really countrified guitar part. The band closed its first hour with a cover of Waylon Jennings’ “Lonesome, On’ry and Mean,” showcasing its harmonies, a crunchy guitar line, and powerful vocals. A tight unit with some well-written originals whose performance carried a fun vibe, I look forward to my next encounter with The Stacking Stones Band.

Samantha Farrell

Samantha Farrell; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Samantha Farrell

Later in the day, I made my way over to see my other targeted performer of the day, Samantha Farrell. When I arrived at Samantha’s porch, I caught the last song-plus of Greg Klyma‘s performance. I didn’t take any notes as I was getting settled in, but I was impressed my Greg’s strong voice and performance style and plan to review his summer album release, so watch for that in the blog in the coming months.

When Samantha Farrell finally began to sing, just wow. She has a voice and a performance style that enthralling and amazing at the same time. At times during the performance, she’d hit an amazing note, and I’d glance over at some of the other vocalists in the audience who would be shaking their heads in amazement, knowing they’d only be able to sing like that in their dreams. Her vocals seem rooting in jazz with elements of torchy standards, blues, and vocally-powered pop ballads.

When she was singing “Let It Go,” for example, her power vocal contained that sort of torchy blues-pop edge reminiscent of Elle King. “September Sun,” with kind of a jazzy, folky feel, utilized her strong, powerful, very high vocal. “Tuesday Night” was also very jazz-based – sophisticated, cocktail lounge fare that featured a crisp, strong vocal from Samantha that would cut through pea-soup fog. And at the end of her set, the slow, rich sound of “Fade Away” featured extremely well-placed cracking of her vocal. Simply, holy cow, Samantha Farrell is a powerhouse singer with few equals.

Elsewhere Around Arlington

In between (and on the walk back to my car afterwards), I caught a few other bands worth mentioning.

Poor Yorick

Poor Yorick; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Poor Yorick was just a few houses down from The Stacking Stones Band, and because both bands were fairly high-volume, the two bands made a deal to pass the performance back and forth every four songs and shared each other’s audiences. Riding powerful vocals and psychedelic rock guitars, the band blasted through its set, for the most part. They kicked things off with a cover of “Come Together” that was all parts psychedelic hard rock, sporting strong vocals and shredding axework. “The Love Cats” was a funky and somewhat theatrical number. And also worth noting was a song that was a mild departure, a straight-up rock version of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” that was obviously heavier than the Simple Minds original but performed by the band as the least-heavy rocker of its first set.

Gin Daisy

Gin Daisy; photo by Geoff Wilbur

On my way up Cleveland Street, I stayed for a few very cool songs from local bluegrass band Gin Daisy. As I approached their porch, the band was deploying great blended harmonies and some serious pickin’ from the entire group – well, technically the fiddler was bowing, but still. I stayed through an old-school bluegrass number, a square-danceable song that would’ve been good barn-raising music, and an interesting arrangement of “Midnight Special” that varied tempoes throughout. I don’t know this genre well, but I do recognize talent, and Gin Daisy has that in spades.

21 Pearl

21 Pearl; photo by Geoff Wilbur

I caught a few songs from 25 Pearl. My first impression was ’70s classic rock meets ’70s folk in a blues club. The songs carry a kind of dark flavor and perhaps a harshness and aggressiveness unusual for bands that blend the rock-folk-blues elements employed by 25 Pearl. Dylan meets classic rock at a Tom Petty concert, performed with a uniquely erratic nature.

Casey LJ

Casey LJ; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Finally, on my way to my car from Samantha Farrell’s porch, after a late-afternoon passing rain shower chased a lot of people away and convinced many bands to shut down a half-hour before the fest’s end, I did run across a few performers continuing their performances. One that caught me ear enough to get me to stop and listen was Casey LJ. I was able to enjoy his final four songs, all performed with a unique charisma and a vocal tone that I can’t quite describe as a drawl. He kept his crowd happy with extremely entertaining renditions two Eagles tunes (“Desperado” and “Heartache Tonight”), The Who’s “Squeeze Box,” and the Grateful Dead’s “Deal.” It was a great way to end a fun afternoon.

Indeed, my first porchfest of any kind, Arlington’s was a lot of fun. Unlike some of the more inner suburbs, on-street parking (especially for those of us who arrived before the performances started) was easy, plentiful, and legal, in part because we weren’t competing with residents, as the homes had driveways. But there were plenty of participating porches within easy walking distance of each other – even easier for the attendees who brought their bikes. Conceptually, it’s a neat event and a great way to hear a variety of music on a pleasant afternoon.

Album Review: Trysette – Shadowgirl


photo by Fred Bailey; photo courtesy of Trysette

The Backstory

A while back, I reviewed Trysette’s last CD, Feel So Pretty. This Aussie dynamo’s sweet, high, often breathy vocal style makes her songs quick and easy to identify. Indeed, some combination of vocal and stylistic uniqueness is a key to standing out from the crowd, and Trysette is a standout artist.


photo by Robin Craig; photo courtesy of Trysette

While Feel So Pretty was an original composition, Shadowgirl is an album of cover songs. Early in 2016, Trysette created an account on Patreon through which her fans could pledge at least a dollar per song and be rewarded with a new cover-song every month. Patreon is a terrific website through which fans and friends can support their favorite artists in exchange for exclusive works of art – or, at least, access to them before anyone else. In this case, Trysette produced 10 songs during 2016, which her supporters (or “patrons”) received as they were produced. And, at the end of the year, Trysette packaged those songs into the album Shadowgirl.

The album title for Shadowgirl stems from some long-shadow photo fun Trysette had on Facebook, which sparked her friends and fans to follow suit and found a home on this page of Trysette’s website. But that’s enough introduction; let’s move on to the music, shall we?

Album Review of Trysette: Shadowgirl

Trysette - Shadowgirl

image courtesy of Trysette

As I mentioned above, Trysette’s vocals are unique. Her voice is high and sweet and a little raw but with a smooth power. And, stylistically, she mostly utilizes a smoky, breathy delivery.

Oh, am I making it sound like she doesn’t have a powerful voice? Most certainly not the case. And she proves it from the start, with a warm, rich rendition of “Natural Woman.” Yes, the song that no one can resist singing along to. And I’m sure I’m not alone in failing to realize I’m singing until halfway through the chorus… every time. But this is about Trysette, not me. And I certainly don’t find all the intricate textures in the melody that she does. For such a familiar song, this truly is a Trysette original performance. No surprise; her covers quickly sound like they’re her very own songs. And that’s what makes this record full of cover songs a worthwhile addition to your album collection.


photo by David Lassen; photo courtesy of Trysette

I’ll run through my personal favorites in the collection, though Trysette does such a fine job with them that each will be someone’s favorite.

“I’d Rather Go Blind” has a jazzy flair, with Trysette’s lyrical wails adding well-placed punctuation. Her exotic enunciation during “Beautiful” adds a personal twist to the number. And she really connects with the lyrics during “Landslide,” with some warm piano sounds supporting Trysette’s heartfelt gravelly crooning.

Cold Chisel cover “Flame Trees”, the way she performs it, has the elusive, light melody I’d expect from a Trysette original. It’s as if sunlight dances through the verses, saving what would otherwise be a melancholy musing. Though not adjacent on the album, the other song that most encompasses this same very Trysette-ish thoughtfully meandering nature is “Fix You.” Indeed, here the vocals plead a bit more forcefully, and the piano-work is more powerful, helping the song build and retreat, ebb and flow. In the end, though, it’s a terrific song, one I think improves upon Coldplay’s original.


photo courtesy of Trysette

“I Try” is one of those slow-build soft-pop numbers, where Trysette’s vocal grows larger and more forceful as the song builds to power, supported by some backing vocals, too. “To Find You,” meanwhile, is delivered with stripped-down piano support and sung with an uneven pace in which Trysette moves forward and back around the melody, hoarsely, breathily delivering thoughtful wisdom, sounding very much like one of my favorite Trysette originals, “City Boy.”

To close the album, Trysette does a fine job, naturally, with the requisite December Christmas cover, “Santa Baby,” which is stylistically quite well-suited to her voice.


photo courtesy of Trysette

But I’d like to close this review with “I Took a Pill in Ibiza,” my absolute favorite in this collection. Trysette’s voice softly struts, while a toe-tapping tempo drives the rhythm. Her version is sonically closer to the “Seeb Remix” of Mike Posner’s tune than the more deliberate original version of the song, but it’s bit slower than the remix and Trysette’s lightly playful vocal is at the steering wheel. She delivers this song in such a way I can’t imagine it being performed by anyone else.

Indeed, the key to creating a good cover album is selecting well-suited songs, and Trysette has done that. The covers that border on great are those that are stylistically adjusted a little to really suit the performer in such a way that the songs no longer feel like covers but, rather, strong originals, and Trysette has some of those in this collection. She’s a classic, original, talented singer (and pianist). I really enjoy Shadowgirl, and I hope it will tide me over until her next release.

Album Review: Amilia K Spicer – Wow and Flutter

Amilia K Spicer

photo courtesy of Miles High Productions

Album Review of Amilia K Spicer: Wow and Flutter

When I hear new music, I generally get a sense very quickly of whether or not the artist is someone I’d like to review. When I first heard Wow and Flutter, I immediately knew Amilia K Spicer was special, that her voice and sound were unique enough and performed professionally enough that I wanted to share them with the Blog‘s readers. But as is often the case with this style of laid-back Americana, it takes a few listens before my favorite songs begin to emerge.

Stylistically, the music is a traditional country-rooted sound with wide-open musical spaces. It’s at the softer edge of the style I used to call California country a couple decades ago but with a Western twist. The laid-back, sometimes melancholy songs are the sort I could picture being sung around a campfire, maybe in the desert, more likely after a day of driving cattle. Amilia’s voice is at times a sultry half-whisper, always smooth, with a broad range when called upon, always more impactful than such a soft, often high voice would seem that it should be. On the countryness scale of the Americana spectrum, I’d consider Amilia’s music to be more Americana than Karen Nash but perhaps a little more country than Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings.

Amilia K Spicer - Wow and Flutter

image courtesy of Miles High Productions

Album-opener “Fill Me Up” draws upon those traditional, old-country roots, with a washboard-like sound, along with bass and violin and an old-school knee-slapping rhythm supporting Amilia’s drawn-out, soft vocals. I almost wouldn’t be surprised if someone in the band was playing a little brown jug. It is the one of Amilia’s songs most obviously driven by the sort of gentle-yet-insistent engine that Bridget Davis is famous for, and it’s a great attention-getting tune to start the disc, offering a bit of variety.

“Harlan” is great selection to follow “Fill Me Up,” as it incorporates some of the same elements while moving the “engine” to a less prominent position, leaning more on Amilia’s unique, sometimes softly wailing style of crooning and her halfway-haunting vocal whispers. In fact, her melodic moans – or, perhaps, tuneful wails – are what you’ll find yourself soon singing along to on “Harlan.” It’s really cool, unlike anything you’re likely to hear often elsewhere, and memorable; this will be one of your favorite songs once you’ve given it enough listens that you’ve started to sing – or moan – along.

Other songs stand out, too. In fact, in their own way, all of the songs do, driven by Amilia’s exceptional attention to detail in her songwriting and in the music’s arrangement. “This Town” is a relatively straightforward slow-to-mid-tempo country music number that shows off Amilia’s range and vocal sensitivity. “Lightning” stands out for its wall-of-sound music bed supporting Amilia’s layered vocals. And on “Windchill” the music and vocals sport a soaring, flowing, Stevie Nicks “Landslide”-ish vibe.

Amilia K Spicer

photo courtesy of Miles High Productions

“Shake It Off” is another potential hit, IMHO, with a bit of a Stray Cats-with-a-lava-lamp blend of rhythm and psychedelic-era distorted guitar and electric organ relatively sparsely instrumenting the background. This would be the country/Americana tune you’d be most likely to hear in a blues joint.

Second-to-last on the disc is probably my favorite song, “What I’m Saying.” It has a 1980s Athens college rock undertone below the slow-to-mid-tempo, soft rockin’ Americana flavor featuring a jangly, almost Jimmy Buffett-esque-at-times guitar. Combined, its slightly psychedelic flavor supports Amilia’s soft, almost sultry vocal line. And the song itself builds slowly into a warm, comforting, almost feel-good track.

The album lands softly with an extremely original, suitable ballad. “Shine” may have a very slow pace, but it’s powerful, hopeful, defiant, and I’m sure likely to be a common choice for favorite song on this disc. A strong end to an exceptionally well-written, produced, and performed album from a unique talent.

Americana is a crowded genre, but Amilia K Spicer’s Wow and Flutter stands out from the crowd.

Looking Ahead

Amilia is currently on tour with John Gorka. Per the tour dates page on Amilia’s website, her upcoming dates with John Gorka are: tonight, June 1st at The Bay Theater in Suttons Bay, MI, June 2nd at the Elks Club in Cadillac, MI; June 3rd at Howmet Playhouse in Whitehall, MI; June 4th at Freshwater Art Gallery in Boyne City, MI; June 9th at The Guthrie Center in Great Barrington, MA; and two shows on June 11th at Club Passim in Cambridge, MA. Amilia also has a date listed on July 22nd at the Flint Folk Festival in Flint, MI.