EP Review: Liz Bills – Liz Bills

Liz Bills

photo by Scott Bakal; photo courtesy of Liz Bills

EP Review of Liz Bills: Liz Bills

This brand new self-titled four-song EP – it’s scheduled to drop on Saturday, November 18th – is the first solo release by Analog Heart frontwoman Liz Bills. Liz has a voice you can recognize quickly. It’s powerful, versatile, original, and memorable.

When I first heard Liz with Analog Heart, I was impressed, but with each successive step, I’ve heard growth. In dynamic delivery, full utilization of her vocal tools, consistently strong songwriting and the ability to find unique hooks. Most of all, though, while conveying a confidence and feeling that she is exactly where she belongs. That has always been a strength of Liz’s (at least during the two-plus years since I first – and last – saw her perform); her presence just seems to get stronger with each recording.

Liz Bills EP cover

image courtesy of Liz Bills

You’ve seen reviews of Analog Heart’s Sun Here I Come album last year and, this past summer, the band’s “Not Good Enough” single here in the Blog. Those had a band vibe. Liz’s new, eponymous EP is still a rock album, but it really showcases her voice and personality within and beyond the music. And hits. It has hits. The first two tracks on the collection are immediate, smack-you-in-the-face with their catchiness kind of hits; the back end of the EP, meanwhile, is subtler in its hookiness, obviously good songs even at first, but they ultimately hit you sneaky-hard as you peel back their layers and discover their massive coolness.

The first half of the collection, which I’ll call the “instant favorites” half, begins with “Born to Wander,” a big song with energetic strumming and rhythm, monster hooky stop-gaps and tempo changes, big, powerful vocals that include Liz’s crystal clear highs, and plenty of engaging character.

It’s followed by “My Man,” another smack-you-in-the-face, memorable-from-the-first-listen, causes-music-journalists-to-overuse-hyphens tune. There’s a bit of a ’70s funky rhythm and some tempo-changing lyrical runs, but the most Liz Bills element of the song is a spoken word, conversational, encouraging/empowering-conversation-with-the-audience portion, something she does memorably well, a trick Analog Heart fans might recognize from “She’s Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Indeed, “My Man” is a song you won’t soon forget.

Liz Bills

photo by Jonathan Rummel; photo courtesy of Liz Bills

The “back half” of Liz’s EP contains a couple songs whose hooks are slightly more hidden but very certainly potent and likely with a more permanent impact. “Werewolf,” the first single from the disc, was released October 21st. It has a subtler, rhythmically nuanced vocal, a song that softly ratchets the intensity, punctuated by howls that are both appealing and a bit confusing, at least until you start to pay attention to the lyrics (or, at least the song title). Oh, the lyrics are well-crafted to tell the song’s tale, and they match the journey of the song as well as its vocalization and instrumentation, musically leaning on the rich texture and versatility of Liz’s voice while only hinting at its power. “Werewolf” is a thoughtfully-constructed, very cool rock ‘n roll song and quite possibly my favorite…

Unless my favorite is “Bomb Song.” It’s also lyrically clever. And, as with “Werewolf,” once you stop listening passively and pay attention to said lyrics, the unusual point of emphasis, “bang,” suddenly makes sense and becomes the lyric you sing along to the most, just as you start to howl after several listens to “Werewolf.” “Bomb Song” also sports a cool, rhythmic, not-quite-syncopated strum that, at the end, halts abruptly. Abruptly emphasizing the brevity of this four-song collection and making you want more. So, of course, this is an EP that has to be played on repeat.

In the end, yes, I’ve been in Liz Bills’ camp for a while now, intrigued the first time I heard her perform live. At the time, before I started blogging and just as “Merrimack Jane” was released, I thought Analog Heart had finally hit its songwriting groove, found its niche. The band rounded a corner with a strong album beginning to end with Sun Here I Come. And now Liz has managed to kick things up another notch with her eponymous solo EP. She’ll have to blow the roof off the proverbial joint to lift her game any higher, and I look forward to hearing her try. I bet she can. For now, though, I’ll just sing and howl along with her all-too-short solo EP, and I suggest you do the same. This rock ‘n roll singer-songwriter-bandleader is something special.

Looking Ahead

The “tour” section of Liz’s website lists her upcoming tour, kicking off with a Saturday, November 18th album release show at the Chit Chat Lounge in Haverhill, MA. The subsequent tour includes stops in Millvale, PA; Cincinnati, OH; Burns, TN; Nashville, TN; Louisville, KY; Richmond, VA; Lynchburg, VA; Baltimore, MD; and Brooklyn, NY before she returns to Massachusetts for a December 5th date at Atwood’s Tavern in Cambridge. Check Liz’s website for details and for additional dates as they’re added.

Live Review: Eric Schwartz at The Backyard

Eric Schwartz

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Eric Schwartz

The Backyard, Brighton, MA

November 5, 2017

A series of scheduling conflicts have kept me from getting to The Backyard earlier this year. But this late addition to the calendar provided an opportunity to get to one of my favorite local live music spaces at least once during 2017.

Eric Schwartz

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Meanwhile, I had thought to catch Eric Schwartz at his Fox Run House Concerts show on November 25th this year at another very cool local house concert performance space. But this Backyard show allowed me to see Eric perform live while resolving a potential Thanksgiving weekend schedule conflict. Win-win.

Eric Schwartz, if you’re not familiar with him, is one of America’s preeminent comedy singer-songwriters; I’ve seen him referred to as “folk,” but that is a bit of a misnomer, as his style incorporates a variety of musical influences crossing various singer-songwriter subcategories. Perhaps the one song that gained the most notoriety was one of Eric’s political ditties, his 2008 International Songwriting Competition winning song, “Clinton Got a BJ.” (NSFW word tweaked to avoid search engine wrath.) More recently, his social commentary jam “I Gotta Problem With That” has drawn some attention, but my personal favorite Eric Schwartz tune – the one that made it onto my smartphone playlist – is the hilarious screenplay-in-a-song “Don’t Tell My Wife.”

Eric Schwartz

photo by Geoff Wilbur

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from an Eric Schwartz live performance, since this was my first time seeing him in person, but this guy’s one of the best at what he does – and, as I always say, it’s always worthwhile to see musicians who excel in any lane of the 50-lane superhighway that is their craft – so I jumped at the chance.

It’s sometimes hard to tell where Eric’s musical and comedic noodling turns into a song and when it’s merely noodling – though a perusal of his ReverbNation page and a scan of the song titles on his albums may help figure out where to draw the lines. Regardless, Eric performed about 15 songs on this particular evening. Or 18. Your call. It was a chilly evening in Brighton, but thanks to some unseasonable warmth, still a decent night for a live show.

Eric Schwartz

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Eric’s first song of the evening was an R-rated comedic female-hygiene-related adaption of “Saving All My Love For You,” setting the bar at its clearly-not-for-children adultest right from the start. Next up was my personal favorite, “Don’t Tell My Wife,” rather Hee Haw-ish in its delivery at times, just like on the recording. ‘Til now, though, I had no idea it was actually based on a true story. “Don’t Ask” followed, a bluesy soul-like word salad sporting significant rhythmic vocal scatting.

Eric followed that with his most political song of the evening, “He Won,” a tale of the last presidential election as seen through the eyes of an unhappy deity, delivered devilishly in a dark, smoky narrative vocal style; perhaps I’ve said too much.

Any political conservatives who couldn’t find humor in the prior track, though, hopefully returned from their bathroom breaks in time for the next number, Eric’s voyage through a seemingly random collection of rhyming words that he tied together at the end… quite cleverly. You’ll know it when you hear it. And he followed that up with the frighteningly unhygienic “Telltale Kitchen.”

Eric Schwartz

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Following some hilariously demented children’s music and some more comedy noodling, Eric moved on to his uber, ultra, meta-country song, “There’s a Picture.” (Do I need to warn you not to click through on this link if you’re at work? Really, with Eric’s songs, it’s always a risk.)

Politics returned with “I’ve Got a Problem With That,” followed by Eric’s Gospel song, “The Better Man,” a song of forgiveness… of oneself.

With that, in spite of a supposed zero percent chance of rain (when I checked my weather app earlier in the day), drops of water fell from the sky, so the show moved indoors for the final two songs. First up, Eric swung through his catchy, hooky ode to lesbian trailblazers, “Hattie and Mattie.” And then he closed the evening with “Hallelujah,” a brilliantly NSFW re-imagining of the tune and its cliched use by vocally-talented would-be troubadours to melt women’s… um… let’s just say “it’s ability to attract women” and leave it at that.

Eric plans to take some time off from touring soon, so catch him now if you can. At least, jump at the chance if you’d enjoy a fun, lighthearted evening of clever, imaginative, occasionally political, and often highly inappropriate (adult?) musical comedy. I can’t say it too often: This dude’s one of the best at what he does.

Eric Schwartz

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Looking Ahead

This is the last backyard show of the season at The Backyard, but you should bookmark the “Events” page of the venue’s website and check back for future show listings. Liking The Backyard’s Facebook page is probably also a good idea.

West coast-based Eric Schwartz has a few more gigs in the northeast over the next month, with dates scheduled on Saturday, November 25th in Sudbury, MA; Saturday, December 2nd in Oswego, NY; and Sunday, December 3rd in Oxford, NY. See the “Shows” page of Eric’s website for additional information and to see upcoming live dates whenever they’re added.

One Last Advisory

It’s worth repeating, and I’m serious here: Do not sample Eric’s music while at work. Wait until you get home, lock the doors, turn out the lights, and for heaven’s sake, use protection… I mean, headphones.

Live Review: Carmel Liburdi at Hamtramck Korner Bar

Carmel Liburdi

photo by Eric Harabadian

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Carmel Liburdi

Hamtramck Korner Bar, Hamtramck, MI

November 3, 2017

There was certainly a lot of love in the room as assembled fans and friends gathered to celebrate the release of Detroit area singer-songwriter Carmel Liburdi’s new CD Insomnia Slumber Party. Liburdi is a gifted lyricist and songsmith who knows how to connect with her audience. She writes tunes that are personal and somewhat confessional, with a broad appeal that most folks can relate to. Affairs of the heart, religion and self-reflection are some of the prime topics of her songs delivered with a sense of irony and whimsical introspection.

Carmel Liburdi

photo by Eric Harabadian

The place was packed and, after some introductory pleasantries, she jumped right into the title track to her latest release “Insomnia Slumber Party.” Armed with her trusty acoustic guitar, Liburdi dove into the folky, laid-back rhythms with ease. It’s a small tale—perhaps a personal account—of two people who find themselves fatefully together at the end of the night after the other partygoers disperse. She appeared to have the crowd dialed in from the get-go and followed that up with a wry and lighthearted tune called “This Song is About You.” The tune had a ragtime Tin Pan Alley vibe where she puts a cad in his place with the line “You dirty cowboy riding atop your trusty steed; I need you now, boy, but it’s a want more than a need.” Talk about turning the tables!

Carmel Liburdi

photo by Eric Harabadian

“Umbrella Tattoo” contains vivid imagery and a dream-like rapid stream of conscious lyrical delivery. As she refers in her own song, it’s like “grunge pop punk played on acoustic.” “Sewerstar” is kind of progressive in its structure and how it takes several twists and turns in mood and tempo. Liburdi whips out her ukulele for the cute and somewhat surreal tale “The Vine.” She cleverly observes various fruits and vegetables within a garden and gives them all human qualities, not unlike Simon and Garfunkel’s classic social observation “At the Zoo.” This woman can write about pretty much anything and give its characters purpose and integrity. Toward the end of this tune Liburdi also played “mouth trumpet” and brought the house down. “Zoe” followed and was another catchy piece, with a light rock and boogie edge.

Carmel Liburdi

photo by Eric Harabadian

The last two songs in her set really played to the emancipated woman. In “Not for Consumption,” she pulled no punches singing the line (after defending her position in an encounter with someone) “I’m here in the now. I don’t know why and I don’t know how.” “Genuine Creep” closed the main part of the show and was probably one of the more poignant songs of the night. Love is confusing sometimes as she sings, “I’ve shown I can love even if I can’t love you.” And then in the next breath she emotes, “When you think I’ve moved on and I came back to you. That’s just what I do.”

Carmel Liburdi

photo by Eric Harabadian

She concluded with an encore from an earlier release called “Ice Cream in Heaven.” It was a clever little number where she called up acoustic bassist Gwen McPhee and percussionists Mike Land and Phil Warren to help her out. Actually, at a few select points earlier in the performance, Liburdi received a little help from those friends as well.

Carmel Liburdi is a unique and singular talent. She can, essentially, carry her own as a solo performer and is totally authentic and believable. Aside from her obvious songwriting prowess, perhaps that is her biggest asset.

Album Review: Savoy Brown – Witchy Feelin’

Album Review of Savoy Brown: Witchy Feelin’

Yes, that Savoy Brown. Legendary British blues rockers you’d know mostly from the ’60s and ’70s, though they’ve been releasing music pretty steadily ever since. And by they, I mean Kim Simmonds and whoever is in the band with him, as he has churned through a significant number of bandmates through the years under the moniker Savoy Brown; Pat Desalvo (bass) and Garnet Grimm (drums) have been Kim’s bandmates since 2009.

Savoy Brown - Witchy Feelin'

image courtesy of Howlin’ Wuelf Media

Through the years, though, Kim’s bluesy guitar wail and bluesy vocals have been a constant, while his list of former Savoy Brown colleagues is impressive in both quantity and quality.

That telltale axework doesn’t take long to appear on Witchy Feelin’, as first track “Why Did You Hoodoo Me” kicks of with crunch and power, a deep bluesy vocal acting as a New Orleans-inspired booming siren call. It is a proper introduction to this old-school, classic blues rock album. Like fine wine, this disc just improves with age; it’s solid at first listen, but the attention to detail helps this collection dig its tentacles in like smoke from an old blues club filters its way through the seams and into the lining of your leather jacket. It’s loud, smelly, and worth the time to fully enjoy.

My other favorite track, closer to the middle of the collection, is “Guitar Slinger,” another crunchy guitar-driven, unforgivingly ploddingly advancing blues rocker, perhaps a bit George Thorogood-esque but with more fancy ’70s rock fretwork in some of the guitar runs.

Savoy Brown

photo courtesy of Howlin’ Wuelf Media

Those selections betray my preferences, though. If you’re more of a “Sweet Home Chicago” meets the Fabulous Thunderbirds kind of music fan, you might prefer “Vintage Man.” And the songs “Living on the Bayou” and “Memphis Blues” are additional standout tracks, each illustrating the source of its own particular blues roots in its song title.

“Standing in a Doorway” is a blues-soaked version of what might otherwise be a Dire Straits tune but crunchier and deeper vocalled. And the album ends with a suitable closing blues number, “Thunder, Lightning, and Rain,” a song that includes plenty of street cred-establishing jams, a bar-closing, “you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here”-worthy spoken-blues delivery and noisy slow fade leading to an abrupt end.

I’m glad I gave this album a few listens. Its music starts off solid and grows on you by the sixth or eighth listen, a classic blues-rock album delivered by a talented veteran crew that really knows what it’s doing. Witchy Feelin’ is a welcome addition to my music collection; it’s a comfortable old-school disc I know I’ll reach for when in a specific mood for years to come.

Looking Ahead

Per the “tour dates” page of the band’s website, Savoy Brown is, indeed, on the road.  You can see them November 17th at Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis, MD; November 18th at the Sellersville Theater in Sellersville, PA; November 25th at The Montage Music Hall in Rochester, NY; November 26th at the Sportsmen’s Tavern in Buffalo, NY; December 1st and 2nd at Iridium Jazz Club in New York, NY; December 8th at The Upper Room in Albany, NY; December 15th at The Bull Run in Shirley, MA; and December 16th at Daryl’s House in Pawling, NY. Go to the band’s website for additional details and more live dates as they are added.