Single Review: Urban Ladder Society – “Juke Joint Lover”


Urban Ladder Society – "Juke Joint Lover"

image courtesy of Frank Roszak Promotions

Single Review of Urban Ladder Society: “Juke Joint Lover”

Urban Ladder Society dubs itself as an all-star band, and you sure can tell by the tight musicianship, the musical twists and turns, and the experienced touch of knowing just when to turn on the heat and when to dial it back. The band is comprised of Victa Nooman, Henry Roosterman Stevens, Chris Gill, and Jante Mayon.

The song itself, “Juke Joint Lover,” is an instant classic. It is a steady, rhythmically-progressing classic blues tune, structured to easily fit solos and jams that I assume could stretch for several minutes when performed live. The beat is smooth, dripping with attitude befitting the lyrics, “I can be your juke joint lover. Let me love you like no other. I can be your juke joint lover. You can call me your big brother. If you’ sick ‘n tired of your man, darlin’ just give me your hand, and we can.” This five-minute, six second tune chugs along like any other smooth blues joint until the 3:07 mark, when… boom! If you hadn’t already known, you realize this song lives at the intersection of blues-meets-hip-hop, and ULS includes a top-shelf rapper onboard in Victa Nooman. Rhythmically varied, the word-heavy rap atop a classic blues musical backdrop with texture-adding guitar riffing dancing throughout, does most of the vocal heavy lifting the rest of the way, guiding this tune to its conclusion. It gives Urban Label Society a unique element not found in most blues bands, an original sound whose individual ingredients are blended deftly together to appeal to a broad audience. This song is my first introduction to Urban Ladder Society, but I’ll definitely be back for more.

Album Review: Falling Doves – Electric Dove

Falling Doves

photo courtesy of Head First Entertainment

Album Review of Falling Doves: Electric Dove

Sporting a sound reminiscent of ’80s/’90s-era Enuff Z’Nuff, with a hint of Mr. Big, maybe, a dash of screeching blues-based rock guitar, and some heavy melodic punk, the Falling Doves deliver a distorted, powerful rock ‘n roll album. Bands the Falling Doves have shared the stage with include Echo & The Bunnymen, Peter Murphy of Bauhaus, Fastball, and Gilby Clarke. Yeah, that sounds about right.

Falling Doves – Electric Dove

image courtesy of Head First Entertainment

And yet, second song “Hello Stars” sounds like a hard rock song that might be heavily influenced by shoegaze, with a loud, buzzing rock and roll sound field and crunchy guitars driving a well-structured song that keeps acting as if it’s about to meander off, but it doesn’t. It’s a neat trick, and an engaging song. “NYC” is kind of like this, too. And until putting the pieces together while analyzing this album, I never realized that Enuff Z’Nuff actually has a bit of the heavy rock-meets-dream pop vibe in several of its songs. Of course, Enuff Z’Nuff predated shoegaze, so… well, I have to wonder which foundation musician in that musically distant genre was a secret EZ’N fan.

But I digress. Back to Falling Doves, and one step back to the album-opener, “Art of Letting Go”, which is an aggressive, disc-launching melodic hard rocker, with drums, crunchy guitars, distorted guitars, and vocal wails befitting a hard rock band, a catchy song and quick favorite that’ll cause unintentional – though definitely not undesired – headbanging whenever you listen to it.

Falling Doves

photo courtesy of Head First Entertainment

“Dialing You!” is another straightforward rocking favorite on the disc, with a steady rhythm, vocal snarl, and a couple mean guitar hooks. “Strange Love” stands out for its guitar wails during a couple short bridges and a wall of music backdrop so complete that it almost seems like some static fill had been included specifically to ensure there are no gaps.

“December Took You Away” is a driving straightforward rocker with the vocals and guitar adding just a hint of side-to-side rhythm. There’s perhaps a smidgeon of Green Day-like defiance mixed in, with a classic guitar run in the middle of the song playing a major role in redirecting it forward – it’s subtle but very cool once you notice it.

“Something About Her Ways” – particularly the opening stanza – exhibits the strongest old-school alt-hard-rock influence on the disc, adding the sort of small variances of ingredients from song to song necessary to provide an enjoyable full-album listening experience.

After “NYC,” mentioned earlier, distorted, disjointedly rhythmic rocker “Changes,” old school alt-pop rock-seasoned “Tomorrow Night” (depending on my mood, I alternately hear hints of Human League and Blondie when I listen), and the raucously, punkishly hard rocker “Don’t Have the Time” solidly drive the disc to a close.

In the end, Enuff Z’Nuff fans won’t be able to unhear the stylistic similarities, and I mean that in the most complimentary possible way. For the rest of you, this is a solid hard rock album with catchy rhythms and a hint of the ethereal echoing in the music, particularly in the vocals. Good stuff.

Falling Doves

photo courtesy of Head First Entertainment

More Recently

During the pandemic, the Falling Doves have added several releases on Bandcamp, including a couple of “virtual tour” releases and a cool EP of covers, Electrafixation.

Looking Ahead

Keep an eye on the band’s website and/or the “Events” tab of its Facebook page for upcoming shows.

Album Review: Johnny Never – Blue Delta

Johnny Never – Blue Delta

image courtesy of Frank Roszak Promotions

Album Review of Johnny Never: Blue Delta

I’ll admit that, while I am a blues fan, I’m not well-versed in identifying the specific styles of blues, nor do I have an awareness of their varied histories. But I enjoy it, and I know what good blues sounds like. I also know Johnny Never plays a very specific style of blues, and that he is an exceptional purveyor of his style of blues. Still, I’ll have to accept the press information that this is Delta Blues but played in a Piedmont finger-style. I include that for readers to whom that means something. For the rest of us, Johnny Never’s Blue Delta is an absolutely top-shelf collection of a very specific style of blues.

You’ll find eight originals and five covers on this album.

Disc-opener “Blue Delta Blues,” a Johnny Never original, kicks things off with the sort of crooning warble, something you might recall if you’re old enough to have played your parents’ (or grandparents’) old 45s, with a warmth yet an almost grainy quality reminiscent of sitting in front of the speakers while listening to AM radio. It has a cool groove, a toe-tapping rhythm, and a nostalgic catchiness.

A harmonica drives another original, “Black Smart Phone,” while some guitar plucking provides texture behind Johnny’s somewhat gravelly croon.

Among the covers, I enjoy the almost vaudevillian flavor of Johnny’s energetic rendition of Robert Johnson’s “Last Fair Deal.” Johnny adds a shaky howl to his delivery of Son House’s “Death Letter.”

Original “Shake It Up and Boogie” is bit of a jam, with harmonica wailing and loose guitar picking supporting a number befitting a mid-sized room and a stage, especially as you picture the backup singers leaning in to echo “shake it up and boogie.” Its album placement is clearly by design, as it shares a similar rhythm to Johnny’s rendition of Tommy Johnson’s “Canned Heat.”

“Falls Off the Bone (Blues in 7/8)” has an intriguing rhythm, with Johnny’s vocals seeming to run long at times, start late at others. He seems to ignore the expected vocal pocket throughout the song but artfully, in a way that makes the song a compelling listen. And again I suspect song placement on the album was purposeful, as it almost seamlessly flows into Johnny’s version of Roosevelt Sykes’ “44 Blues.”

The disc continues with strength and variety, with the big blues sound of “Witherin’ Heat Blues,” the heartbreaking dirge-like emotion of “Whiskey Glass,” and the intricate picking-driven sway of “Dark Night Blues (Murdoch Blues).”

The penultimate track on the album, Johnny’s version of Big Bill Broonzy’s “Hey Hey,” has a nice travelling-song feel, an energetic near-final number that leans into Johnny’s hoarse vocal delivery – sounding as if he’s tunefully hoarse at the end of a long night of singing the blues – to deliver a tune that’ll get the joint hopping just before last call.

And that last call, Johnny’s original “Blue Eyed Girl,” can perhaps be that song of lament that sends you home at the end of the night. Or on to the next album (or Blue Delta on repeat) because, you know, this is a record and not a late night at the club.

Beginning to end, Blue Delta is constantly on-point. Especially on the more sparsely-instrumented numbers, I can see Johnny sitting in that folder chair on the beach, as on the album cover, just strumming, plucking, and crooning, though these songs are all equally well-suited to 2:00 in the morning at a dimly lit blues joint. Blue Delta is a solid recommendation for blues fans, regardless of whether or not you know “Delta blues” by name.

Interview: Dean and the Singing Blue Jeanne’s

Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

photo by Jonny Tessler; photo courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Dean and the Singing Blue Jeanne’sInterview and Video Review of “Fantasy House”“3 Coins in a Wishing Well”, and “Enter This Night”

Dean Bailin and Jeanne Waller are native New Yorkers who have each plied their trade as full-time musicians since the ‘70s. They’ve seen a lot of trends and artists come and go in their collective 80 years in the business. Waller has travelled the country doing musical theater and singing in society bands and orchestras. Bailin has been an industrious session guitarist/multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer and engineer as well as a recording and touring artist as part of Rupert Holmes’ early band. Remember Holmes’ #1 hit single “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”? Bailin played perhaps, one of the most famous guitar licks in pop music history, with the song’s signature flowing ascending and descending melodic interlude.

Dean Bailin and Rupert Holmes

Dean with Rupert Holmes, photo courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

“What was amazing was coming home from a gig one night and I’m hearing myself on WABC radio in New York,” recalls Bailin. “I said, ‘Oh my goodness, we’re on Top 40 radio! ‘ And sure enough, the song shot up the charts. It was amazing to be a part of it, and a life changing event. It was a great thing for Rupert and led to touring and additional albums.”

“And I wanted to say that ‘Escape’ was #1 in two decades – from the end of 1979 to the beginning of 1980,” adds Waller.

As the years ensued, Bailin found himself in demand as a session guitarist in New York City. Some of his credits included work with Gilda Radner, Rodney Dangerfield, Kurtis Blow and many others. From 1985 to 2015 he built a production studio in Manhattan and wrote and produced songs for Petula Clark, Felix Cavaliere and a myriad of NYC solo artists and bands. “I worked with so many diverse people,” explains Bailin. “I had my own studio, could play all the instruments, and charged people by the hour. I saved artists a lot of money doing things that way. Working with so many different people makes you a chameleon, of sorts. It forced me to expand my horizons.”

Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

photo by Glen Coleman; photo courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

Bailin and Waller were always friendly to each other over the years playing in various NYC bands and meeting for coffee to talk shop every so often. And then, about five years ago, their creative professional and personal partnership took a significant upward turn. “We set up a meeting to get together,” says Bailin. “I kind of looked at it as a date (laughs). But Jeanne came over and I played her some of the music I had been working on.”

“I knew he played on ‘Pina Colada’ and in some of the bands I worked in. But I had no idea he was such a good songwriter,” says Waller. “I knew people knew Dean as a great guitarist but didn’t know about the songs. And the first song I heard was ‘Enter This Night.’”

The mid-‘60s Motown-influenced “Enter This Night” was just one of a huge body of original tunes that Bailin had stockpiled in his studio since the early ‘80s. The clever and ingenious lyrical and musical pop elements in his songs really spoke to Waller and it offered a sense of creative direction for her in the process. “My background was in musical theater and singing in country clubs and places like The Waldorf in New York,” explains Waller. “But I always wanted to sing pop music. When I heard Dean’s music I said this is the music I waited so long to hear!”

Jeanne Waller

photo by Glen Coleman; photo courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

“What got me about Jeanne is she has a remarkable musical vocabulary,” says Bailin. “She knows so many songs from the great songwriters going back to Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and so on. But she’s well versed in pop music from the ‘60s and ‘70s on as well.”

So, about 2015, Waller embarked on a mission to learn the lion’s share of Bailin’s original music library. And her extensive theatrical background provided the groundwork for the next chapter in this couple’s lives as video stars.

As Waller became more versed in Bailin’s material they put together a live act around Manhattan. They developed a nice following where they performed as a duo to backing tracks of many original songs. They were getting a strong reaction at various venues until the pandemic hit in March 2020. “We were devastated,” says Bailin. “We just tried to make use of all the time we were together.”

“Being that we were in Manhattan and the New York area, we were at the epicenter of what was to come,” says Waller.

Dean Bailin

photo by Jonny Tessler; photo courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

“The first song that we ever did on video was called ‘Faith, Hope and Love’ and we did it in my living room on March 23rd, 2020, with a cell phone. We dedicated it to all the front line and hospital workers. It was just guitar and vocals. We put it up on Facebook and the response was really nice. I think we must’ve been one of the first ones to post something like this on Facebook. We did it just to say thank you to all these people. We didn’t know what was gonna happen. And when we recorded it I was scared. You can hear it in my voice. We just wanted to help.”

What’s that familiar phrase about life dishing out lemons? The couple loaded a bushel into the musical blender, pressed “chop,” and established a whole new career paradigm. “Dean had this song he had written called ‘Fantasy House.’” explains Waller. “We were pretty good at putting songs together in our head. His songs are very personality-oriented. I saw a movie star, a hippie, Olive Oyl – all the characters mentioned in the song. My theatrical background always had me working out a show in my head. Meanwhile, Dean had mastered this video software so we could do beautiful color and sound. I ordered all these costumes – dresses and wigs and things from Amazon. And because he was learning how to do everything it wasn’t very expensive.”

Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

photo by Jonny Tessler; photo courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

What led to their video excursions was Bailin and Waller going to see a friend performing at a Lower East Side Manhattan nightclub. Bailin’s high school buddy Jonny Tessler was there capturing the event with a very high-end video camera. Later Bailin took a look at some of the footage and the images were very crisp and clear. Soon after, Bailin approached Tessler about shooting video for a couple of their song projects. Additional accoutrements like green screens and whatnot were purchased, and the trio were shooting their first video forays in Waller’s living room. “The first video we did was ‘Fantasy House,’” recalls Bailin. “And we did it with our good friend and a brilliant keyboard player named Joel Diamond. We were all wearing the masks the whole time except when we were on camera. This was when the pandemic was in full bloom and everybody was afraid of everybody.”

Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

photo by Jonny Tessler; photo courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

In a matter of 12 hours they shot the video for “Fantasy House” and another original tune “3 Coins in a Wishing Well.” The whimsical and funky “Fantasy House” is a playful romp that employs kind of a ‘80s B52’s meets Tom Tom Club sensibility mixed with “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” whimsy. With the blend of the couple’s dulcet vocal harmonies and Bailin’s hip guitar breaks, the song and video offer a very cool alternate reality. “3 Coins in a Wishing Well” takes another turn to more of a mystical direction. In the video, Waller plays a number of different characters, including a gypsy and a witch. Again, it’s a well crafted and graphically compelling aural and visual experience.

“What I saw from Jeanne was her natural ability to take on different characters,” explains Bailin. “She really rose to the occasion and became those characters. And that’s how we came up with our name of ‘Dean and the Singing Blue Jeanne’s.’ I would regularly put three or four images of Jeanne in our videos and she could act out and sing all these different parts. It’s a takeoff on that ‘60s group ‘The Swinging Blue Jeans’—you know ‘Hippy Hippy Shake?’”

Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

photo by Jonny Tessler; photo courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

Arguably, the multiple “Jeannes” concept comes together most effectively on the afore-mentioned “Enter This Night.” It’s a brilliant song inspired by the Detroit Motown experience. As a Supremes-type vocal trio, Waller magically appears on Bailin’s television screen as all three vocalists. They are appearing on the “Ed Sullivan Show” in some sort of time travelling continuum that falls somewhere between fantasy and reality. Oh, and it’s a ton of fun too!

We’ve started building quite a fan base on Facebook,” says Bailin. “Somehow our videos have been shared over and over. We’ve done a little on Spotify, but have mostly focused on Facebook. We’ve got direct contact with people there. We know immediately who our fans are and we’re up to 4,000 people now.”

“We’ve heard from hospital workers and many other people that our music has given them some joy and has helped them. It feels very rewarding that we’ve offered value to people’s lives,” says Waller.

“It’s been a great ride and this is another chapter,” says Bailin. “We’re having fun, and if cats have nine lives I’d like to think that we’re cats.”

Single Review: Victoria Bailey – “Skid Row (Acoustic)”

Victoria Bailey

photo by Stefanie Vinsel Johnson; photo courtesy of Skye Media & Rock Ridge Music

Single Review of Victoria Bailey: “Skid Row (Acoustic)” (Rock Ridge Music)

Last year, Victoria Bailey released her album Jesus, Red Wine & Patsy Cline. “Skid Row” was one of the songs on that album. This acoustic version of “Skid Row,” however, is a standalone single; it does not appear on the album.

Victoria Bailey - Skid Row (Acoustic)

image courtesy of Skye Media & Rock Ridge Music

The song is a terrific introduction for those of us who maybe haven’t heard Victoria before. A strong, steady strum provides a firm backdrop for Victoria’s voice. And what a voice! She has an old-fashioned warble but a modern firmness, perfect for bringing an old-fashioned dancehall number like “Skid Row” to modern fans.

Victoria showcases her storytelling skills in the mostly-sung but also-a-little-spoken verses, crooning amiably and memorably in the verses.

I decided to review this song with an uninitiated ear, so I haven’t gone back to check out Jesus, Red Wine & Patsy Cline, but after a couple dozen listens of this track… well, I’m a-gonna! Victoria is a rare memorable voice in a crowded Americana field. Give her a listen. And this acoustic version of “Skid Row” is a great place to start.

Upcoming Performances

Victoria Bailey

photo by Stefanie Vinsel Johnson; photo courtesy of Skye Media & Rock Ridge Music

You can find Victoria’s upcoming live performances at the “Live” page of her website. There is currently one show listed, OC Music Presents Music on the Runway at Hangar 24 in Irvine, CA, on Saturday, April 3rd. There’s additional detail on the Facebook event listing. Of course, I always suggest calling ahead when heading out during the pandemic because situations can change quickly.

Victoria has done some live-streamed events. The next one I’m aware of is Friday, April 2nd at 6:00 PM PDT (9:00 PM EDT) as part of the “Live and Socially Distanced” series on The Boot’s Facebook page. I’m a little concerned that I can’t find it mentioned anywhere online right now, but keep your eyes open for it.

Album Review: Kristian Montgomery & the Winterkill Band – Prince of Poverty

Kristian Montgomery

photo courtesy of Kristian Montgomery & the Winterkill Band

Album Review of Kristian Montgomery & the Winterkill Band: Prince of Poverty

The sound. It’s such a unique, original sound, yet comfortable and familiar. Or perhaps uncomfortably familiar. A uniquely specific blend of rockabilly, country-rock, and blues influences, on Prince of Poverty, Kristian Montgomery & the Winterkill Band deliver energetic, fast-paced numbers, soulful, heartfelt ballads, and catchy mid-tempo songs in-between.

This album grabs the listener quickly, with the seething, growling, barely-concealed rage of “They’ll Remember My Name” making an instant impression. The churning power of the rhythm supports Kristian’s understated, edgy vocal snarl, with surreptitiously catchy lyrics driving the chorus, with some soaring guitar wails judiciously thrown in to maintain a somewhat frantic flavor to the soundbed. In the end, even if you don’t listen closely enough to hear the rest of the lyrics, you’ll unconsciously sing along to “They’ll remember my… they’ll remember my… they’ll remember my… they’ll remember my name.”

Kristian Montgomery & the Winterkill Band - Prince of Poverty

image courtesy of Kristian Montgomery & the Winterkill Band

Next up is another song that’ll wend its way into your musical memory bank, “Tired of Being Tired.” With a tempo and vocal delivery that perfectly conveys desperate exhaustion, it’s a well-written piece of bluesy, sway-along, hauntingly relatable Americana.

“Working Hands” picks up the energy with, well, energetic picking. Just that hint of hillbilly energy adds an off-kilter edge to this raucous knee-bouncing foot-stomper.

“A Warm Grave” takes the mood and tempo down a bit, dipped in pensive, thoughtful melancholy: “Some things can’t be replaced. We’re gon’ die someday. It will be a disgrace if all we leave behind is a warm grave.”

“Don’t Call Me Baby” has an old-school rock flavor, reminding me of, among other music comparisons, a more ragged, rough-and-tumble version of a Georgia Satellites tune. The song’s uptempo, energetic motor and especially hooky lyric that begins “She’s a bitter pill to swallow lately…“, combined with Kristian’s gravelly, urgently insistent vocal marks this as another of the album’s many memorably catchy tunes.

Slow, heartfelt thoughtfulness describes the mellow “Soul For Soul,” though some raw, gritty guitar riffs add hints of a stormy undercurrent.

Kristian Montgomery

photo courtesy of Kristian Montgomery & the Winterkill Band

“That Kind of Love” resumes the rattly, jangly, bluesy mid-tempo country-rock vibe with keenly insightful verses build around the chorus: “That kind of love can kill a man, they say. That kind of love can make a coward brave.”

“I’ll Find My Way Home” has a defiant independence that drives the song straight forward, with a fun recurring riff that adds plenty of texture while helping give the song its swagger.

Finally, Prince of Poverty closes with two energetic, memorable, hooky numbers that are likely to become quick favorites.

The first of those, “American Fire,” is a lament of America’s recent direction, highlighting some of the dangers and missteps of turning a blind eye in the name of patriotism. It’s a wicked catchy git-along song, too, so I’m guessing some people will find themselves singing along before they realize whether or not they agree with the sentiment.

And the album closes on yet another high note, a fun number with almost a John Cougar Mellencamp-does-the-Opry feeling to it, “Just Driving Around.” It end the collection with a good, warm feeling: “Some people get slowed down, stuck in these dead end towns, but I’ve got it figured out ’cause I met a girl who’s happy just driving around.” In the end, this might be the most country song on the disc, at least in its content, as it revels in the sentiment that the best things in life are the simplest. But it’s not corny; it’s simply a full, memorable little ditty that’s “gonna haunt your ass.”

In closing, as I said in the beginning, there’s something so familiar about the style of Kristian Montgomery & the Winterkill Band. And yet, the precision of the songwriting, talent of the musicianship, and sincerity of the delivery insists this is something special. You’ll have some immediate favorites upon first listen, but that will evolve over multiple listens, as Prince of Poverty is a disc with staying power from a talented artist worth getting to know.

Looking Ahead

Prince of Poverty is the second “pandemic album” from Kristian Montgomery & the Winterkill Band, a follow-up to The Gravel Church. And, in the spirit of “let no dust settle,” Kristian is working on a third. As a fun of really good music, I can only be excited by the prospect of his creative talent continuing to flow freely. To mix in a sports metaphor, all he does is score touchdowns.

Album Review: Jane Getter Premonition – Anomalia

Jane Getter Premonition – Anomalia

image courtesy of Cherry Red Records

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Jane Getter Premonition: Anomalia (Esoteric Antenna/Cherry Red Records)

The word “anomalia” refers to something that is “irregular,” “different,” “quirky” even. Those certainly would describe the new album by the Jane Getter Premonition. “Phenomenal,” “outstanding,” and “innovative” are some additional words you could attach to this project as well. Her first release for Britain’s Cherry Red label, Getter has been recording since the late ‘90s. And she’s plied her trade playing guitar with jazz legends like Brother Jack McDuff, Lenny White, Michal Urbaniak, The Allman Brothers’ Jaimoe and the Saturday Night Live band.

Anomalia is a progressive jazz-rock album, to be sure, but it goes well beyond the “chops fest” trap that the idiom can sometimes fall prey to. Getter is as much an astute songwriter as she is an accomplished guitarist. And her vocals that grace a majority of the tracks on this album are soothing, resonant and really get the point across. Also, the JGP are an actual band that consists of regulars Adam Holzman (keyboards), Chad Wackerman (drums), Stu Hamm (bass), and Alex Skolnick (guitar), with additional contributions here from Gene Lake (drums) and Mark Egan (bass).

Jane Getter Premonition

photo courtesy of Cherry Red Records

Running down the track list, “Kryptone” is a rocking opener, with a dark and ominous veneer. It features nice solo tradeoffs between Getter and Skolnick, with Holzman jumping in exuberantly on Jan Hammer-like synth passages.

“Lessons Learned” offers a hopeful message delivered by Getter’s cool mid-range vocals. The chorus states, “Accept your limitations, focus on your innovations. Trust in your abilities, believe and you will be free.” Now that is solid advice anyone can benefit from. It’s a smooth and melodic number, with plenty of room for dynamic shifts and cutting guitar solos. One doesn’t know for sure if there is political commentary at work here, but I wouldn’t doubt it!

“Dissembler” is a powerful piece that could easily be inspired from today’s headlines. This features guest vocalist Randy McStine who sings “You stand there and say you care, but all you do causes despair… You say you are here to serve, but your greed shows way too much nerve… Your greed is so wide we can’t believe. You care only for you and your needs.” Sound like any administration from the recent past that we know? However, no matter your politics, it’s an intense song that is multi-layered and dynamically structured. Guitarist extraordinaire Vernon Reid also guests and shreds like there’s no tomorrow. Everyone on this track seems to play like their life depends on it. Perhaps, maybe that was the vibe they were feeling in the studio that day.

“Alien Refugee” also seems to have a socio-political bent. But it is tempered, with an empathic core at its center. Getter sings with conviction and heart as she depicts the plight of a refugee who has lost her home. They literally have to flee their homeland, and her words offer a personal point of view that put you in the driver’s seat. The chorus says, “She must be strong, and get past this wrong. Try to find a place to belong… to belong.” It’s another track that will give you goose bumps and make you think. Getter further emphasizes her words, with a beautifully crafted legato-type solo over Holzman’s organ and symphonic flourishes.

Jane Getter Premonition

photo courtesy of Cherry Red Records

“Still Here” almost has a lyrical haiku quality to it. Getter sings “Why am I still here? Why can’t I get clear? I thought I knew the way. What led me astray?” It’s a song that seems to deal with self awareness and reflection. Its concept is somewhat simple, yet nebulous and complex — kind of like the music, in that sense!

Guest vocalist Chanda Rule sings lead on the track “Answers.” It’s kind of a folky-fusion blend that offers another take on looking inside and reflecting. There’s some tasty piano here from Holzman and a fine chorus hook that builds to a magnificent finish.

“Queen of Spies” is an instrumental that appropriately could be a soundtrack for a secret agent TV show or picture. It features a lot of jazzy guitar and keyboard comping over a rock-like context. The track builds in intensity and leads to a coda that showcases Wackerman’s percussive acumen.

“Disappear” was co-written, with lyricist Beth Multer. Lyrically, this is probably the most obscure piece on the album. There is a Joni Mitchell/Annette Peacock vibe at work here. “Like a snowflake I taste you on my tongue. Microcosmic refreshment. Pure fleeting symmetry.” It’s intriguingly ethereal and surreal. Getter’s blend of acoustic and electric guitars is especially effective on this one. The leader concludes the album, appropriately, with a solo performance on acoustic guitar.

“Safe House” is quiet and pastoral, with its blend of flamenco-inspired , avant-jazz shadings. Her finger style arpeggios are sweet and truly put the listener at ease.

The Jane Getter Premonition’s new album and debut for Cherry Red Records, Anomalia, will be released everywhere on Friday March 26th.

EP Review: Alyssa Grace – Breathe

Alyssa Grace

photo by Rose Pierce; photo courtesy of Ileana International

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

EP Review of Alyssa Grace: Breathe

Southern California teenager Alyssa Grace is a singer-songwriter who sings with heart, purpose and a relatable perspective. She seems to really connect with her audience via her emotive songs and videos. The title track “Breathe” garnered 30,000 streams its first month on Spotify. And it has yielded more than 111,000 You Tube views. Grace knows herself and her fans and sings songs that deal with self-esteem, bullying, the environment, and the human condition.

Alyssa Grace – Breathe

image courtesy of Ileana International

“Breathe” is a tune that makes a simple statement about taking the time to stop and reflect. It is almost meditative in that respect. Atop an acoustic guitar and ambient-filled backdrop, Grace asks big questions and makes declarative statements. She sings, “Light is so bright, sky is so blue, and I’m fading with no clue. How do I stand tall if I feel I can’t get through it all?” Later in the song, she imparts, “I need to know where I’m at to start again, cause this is not what I’m supposed to be. Tell me once again why I’m living without you? Tell me once again why I’m breathing with only one out of two?” The chorus simply resolves with “I need to breathe.”

Alyssa Grace

photo courtesy of Ileana International

“Irish Lullaby” is auto-biographical in a sweet tune dedicated to her mother. In it, Grace recalls, “Every night I’d lie in bed and wait for mama to tuck me in. I would listen, sing along and at the end she’d tell me again.” She assuredly describes her mother who utters the comforting words, “Darling go to sleep, I’ll be here in the morning, and the first thing you’ll see will be me.” Again, it’s a song that has a very meditative and calming quality.

“All That You Need” is an introspective number, fueled by a subtle and relaxed piano and hip-hop figure. In it, Grace asks, “Am I special to you? Am I different or just new? Am I one to keep? Is this song getting a little deep?” And then goes a little further, with the question “What if I could be all that you need?”

“Waterfall” addresses more introspection, as Grace states, “Your eyes they sparkle in the reflection of a waterfall. And you’re scared, a little bit scared that you might fall. And your voice whispers like an angel’s call. So dive in, dive deep to the waterfall. Don’t be afraid to fall… scared to risk it all.”  That’s pretty sage advice from such a young artist.

Alyssa Grace

photo by Rose Pierce; photo courtesy of Ileana International

“What’s a Girl to You” is one of her newest songs and asks pertinent questions that address female empowerment and individual pride. Grace is a pensive wordsmith when it involves inner feelings, and she’s not afraid to put them out there on full display. She sings, “Do I have to be like everyone else, popular or can I be myself? Tell me now!” Grace continues, “’Cause everyone’s different… different opinions and different minds. If you wanna be mine, then treat me right!” The whole song seems to be summed up with this key line, “Are you someone that thinks boys and girls are the same? ‘Cause those are the rules of the game that I play.”

Alyssa Grace does not come off cookie cutter or manufactured. Her growing social and multi-media success can easily be attributed to the fact that she writes and speaks from experience and is the genuine article. She has gained a foothold with musical messages many love and respond to. Grace sings her truth, and her words provide a salve and solace for her generation and others. And in these tough and trying times, we could certainly use more of that!


You can find Alyssa Grace’s music and various social media accounts via this Linktree link. Also, though there are none currently listed, you’ll be able to learn about upcoming events via the “Events” page on Grace’s website.

Single Review: Joëtta – “Talk to Me”

Single artwork: Joëtta – "Talk to Me"

photo by Ayla Maagdenberg; photo courtesy of Joëtta Zoetelief

Single Review of Joëtta: “Talk to Me”

You first read about Joëtta at this blog when I reviewed “Better Than Me,” the single from Wiens Lief, the Netherlands-based trio of which Joëtta comprised one-third.

Joëtta’s sweet, wistful voice at the beginning of “Talk to Me” quickly shows a warmth and texture. The song itself is somewhat staccato, haltingly moving forward, dripping like water and like the lyric’s thoughts through most of the song, allowing even a small rush of tempo and addition of richer instrumentation to feel like a significant build in power. “Talk to Me” uses its expansive musical open space to create intimacy, and it’s over all too soon. A house concert, a coffeehouse (but hopefully a quiet one), even a larger performance space with great acoustics; these would all be ideal locations to hear this song performed live.

Looking Back: “Here”


photo by Ayla Maagdenberg; photo courtesy of Joëtta Zoetelief

“Talk to Me” is Joëtta’s second single; it’s a follow-up to “Here.” After a sparse 15 second intro, “Here” is a bit more uptempo and gets the blood flowing a little following “Talk to Me.” Joëtta uses a richer, fuller – yet still high and sweet – vocal on “Here.” The lyrics, as well, are interesting: “Hasn’t been easy feeling lonely. So many things I’ve been avoiding. So relieved when I am on the mend. Then you’re back again.” From a listening standpoint, the strength of “Here” is amplified by placing it after “Talk to Me,” so I quickly decided to order the two songs in this manner on my playlist.

Looking Ahead

From Joëtta’s website, these appear to be the first two songs en route to a debut solo EP. One reason did a two-in-one review above is because a vocalist like Joëtta is likely to emphasize different elements of her talent on different songs. For that reason, it can be difficult to capture an artist properly in a single review. For the very same reason, I’m looking forward to hearing her full collection.

Also, you’ll find upcoming performances listed on the “Shows” page of Joëtta’s website. Currently, due to COVID-19, there are none scheduled.

Album Review: Last Year’s Man – Brave the Storm

Last Year's Man

photo credit: Tyler Fortier via Broken Jukebox Media

Album Review of Last Year’s Man: Brave the Storm

Last Year’s Man is the nom de plume of Eugene, Oregon-based producer and songwriter Tyler Fortier. And since Brave the Storm was released in November 2020, I guess you could call it last year’s album. However, the crisp, detailed songwriting, the raspy voice that seems to understand the plight of the everyman, and the timeless style that rests somewhere along the line between singer-songwriter and folk could just as easily make this every year’s album.

With all of the very talented singer-songwriters out in the world, I tend to be selective about which singer-songwriter albums I share with you. Brave the Storm is mellow and laid-back enough that it’ll sneak up on you before you realize what a well-crafted classic it really is. I suppose the same could be said for its creator, Last Year’s Man.

Last Year's Man – Brave the Storm

image courtesy of Broken Jukebox Media

The album begins pleasantly with a rich, full-band folk sound – I love a warm, filled-in sound bed – that recalls a river flowing, later joined by Fortier’s comfortably raspy vocals, then uplifting strings and Anna Tivel’s sweet harmonies, as the title track “Brave the Storm” kicks things off humanly and hopefully, a welcome introduction that sets the stage for the disc, hinting that this is a collection you’re likely to be able to settle into and play on repeat.

Next up, “No Eye on the Sparrow” adds a haunting, mellow element, with a “Wicked Game”-ish sadness in the strumming and a foreboding tinge to the vocals. Sneaky-good, after a few listens, this grew into the most memorable song on the album for me, one whose lyrics I’d find myself singing hours after I had last heard the disc.

“My Own Ghost Town” (featuring Anna Tivel and Jeffrey Martin) maintains that haunting aura, with a little bit of a by-the-railroad-tracks flavor mixed in, with occasional vocal power adding energy to a song whose tempo and softness might otherwise encourage mellowness.

“Guide You Back to Me” doesn’t stray far, either, though the ambient music undercurrent and slightly more melancholy tone give the song a newness and originality, subtle enough it takes a few listens to really appreciate it.

“Wild Wild Heart” (featuring Field Report) again leans hard into Fortier’s rasp, climbing aboard a soft, distant music bed that recalls water slowly rippling along a dock, perhaps a boat in the harbor. But it very definitely provides the feeling of relatively – but not quite completely – calm water.

“The Dark End of the Road” (featuring Jesse Terry) has a bit of an energetic, though subtle, guitar hook – yes, Last Year’s Man excels at subtlety. In addition to the first two songs on the disc, this is likely the third of my trio of favorite songs on Brave the Storm.

“Feet of Clay” (featuring The Hackles) seems inquisitive and maybe hopeful, if also tired and worn down.

And “The Valley of Jehoshaphat” closes the album memorably and emotionally. These are the lyrics that will stick with you: “Don’t send your daughters to war. Don’t send your son. Don’t send your baby. There ain’t no chosen one.”

If you’re looking for a well-composed, tightly-assembled, collection of soft, rich-music-bed-driven folk music, this is exactly what you seek. Last Year’s Man, with his comfortable rasp and song-craftsmanship, has assembled just such an album with Brave the Storm.