Single Review: Richard X. Heyman – “Choices We Make”

Richard X. Heyman - "Choices We Make"

image courtesy of Howlin’ Wuelf Media

Single Review of Richard X. Heyman: “Choices We Make”

Richard X. Heyman proves once again his position as one of the premier independent rock ‘n roll singer-songwriters with the release of this enjoyable, thoughtful pop-rock release.

Richard X. Heyman

photo by Nancy Leigh; photo courtesy of Howlin’ Wuelf Media

“Choices We Make” is a throwback. A sixties/seventies-style, soft-touch rock ‘n roll protest song. With a rich, full sound reminiscent of generations of radio-ready, mid-speed rock hits, this song is the sort of thing you might hear from singers ranging from John Mellencamp to Jackson Browne, but with Richard X. Heyman’s more gravelly vocal, more along the lines of Randy Newman (but with a little edgier rock attitude) or maybe a mellow (though still uptempo) Bruce Springsteen. The verses bounce along with a friendly tunefulness, and the choruses are fun to sing along with “The future is ours for the takin’. The outcome will be settled of foresaken by the choices we make, by the choices we make.” It’s another instant classic from Richard X. Heyman.

“Choices We Make” was a timely release, dropping on October 30th, 2020, just four days before Americans made a choice; the “Choices We Make” YouTube video was posted a week and a half earlier, on October 19th. Though the choices referred to in the song could be personal, political, or social, if there was any doubt, the subject matter in the music video suggests it’s all of the above. That, of course, is one sign of a well-written song – it’s universal enough to be applicable to more than one situation, able to fit the listeners’ needs. Speaking of universality, “Choices We Make” checks off the most universal sign of well-written song, too: It’s really catchy and fun to listen to!

You Might Recall…

I reviewed Richard’s 2017 In Cognito release, but I missed covering his 2019 Pop Circles album. I did, however, review The Doughboys’ Running For Covers, with Richard on the drums.

Single Review: Make Believe Friends – “Scream”

Single Review of Make Believe Friends: “Scream”

“Scream” rocks. It has power, vocal strength and agility, churning kick-ass rock guitars, and a hooky earworm quality that’ll result in you singing it to yourself hours or days after last listening to it. Seriously, check out this song!

Make Believe Friends - Scream

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

It’s a song with very serious content, expressing righteous anger and frustration at the racism and intolerance that boiled over in 2020 in America: “Are they out of their heads? Streets filled with bloodshed. All we want are solutions from bigot-run institutions.” Though you’ll mumble your way through the verses for the a few dozen listens, the chorus you’ll be singing along to by the end of the first is: “All I want to do is scream! Another crazy night, and I’m lost and all alone. Scream! Another crazy night, I just hope I make it home.”

There’s a really cool off-balance yet straight-ahead element to this anthem, as the beat advances mercilessly, while an occasional snake-charmer guitar bit in the bridges helps settle the mood before musical and vocal explosions. Likewise, even as the song moves steadily forward, there’s always a feeling that the vocals may change direction at any moment. I love when songs do this. Bonus points for the important social subject matter.

“Scream” lies in a somewhat-heavy, somewhat-melodic, very original musical zone that would appeal to hard rockers, melodic rockers, and some metal and progressive fans. Among bands I’ve reviewed at the blog, I’d implore fans of Love and a .38, Edge of Paradise, and Kings of Jade – and the more melodic half of Forever Still’s fans – to add this song to your playlists.

About the Band

Make Believe Friends is the musical alter ego of Lunden Reign‘s Laura Espinoza (guitar) and Mindy Milburn (lead vocals). On the recording of “Scream,” Laura and Mindy are joined by Phil Soussan (Ozzy, Billy Idol, Last in Line) on bass, and Mike Avenaim (Scott Weiland, Selena Gomez, Zella Day) on drums. “Scream” was written by Laura Espinoza, Mindy Milburn, and Nikki Lunden and produced by Laura Espinoza and Mike Avenaim.

Though none are currently listed, you’ll be able to find Lunden Reign gigs on the “Upcoming Shows” page of the band’s website. Make Believe Friends has past gig listings on the “Events” tab of the band’s Facebook page.

EP Review: Potter’s Daughter – Casually Containing Rage

Potter's Daughter

photo courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

EP Review of Potter’s Daughter: Casually Containing Rage (Melodic Revolution Records)

Casually Containing Rage is a three-song release from progressive rockers Potter’s Daughter (Dyanne Potter Voegtlin on piano and vocals and Jan-Christian Vögtlin on bass).

Fans of progressive soft rock and ’70s soft pop-rock music might really dig this album. A jazzy flavor combines with experimental progressive stylings and a wide-open ’70s album-oriented soft rock vibe to comprise this three-song collection.

The first track, “To My Love,” is a new arrangement of a song that appeared on Potter’s Daughter’s 2018 debut album The Blind Side. Dyanne and Jan-Christian are joined by Amit Chatterjee (guitar), Patrick Carmichael (drums), and Tom Borthwick (soundscaping). The vocals are crisp and clear with a chanting quality and cadence. The music bed is airy and somewhat eerie, except for the third quarter of the song, which features a slow-jamming, softly wailing guitar solo. It’s an otherworldly combination; hence, my application of the descriptor “experimental progressive.”

Potter's Daughter - Casually Containing Rage

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

Next, “Accidentally Like a Martyr” is a Warren Zevon cover. This one was recorded by just Dyanne and Jan-Christian, with Jan-Christian adding guitar and drum programming to his bassist role. It comes perhaps the closest on the disc to delivering a song you might have heard on the radio, namely a 1970s AOR radio station, but decade notwithstanding, it’s the song of the three that’s the most accessible to the broadest listening audience.

The final song on the EP, “We Could Be,” is a song about racial injustice, featuring bits from David Greene NPR broadcasts. It has a mildly funky, ’70s lounge-music groove, with news reports talking about George Floyd in the background behind the lyrics “We could be better than this. We could be so much better than this,” followed by news reports about Ahmaud Abery in the background during a musical bridge. We all know music can be impactful, and this is Potter’s Daughter’s song for social justice, with very much a ’70s soft rock flavor. It subtly builds in strength, just enough to add impact as it continues.

Casually Containing Rage is a great introduction to Potter’s Daughter’s specific progressive style. It’s worth a listen for anyone whose musical taste includes even a hint of any soft prog or ’70s AOR soft rock leanings.

Looking Ahead

One place to find future Potter’s Daughter live performances is on the “Events” tab of the band’s Facebook page.

Single Review: Adam Lee – “I Am a Coward”

Adam Lee

photo by Lisa Sullivan; photo courtesy of Adam Lee

Single Review of Adam Lee: “I Am a Coward”

Adam Lee has a deep, dark, gravelly voice with a very unique tone that conveys wisdom and insight, plus a strength and fullness with which he can bring forth great, booming power. It’s been a few years since I reviewed Adam’s album Sincerely, Me in advance of its 2017 release. This single is a welcome reintroduction to Adam’s original style. Among the styles I mentioned in the Sincerely, Me review, this resides closer to the hauntingly Chris Isaak/”Wicked Game”-ish end of his range.

Adam Lee - I Am a Coward

image courtesy of Adam Lee

“I Am a Coward” begins slow and soft but with a steady, traveling beat that it maintains all along. Adam’s voice begins low and questioning, building with the music while adding wisdom, leading into a fade-out with “I am a coward. I am afraid. But even a coward can learn to be brave. If I’m not a lion, am I the cage? I am a coward, but I can change,” then returning with “We always can change.” From that point, the song builds, as if clouds are opening, until the music swells, Adam’s voice booms, and you get goose bumps and chills. The song ends with the hopeful message: “We always can change.”

With his release of this well-crafted song, it’s a pleasure to get to review Adam’s music again. Be sure also to check out the lyric video for “I Am a Coward” on YouTube.

Adam Lee

photo by Lisa Sullivan; photo courtesy of Adam Lee

Looking Ahead

The Tour page of Adam’s website is where you’ll find upcoming gig information. Not surprisingly, there are no gigs listed right now.

Single Review: 2WEI feat. Marvin Brooks & Ohana Bam – “You Want It”

2WEI, Marvin Brooks & Ohana Bam

photo courtesy of DRPR

Single Review of 2WEI feat. Marvin Brooks & Ohana Bam: “You Want It” (Position Music)

Regular readers will remember how I was digging out from a massive backlog when I started writing reviews again regularly in mid-2020. In early September, when this single, “You Want It,” dropped into my inbox, I was still reviewing material I received in 2018. But this song is so catchy, so memorable, so much fun that I placed it into my review queue because I knew I had to share it with you, even if several months after its release.

2WEI feat. Marvin Brooks & Ohana Bam - You Want It single

image courtesy of DRPR

The music just explodes out of the speakers on this song. It’s the sort of tune you’d expect to hear during play stoppages in NBA arenas or perhaps as relief pitchers’ intro songs as they walk in from the bullpen. The rising and falling provide punch points perfect for action scenes if used for a movie trailer. And after I read that 2WEI (Simon Heeger and Christian Vorländer) were known for their trailers, that makes sense, too.

Marvin Brooks‘ powerful vocals work well alongside’s Ohana Bam‘s smooth, rhythmic rap, both atop 2WEI’s supportive music bed that takes the listener on a journey. Well, not so much “listener” as “get on your feet and dancer,” but you get the point.

Within the song, there are memorable lyrical bits, from the parts interspersed with “You want it” and “I got it” to the raps, there’s a lot unpack within this song about chasing your dreams, but it’s a fun ride and so worth it. Even the “la la la la, la la la la la, la la la la, whoa, whoa” bridge is a singalong bit by the second listen. 2WEI, with Marvin Brooks and Ohana Bam, have the makings of a crossover pop/hip-hop hit here. Give it a listen.

EP Review: Leah Belle Faser – Crossing Hermi’s Bridge

Leah Belle Faser

photo by Deborah Celecia Wagoner; photo courtesy of Michael J. Media Group

EP Review of Leah Belle Faser: Crossing Hermi’s Bridge

Leah Belle Faser has one of the biggest, baddest, “how is she not a star already?” sounds of the young country artists I’ve heard lately. Just a few seconds into my first listen, I knew I review this EP and share her music with you. And now, after several listens, whenever one of her songs starts on my playlist, I rack my brain trying to remember which famous country artist she is. That’s an easy way to tell you’ve found a truly special artist. And the lyrics and music are all Leah Belle Faser originals, too. She’s a complete artist.

Leah Belle Faser - Crossing Hermi's Bridge EP cover

image courtesy of Michael J. Media Group

The (boom!) massive hit of the disc is its third song, “Better Than Mine.” It’s a melancholy, dreamy number, performed more mid-tempo than slowly, but still not usually a breakout song tempo… oh, but the hooks! And the faster-and-slower tempo changes. And the lyrics! It’s a heartbreak, post-split song about the conflicting emotions after a breakup, when, even though it was clearly the right call – something portrayed by this song largely in attitude and briefly by lyric – it’s hard to see an ex moving on faster and, seemingly, better. And the lyrics in the chorus? Check this out (because you’ll be learning them and singing along): “When I said I wish you the best, but I didn’t know that would mean you’d be doing just fine, without me in your life, a new girl every night, I guess your best is better than mine.”

Leah Belle Faser

photo by Deborah Celecia Wagoner; photo courtesy of Michael J. Media Group

EP-opener “The Lift,” however, has hit potential in its own right. Leah’s voice raises strongly, lilts sweetly, and pushes persistently and convincingly through the lyrics of this song about finding love. Big-time country hit lyrics, to be sure: “Kiss me like you met me in the pouring rain, when I wore that Stardust t-shirt and it drove you insane…”

And “Second Hand Store” is an energetic, sassy pop-country number, with a cheerful tempo and small-town charm. On this song, it’s just some of the small turns of phrase that pull me in, from the catchy, unexpected rhyme of “With Burberry and Tiffany, you’ll have your epiphany” to the clever little “You finally realized the juice ain’t worth the squeeze.”

Leah Belle Faser

photo by Deborah Celecia Wagoner; photo courtesy of Michael J. Media Group

The third song on the disc is “Better Than Mine,” which I’ve already gushed about. It’s followed by “What Could Have Been,” that truly thoughtful song of missed opportunities, when you’re young and in love but are just passing driftwood riding divergent currents. No snark in this one. Just plenty of feelings, sweetly detailed vocals runs, and a textured depth of emotion, both when Leah stretches out the notes and when she quickly dashes through a lyrically-clever, fast-paced run.

The softness continues on “Back Home,” a memory-filled song about missing where you came from while pursuing your future far away. A song about sometimes wanting the life and surroundings you grew up with, about your home always being in your heart and missing what you’ve left behind. Leah’s voice roars, then softens, then roars again, taking you on a roller coaster ride that leaves you with watery eyes and a lump in your throat. (I’m not crying; you’re crying.)

Leah Belle Faser

photo by Deborah Celecia Wagoner; photo courtesy of Michael J. Media Group

Rock guitar kicks off “Play On Words,” and Leah’s voice reflects an attitude and edge that’s almost along the lines of Alannah Myles’ “Black Velvet,” but more country and with a little bit of that sassy Opry twang. Every time I hear this song I think it reminds me of a really famous song. And then I realize I’ve now heard “Play On Words” enough that it, in fact, is the song it reminds me of. Sign of a great tune.

Finally, Crossing Hermi’s Bridge concludes with “Ruled” a mid-tempo pop-country-rocker, that defiant number that’s almost a requirement of a young vocalist. Leah has shown a variety of sides of herself on this short, seven-song collection, but this song is the only one that displays this specific tone of very cool yet quite familiar defiance.

And… whew! Even without the well-crafted lyrics, with every word so cleverly and precisely chosen like an established veteran songwriter, Leah Belle Faser’s delivery would deserve a country music fan’s attention. But she’s a songwriter and lyricist of astounding caliber, too! Just wow! I realize I’m more than 700 words into the review, but I’m speechless… figuratively speaking.

Leah Belle Faser

photo by Deborah Celecia Wagoner; photo courtesy of Michael J. Media Group

Looking Ahead

You need to click on the “News” tab of Leah’s website too find her upcoming shows, and she has three listed. On February 13th, she’ll be at J. Michael’s Prime in Canton, GA. On March 5th, she’ll be at the Old Vinings Inn in Atlanta. And on March 13th, she’ll be performing at Engelheim Vineyards. If you’re venturing out, go hear her perform live. And if you’re not going out for live music right now, then check back at Leah’s website a couple weeks after you get your second vaccine.

Album Review: William Shatner – The Blues

William Shatner – The Blues

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

Album Review of William Shatner: The Blues (Cleopatra Records)

One of a kind. This album. And William Shatner. The Blues grew on me slowly, and I guarantee it’s not for everyone – in fact, you probably really have to love Shatner and “get” his persona to dig this disc – but man, it’s got style. And it leaves me with a singular conclusion: William Shatner is a herky-jerky rock and blues beat poet.

First, make sure you’re in the right mood for this album. It’s never smooth – Shatner’s delivery guarantees that, as his vocals, more spoken than sung, are largely near but outside the pocket, farther off the beat than you’re accustomed and not consistently so, providing dissonance, but they also deliver a very original, hipper-than-perhaps-initially-apparent vibe. Never quite what you expect, the album is a work of art, and it has a style all its own, even if it takes a few listens to really understand its groove.

There’s also some amazing musicianship on this record, and you’ll recognize many of the famous tunes Shatner covers. The Blues contains 14 songs, most of them featuring big-name artists in accompaniment. In fact, here’s the track listing of all 14 songs, with the featured artists who appear with Shatner on the first 13 tracks: “Sweet Home Chicago” featuring Brad Paisley; “I Can’t Quit You Baby” featuring Kirk Fletcher; “Sunshine Of Your Love” featuring Sonny Landreth; “The Thrill Is Gone” featuring Ritchie Blackmore; ‘Mannish Boy” featuring Ronnie Earl; “Born Under A Bad Sign” featuring Tyler Bryant; “I Put A Spell On You” featuring Pat Travers; “Crossroads” featuring James Burton; “Smokestack Lightnin’” featuring Jeff “Skunk” Baxter; “As The Years Go Passing By” featuring Arthur Adams; “Let’s Work Together” featuring Harvey Mandel and Canned Heat; “Route 66” featuring Steve Cropper; “In Hell I’ll Be in Good Company” featuring Albert Lee; and “Secrets Or Sins” (without a “featured” superstar accompanying Shatner). Sure, I’m not the habit of just listing the tracks in a review, but how better to show the renowned musical talent appearing on this particular disc?

Album-opener “Sweet Home Chicago” quickly catches your ear, if largely due to the easy familiarity with this grand old blues standard. “I Can’t Quit You,” an otherwise mellow groove, is sung with a truly pain-felt wail. And on “Sunshine Of Your Love,” Shatner’s loud-whispered vocals, along with the psychedelic music, help create a sixties vibe; you’ll half-expect Austin Powers to pop in mid-song.

Among other favorites: “Mannish Boy” is reminiscent of what you’d expect in an old school, smoky Chicago blues club. There’s an almost carnival barker-esque flavor – there may be a little old-fashioned Batman villain hiding in there – to Shatner’s enthusiastic delivery of “I Put a Spell On You.” And the chugging-along tempo of “Smokestack Lightnin'” is accompanied interestingly with Shatner’s sobbing-style vocals.

Interestingly – and it’s hard to tell if it’s true or if you just become accustomed to Shatner’s delivery style – the album closes with four relatively mainstream songs, much more so than the first ten. So even if you decide to sample but can’t get into the arthouse beatnik-blues mostly resident early on the disc, at least give the last four tracks a listen. These last four songs are the ones I’d suggest are performed the least uniquely, thought that’s a relative term.

The first of those is “Let’s Work Together.” Shatner’s wails coincide with screaming guitars. His “let’s work together” delivery is commanding. And you’ll find yourself singing along each time he sings the lyrics “every boy, girl, woman, and a man.” This one’s fun, with the most minimal need to appreciate an artistic delivery required.

Next up, Shatner’s spoken delivery is so on-the-mark on “In Hell I’ll Be in Good Company” that I can’t imagine it performed any other way. This song and the preceding “Let’s Work Together” are frequently my two favorites on The Blues. Or at least the two into which I can sink and get comfortable.

Shatner then delivers a fun, light-hearted blues-rockin’ rendition of “Route 66,” supported quite well by the smooth, steady guitar-rich music bed. And finally, the album slows to close with a sparsely-instrumented blues number, guided by a softly sobbing guitar and Shatner’s delivery, as if revealing deep, dark life secrets, appropriately, on “Secrets Or Sins.”

This one-of-a-kind album is a great, irreverently reverent tribute to the blues from Shatner. When I’m in the mood, it’s a real treat to listen to. But most of the collection requires active listening, in much the same way modern art demands active viewing. So when I’m not in the mood, I skip it and listen to something else. And that’s the best way to appreciate this album. If you’re into music that’s really “out there” – or if you can appreciate comfortable old favorites that are performed purposefully this far from the mainstream – give William Shatner’s The Blues a listen. Or maybe two or three. I’m really glad I did.

Need more Shatner?

Need more William Shatner in your life? Try his YouTube page, which is really cool. Or his website, which also lists his personal appearances. And, of course, you can find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Album Review: Rob Williams – Weathering the Storm, Vol. 1

Rob Williams

photo by Peter Beliaev; photo courtesy of Skye Media

Album Review of Rob Williams: Weathering the Storm, Vol. 1

Rob Williams is a storyteller. His voice is strong and full, as if it’s dispensing life’s truths. More than that, though, he’s a songwriter. And from beginning to end, Weathering the Storm, Vol. 1 offers up songs that are interesting and memorable. That alone would be reason to enjoy this album.

But this record also kicks off with one of those songs that’ll make you sit up and take notice, the sort of song that could introduce a talented, respected career musician to a huge audience with just a little lucky break. Indeed, “Nameless” is such a song. It’s an uptempo, alt-country, roots rocker with a monster hook and overflowing energy. It’s one of those songs you’ll turn up the radio to hear every single time, even if it’s not your preferred genre. It would be easy to stop talking about Weathering the Storm, Vol. 1 after mentioning the potential monster hit, but that wouldn’t be fair to the rest of this fine compilation of songs, which are well-crafted, enjoyable listens. But yowza, “Nameless” is such a great singalong, dance-along earworm, and it wields a wicked hook! Ironically, this song that’s so capable of making Rob Williams a household name sports the chorus “If you wonder what became of me, I’m nothing but happy. Don’t want to be famous; I’m content being nameless.”

Rob Williams - Weathering the Storm Vol. I

image courtesy of Skye Media

The album ends with its other biggest potential breakout hit. The last song on the disc, “Good with the Changes,” would be a terrific second single. Sporting a nervous vocal tension and big, booming energy in the choruses, it’ll have you singing along “what do we do now?!” (and mumbling along to the words you don’t know) by the end of the first listen. Repeatedly, a touch of vocal melancholy pulls the listener in before the song, about aging gracefully and enthusiastically, breaks out in a rush of feel-good energy. The song structure and delivery are exceptional. On most albums, this would be the clear potential hit single. In this collection, it’s just the second-hookiest.

Find a way to work “Nameless” and “Good with the Changes” into a hit movie or TV series, and the world would remember Rob Williams’ name. Instead, that’s left to those of us lucky to discover his music. And once you’re familiar with his thoughtful, insightful, storytelling vocal style, you’re ready for the rest of this disc, which is a gem beginning-to-end, packed with meaty, well-written, intelligent songwriting.

In between its bookend hits, Rob’s songs get melancholy, defiant, dark, angsty, and a variety of other moods you’d expect to find in top-shelf songwriter material. They’re songs that slowly grow on you, too, so after a few listens you’re no longer sure the first or last song is your favorite anymore. Well-written songs will do that to you.

“Me and You” is a pleasant, hopeful, sway-to-it-with-a-smile-on-your-face tune about life’s pitfalls and the value of avoiding them.

“Falling Sky” is a much harsher song, using its rough edges to complement its lyrics about the dark, divisive worldview that can be subscribed to by those who are ensnared by the way the news is presented.

“A Hard Time” is a chug-along, earnest, energetic tune with jangly guitar buzz supporting the song’s cathartic vocal energy bursts.

Rob Williams

photo by Peter Beliaev; photo courtesy of Skye Media

“Only Heaven Knows” starts as a hillbilly-ish guitar picker that adds instrumental texture before chugging along like you’d expect from, well, a train song.

“Long Distance” is the first of two very memorable songs in this collection about relationships falling apart. In this one, Simon and Sarah clearly don’t have the same expectations of the future of their long distance relationship. Emotional and poignant, it’s a song about the pain an unequal power structure can cause in a relationship.

Two sons later, “Ghostwriter (Rosie and Justin),” is written from the point of view of “Justin” recalling a relationship that faded as the titular couple grew apart, perhaps not making the effort required to maintain their connection (“There were days when our paths didn’t cross and we stopped taking notice. There were nights that I slept on the couch just to let her sleep. There were weeks when we didn’t say three words to one another. Over time even three words became harder to speak”), something that is obvious in retrospect, as lyrically presented via Justin’s recollections. Rob’s emotional vocals and songwriting chops prove he’s an ideal artist for this type of song. You’ll feel tears well up and get a lump in your throat listening to both “Ghostwriter” and “Long Distance”; Rob’s delivery and the musical compositions behind the songs are spot-on.

In between the relationship songs, Rob squeezes “Moon’s Light,” a melancholy, reminiscent ode to times gone by, childhood memories, sung with the emotional pain that accompanies the singer’s realization of a life passing by too fast and of his place in the passage of generations of time. More haunting than memorable, it doesn’t exactly lighten the mood between “Long Distance” and “Ghostwriter.” In fact, after the sequence of “Long Distance,” “Moon’s Light,” and “Ghostwriter,” you’ll be emotionally wrought and really glad Rob closes the disc with the energetic and cheerful “Good With the Changes,” returning your psyche to equilibrium.

Weathering the Storm, Vol. 1 is an emotional disc that’s worth listening to from beginning to end. But if you want to start by sampling, after a quick listen to “Nameless” and “Good With the Changes,” you’ll be a Rob Williams fan before even hearing the rest of his songs.

Looking Ahead

Rob doesn’t have any live gigs booked at the moment, but when he does, you can find them on the “Events” tab of his Facebook page.

Album Review: Ryan and Pony – Moshi Moshi

Ryan and Pony

photo by Tony Nelson; photo courtesy of Howlin’ Wuelf Media

Ryan and Pony are the husband-wife team that recorded seven albums as dual lead vocalists of Minneapolis’ The Melismatics. When The Melismatics slowed down their touring schedule in 2013, the two began working on new material, working toward an album as a duo. Then, in 2016, Ryan began performing with Soul Asylum, setting the album project aside. However, after the completion of Soul Asylum’s Hurry Up and Wait album, Ryan and Pony resumed work on Moshi Moshi, which was released on Pravda Records on September 25, 2020.

Album Review of Ryan and Pony: Moshi Moshi (Pravda Records)

Fun, catchy rock and roll. Moshi Moshi is a collection of raucous, hooky, alt rock-influenced, mainstream, guitar-driven, radio-friendly rock and roll tunes with a big sound that packs an immense punch. From beginning to end, on my very first listen, I was blown away. Slick production, booming power hooks, liberal use of every sonic trick in the alt pop-rock magic kit, songs that don’t develop exactly the way you expect them to and, instead, create their own better, unique entities. This is one of my favorite rock and roll albums of 2020.

Ryan and Pony - Moshi Moshi album cover

image courtesy of Howlin’ Wuelf Media

“Starry Eyes” opens things up with alt-rock melancholy vocals spread on an ’80s-influenced pop-rock-meets-a-twirling-carnival cracker.

“Start Making Sense” is full of crunchy guitar riffs and hooks, a catchy number that churns forward, almost as if an anthem, if not for the chorus and verses, which position it more as a big-feelings song. “Start Making Sense” seems like a thoughtful tune, but it only dodges around its thoughts, leaving a great deal for interpolation. Still, it’s wicked catchy.

“Fast As I Can” sports a pair of jangly guitar bits that combine with the softly aggressive vocal delivery to produce yet another very original piece of rock ‘n roll. Ryan and Pony’s music is all so familiar – like the short bridge in “Fast As I Can” that actually recalls the sax portion of Duran Duran’s “Rio,” though that’s where that particular comparison begins and ends – yet always so very original.

The opening riffs and rhythm of “Thunderlove” suggest The Cars – yet another “I’ve heard that before” moment – but the song as a whole is a pleasant, fun, lightly energetic alt-rock ditty. And there are other bits of music in the song that recall favorite bands of past and present, as if Ryan and Pony have assembled all of our favorite rock music from disparate subgenres into big, fun songs… again and again throughout Moshi Moshi.

Ryan and Pony

photo by Tony Nelson; photo courtesy of Howlin’ Wuelf Media

“Be Still My Baby,” up next, opens as a ’50s rock-style crooner, and that vibe remains throughout, but it’s updated and combined with elements of more modern rock ‘n roll. Of course.

“Cinematic” follows with an abrupt opening and a sparse music bed before going all “what if Madonna wrote an actual rock song?” In other words, the pop music influence is strong on “Cinematic,” though it’s one of those cool pop record “deep cuts,” a pop song a little too slow-tempo to be a radio hit but not slow enough to be a ballad.

“First Night” rocks in a psychedelic classic rock manner in and around its punk-ish alt-rock beat. “Trouble in Mind”, meanwhile, reverts to old-school pop-rock, with lush vocals and a Barenaked Ladies-ish cadence. Very, very cool.

“Low” is a relatively straightforward low-end-cool alt-rocker, while “Take It Or Leave It” follows with a much more herky-jerky rhythm. If there’s one constant to the alt-rock subgenres on Moshi Moshi, it’s change. (And talent, but I chose to review this album, so that goes without saying.)

Ryan and Pony

photo by Tony Nelson; photo courtesy of Howlin’ Wuelf Media

Speaking of constant change, the next track, the penultimate song on the disc, “Come Find Me” is eerily reminiscent of Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away.” Not quite as lush as Berlin’s soundbed, but a sweetly pleasant song well-deserving of major movie credit-roll placement.

Finally, did I mention Ryan and Pony are from Minneapolis? Well, I think it’s a local ordinance that Twin Cities rock bands a required to cover a Prince song. And it’s pretty cool hearing this rendition of “I Would Die 4 U.” Ryan and Pony bring a different vibe to the classic pop-rock hit – a poppier vibe with thinner instrumentation, especially (though not just) in the verses, that shows off their raw, lonesome version of the tune’s guitar line a bit more. And unless I’m crazy there’s something about the rhythm and supporting instrumentation that reminds me of Modern English a little. (Granted, I might be crazy.)

Ryan and Pony sound like every hooky, guitar-based, radio-friendly, alternative pop-rock band you’ve ever loved but not exactly like anyone else. They’re all over the map yet cohesive, with a sound you’ll instantly recognize. And they write fun, catchy songs. All those things together are why Moshi Moshi is must-hear.

Backlog Progress

Publisher’s Note: For those trying to track how far I’ve progressed in emptying my review backlog from the last 3 years – my 2 1/2 year unplanned relative absence from reviewing recorded music (though other Blog contributors did) plus 6 months of making progress on the favorites I set aside during that time – don’t be fooled by this album’s release date. I had a pre-release review copy of this disc, so dial the calendar back a couple additional months. In normal times, this review would have published on the album’s release date. But yeah, I’m making headway. And I am now well into music I’ve received since I was able to start reviewing again, so that’s good news. – GW