Album Review: Ne-Yo – In My Own Words

Ne-Yo

photo by Lourdes Suakari; photo courtesy of Reybee

Album Review of Ne-Yo: In My Own Words (15th Anniversary Digital Deluxe reissue) (UMe/Def Jam)

Even though I’ve reviewed a couple recently, I’m not a big fan of writing about reissues. This time it’s different. Ne-Yo broke out of his behind-the-scenes hit-songwriter role and into the public consciousness as a hit performer 15 years ago, very early in my hiatus from music journalism, during a time when I was almost completely not discovering new music. So, for me, this was a chance to dive into discovering a huge record that launched a big, new star during a brief blindspot in my musical history. So please indulge me, if you will.

This reissue, released on February 26th, contains all thirteen original tracks, plus “Girlfriend,” which was a previously just a retail exclusive track. In addition, you’ll find a remix of “Stay” that was released on the Japanese version of In My Own Words, acoustic versions of “So Sick” and “Sexy Love,” and instrumental versions of “So Sick” and “When You’re Mad.” In total, 19 tracks.

Ne-Yo – In My Own Words

image courtesy of Reybee

Giving this a full listen after 15 years – for me, my first full listen beginning-to-end and my first exposure to many of the songs that weren’t hits – you can see why this album broke Ne-Yo so big. Seriously, though, I don’t need to explain why this massive pop/R&B star is so huge. You know his voice, his hooks, his clever turns of phrases, his catchy musical dances around the rhythm. So I guess I’ll just mention which songs are my favorites, and you can agree, disagree, or perhaps listen to some of those favorites you might have missed if you just cherry-picked the hits.

First, though, let’s start with the hits.

“So Sick” was my own personal favorite the first few times through this disc, though that could be because I already knew the song so well. It was the one number one hit on In My Own Words. If this were a horserace, that’d be the equivalent of betting on the favorite.

After several listens, though, I came to appreciate the clever lyrics and mildly unpredictable rhythms of “When You’re Mad,” which only reached #15 on the charts back in 2006. (Yeah, I heard it. “Only”?)

Meanwhile, “Sexy Love,” which reached #7 in 2006, with its almost Michael Jackson-ish opening and Ne-Yo’s crisp vocals lines and “oh baby” interjections, riding a smooth music bed and hypnotic underlying rhythm. (Yes, I sing along with the background rhythm.)

Ne-Yo

photo by Lourdes Suakari; photo courtesy of Reybee

Beyond the hits, “Stay” was the first single, a minor R&B hit at the time of its initial release, and its musical turns, while they keep the song interesting from a music critic standpoint, rather than going down a more direct musical path, may have kept some casual listeners from latching on quickly enough to make the song a mega-hit, especially since it was Ne-Yo’s very first single. Still, “I just can’t help myself…”

Personal favorites among the non-hits include “Let Me Get This Right,” where an relatively unstoppable steamrolling rhythm merges well with Ne-Yo’s bursts of vocal power. And “It Just Ain’t Right,” for similar rhythmic reasons, though the music bed helps me picture myself perhaps on a beach this time, and the impressive but restrained vocal gymnastics on a particular “ohhh” toward the end are fun, too. Then there’s the jazzy opening of “I Ain’t Gotta Tell You,” on which Ne-Yo sings all around the pocket, speeding and slowing his vocals; when done well, it’s unavoidably entrancing. And there are the rich wall-of-vocals that powers “Get Down Like That.” Of course, as is the case with album cuts, you’ll likely have your own favorites.

Among the bonus tracks, I’m kind of partial to the acoustic versions of “So Sick” and “Sexy Love.” The instrumentals, on the other hand, primarily just highlight for me how much this album relies on Ne-Yo’s killer vocals and lyrics. They seem surprisingly pedestrian – they really are just the music beds, not instrumentally souped-up reimaginings – though they’re perhaps quite fun if you want to use them to sing “So Sick” or “When You’re Mad” on your own.

Even before reading this review, I’m sure most of you already know whether or not you dig Ne-Yo’s music. If you’re a fan, this reissue may be worth it for access to the bonus tracks. And if you’re like me, and you somehow missed snagging this hit album when it was initially released, here’s your chance. In My Own Words is worth your attention. The very best crystal clear, top-shelf R&B vocalists’ records always are.

Looking Ahead

Ne-Yo doesn’t currently have any live performances scheduled, but when they are, you will be able to find that listed on the “Tour” page of his website.

Single Review: Travellin’ Blue Kings – “Live Your Life”

Travellin' Blue Kings

photo courtesy of Naked/Big D Bookings

Single Review of Travellin’ Blue Kings: “Live Your Life” (Naked)

“Live Your Life,” is a rollicking blues number from the Travellin’ Blue Kings, comprised Stephan Hermsen (vocals, harp) and Marc Gijbels (drums), previously from the Dutch band the Electrophonics, Jimmy Hontelé (guitar) and Winne Penninckx (bass), formerly of the Belgian outfit Howlin’ Bill, and Patrick Cuyvers on Hammond organ & piano. Combined, these fellas seem to have found an impressive groove as the Travellin’ Blue Kings.

Travellin' Blue Kings – "Live Your Life"

image courtesy of Naked/Big D Bookings

With this song, the Travellin’ Blues Kings serve up an old-fashioned, harmonica-driven, soaring, gospel-tinged blues number. A jangly blues rhythm atop a steady beat and gruffly commanding blues vocal style lead the way, hinging on the key vocal line, “Live your life, each and every day.” Colored by a short harmonica solo and background harmonies, with the music bed moving between sparse and full as the song’s power requires, the three minutes 24 seconds flies by. There are certainly plenty of opportunities for extended jams during the song, plus a rhythm that would serve well as a backdrop during said jams, so I’d not be shocked to hear much longer versions during live performances.

On the whole, “Live Your Life” is a fun jam, a well-constructed blues tune performed with enthusiasm and energy. It has definitely found a place on my long-term personal playlist, which is why I’ve chosen to review it. Be sure to check it out.

Travellin' Blue Kings

photo by Freddy Vandervelpen; photo courtesy of Naked/Big D Bookings

Looking Ahead

There are several spring and summer festival dates listed on the Travellin’ Blue Kings’ website – scroll down a bit on the main page of the website – three in Belgium, two in France, and one in the Netherlands, stretching from March through August. Of course, if you see a date near you, it would be smart to make the appropriate inquires to ensure the festival will be held this year.

Travellin' Blue Kings – "Gotta Get Away"

image courtesy of Naked/Big D Bookings

Tomorrow, March 19th, the Travellin’ Blue Kings will drop their next single, “Gotta Get Away.” Keep an eye and an ear out for this testifyin’ vocal-driven blues jam.

“Gotta Get Away” will also be the first single from a slightly revamped line-up. Originally comprised of Dutch and Belgian musicians, COVID-19 made cross-border travel difficult enough that the Travellin’ Blue Kings are now a fully Belgian outfit. The full line-up you’ll hear for the first time on “Gotta Get Away” is JB Biesmans (vocals, saxophone, harp), Jimmy Hontelé (guitar), Patrick Cuyvers (Hammond organ, backing vocals), Winne Penninckx (bass), and Marc Gijbels (drums). So, essentially, JB has stepped in for Stephan. Wicked lotta talent in this band.

Single Review: Reality Suite – “Triggers”

Reality Suite

photo by Jeff Fischer; photo courtesy of EMSU Media

Single Review of Reality Suite: “Triggers” (DI Records)

Reality Suite‘s “Triggers” is hard rock with a monster hook! Within a listen or two, this song solidified itself as one of my favorite rock tunes of the year.

Melodic hard rock rhythm, a vocal edge that reminds me of someone (I think) but I can’t quite place it. Something like a cross between Kariselle Snow’s sound with Karousel with an ’80s/’90s hard rock power and a bit of a pop-punk edge. Kimmii Heart has a big, round sound on her vowels, then slices through the music bed with a very tuneful punk-caliber wail. With attitude, though that can almost go unsaid when describing a singer in a New Jersey band. Indeed, her voice alone could be considered a signature sound.

Reality Suite – "Triggers"

image courtesy of EMSU Media

And yet, the musicianship in the band provides a powerful-yet-positive energy, an engagingly jerky rhythm. Essentially, Reality Suite – with Brian King on drums, Joe Padula on guitar, and Antonio Valenti on bass – also lays down a relatively unique sound musically, vocals notwithstanding. (I actually kind of dig the “official studio video” because it more readily showcases Joe’s serious guitar-shredding skills in the late song guitar solo.) Combined with Kimmii’s vocals, you’ll know this is a Reality Suite song within a few notes. High-quality, easily identifiable rock ‘n roll. That’s a clear recipe for success.

As a listener, though, you don’t care about that. It’s simply a kick-ass song. And relatable, too, as the lyric video (yes, the band made three music videos for this song!) will help you realize the connection to today’s odd reality, if you hadn’t already made the connection.

Bottom line, if you’re at all interested in catchy hard rock, consider this an introduction to what’s almost certain to become one of your favorite rock songs of 2021.

And, you know, now that I’ve been introduced to Reality Suite, I’ve been listening to some of the band’s other releases from the last 2-3 years. From the standpoint of now being a fan of this band, “Triggers” isn’t a fluke, though yeah, it does have a lightning-in-a-bottle monster hook.

Reality Suite

photo by Jeff Fischer; photo courtesy of EMSU Media

Looking Ahead

The “Tour” page of the band’s website is currently blank. The “Events” tab of the band’s Facebook page does list one upcoming concert, an August 21st show at The Chance Theater in Poughkeepsie, NY with Angel and Starz. Keep an eye out for that and other shows as the pandemic wanes and music venues reopen. When it’s safe to attend, Reality Suite seems like a band you’d definitely want to see live.

Album Review: Danielle Miraglia – Bright Shining Stars

Danielle Miraglia

photo by Joshua Pickering; photo courtesy of Danielle Miraglia

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Danielle Miraglia: Bright Shining Stars (Vizztone Records)

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Danielle Miraglia has been wowing fans and critics on the Boston music scene for several years now. With a series of successful recordings and performances, as both a solo act and as a member of The Glory Junkies, Miraglia consistently delivers a sound that is soulful and authentically earnest. With her latest effort for Vizztone, she presents a collection of originals and classic blues songs that put the spotlight squarely on her acoustic guitar and vocal prowess. She is joined on select tracks by fellow Glory Junky Laurence Scudder on viola, along with guitarist Peter Parcek and harmonica man Richard “Rosy” Rosenblatt.

Danielle Miraglia – Bright Shining Stars

image courtesy of Danielle Miraglia

Miraglia possesses a number of innate gifts. With her voice, she’s able to modulate it in several ways to suit the material she’s singing. Her ability to go from a whisper to a wail is impressive. But she utilizes it as a trained actor would to convey the heart of the message in each song. Equally, her skills on guitar are unparalleled. She’s a one woman show in the way she implements traditional finger style patterns and chord work.

“Feels Like Home” is a brief instrumental piece that sets the stage for the album. The pairing of Miraglia’s strong thumb-driven bass and chordal rhythms and Scudder’s warm viola is most welcoming. “C.C. Rider” is a Ma Rainey tune covered by everyone from Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels to the Animals. Most people might be familiar with the high octane treatments some of the rock community have given it. But, in this format, Miraglia opts for a slower, pensive and more reflective version of the blues classic. You hear every word and absorb every nuance. Her delivery is very literate and self-assured.

“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” is, perhaps, one of Bob Dylan’s more lighthearted songs. It’s got a country blues-like lilt, and Miraglia sings the love song with a grit and playful irony that definitely gets to the heart of the matter. Parcek is a nice electric foil to Miraglia’s flowing acoustic passages, giving the tune additional weight.

Danielle Miraglia

photo by Briana Atkins; photo courtesy of Danielle Miraglia

“Pick Up the Gun” follows and is an original that seems to address gun violence and the motives and thought processes behind using a weapon in the first place. She seems to take both an antagonist and protagonist side in portraying different perspectives on the issue. Musically, Miraglia digs in, with a driving rhythmic figure as Scudder offers some tasteful solo breaks.

Janis Joplin’s “Turtle Blues” is a song that sounds like a piece that has been in Miraglia’s performance wheelhouse for some time. She really has fleshed this out nicely and invests deep into the soul of the song. There is a cool and aloof gruffness to her vocals that seems to embody the spirit of Janis herself. Parcek’s jazzy accompaniment adds some flair and really makes this a highlight.

For all those folks burned out on Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Teen Mom, does this artist have a song for you! “Famous for Nothin’” kind of says it all in the title. And that’s exactly what it’s about. It’s a song about the illusion of fame and the attainment of it for the mere sake of fame alone. The chorus “Have you heard… have you heard? Everybody’s in” kind of summarizes the current state of television and society at the moment.

Danielle Miraglia

photo by Caroline Alden; photo courtesy of Danielle Miraglia

“Love Yourself” is a tune by Keb Mo that’s gets a bold and exuberant take here. It’s got a slow vintage boogie feel where Miraglia depicts the personal journeys one may go through in life. There may be some bumps along the way, but when all else fails, you can always “love yourself.”

Bob Dylan’s “Meet Me in the Morning” has a down and dirty rustic vibe to it. It’s all acoustic slide and honking harmonica. Miraglia does some testifying with a vocal that will stop you in your tracks. The same can be said for the follow up classic by Big Bill Broonzy, “It Hurts Me Too.” It’s just the artist and her guitar, and it is marvelous.

“Walkin’ Blues” by Robert Johnson gets a respectful turn, and the album’s finale and title track puts a beautiful bow on the whole experience. “Bright Shining Stars,” written by Miraglia’s husband Tom Bianchi, is a hopeful and positive song for these current times. In it, she sings “Tragedy and dark times, they’ll chase you around. Sometimes this world is beautiful, sometimes it lets you down. How many hearts must be broken? No one said that it would be easy to fight the good fight.” And then the chorus offers hope with, “This world needs bright shining stars, and this world needs superheroes to lead us all. And this world needs goodness to be grown. Let’s give a shining star a new home.” What a great sentiment to summarize this fine collection of songs.

Danielle Miraglia

photo by Joshua Pickering; photo courtesy of Danielle Miraglia

Looking Ahead

When live shows are back, you’ll find Danielle’s listed on the “Shows” page of her website. Danielle has also been streaming occasionally during the pandemic, either solo or as part of multi-artist events. These are generally announced via posts on Danielle’s Facebook page.

Single Review: Red Red – “Long Black Train”

Red Red

image courtesy of Naked/Big D Bookings

Single Review of Red Red: “Long Black Train” (Naked)

Red Red is an interesting international, stylistically-blended, blues-centered band, led by a multi-instrumentalist from Ohio, comprising top blues, jazz, and roots players from Belgium, adding the turntable-work and sampling courtesy of DJ Courtasock. On the band’s Instagram page, they call themselves “psychedelic turntable blues rock from Belgium,” but certainly don’t let any of those words scare you. However, if even one of those words interests you, definitely check out Red Red.

Red Red – Long Black Train

image courtesy of Naked/Big D Bookings

This two-sided single, Red Red’s first for Naked, begins with “Long Black Train,” a rollicking, energetic blues romp that’s supports raspy blues vocals by leveraging a broad range of instruments dancing around its steady rhythm. It’s a catchy, memorable number, with DJ Courtasock’s work mostly just nibbling around the edges and adding some seriously cool scratchwork to augment the rhythm. The ’70s rock influences the band touts, meanwhile, come through strongest during a mid-song instrumental stretch, but other than a little psychedelic twang, I’d identify it as more as blues-rock with perhaps some classic Southern rock mixed in. And overall, if I had to position this entire song, I’d classify it seriously rockin’ blues.

The “B” side of the single, the band’s rendition of traditional American roots number “In the Pines” has the same insistent edge you’ll hear on “Long Black Train,” but it has a haunting overtone, and the sampling in the song is a lot more apparent. Some of the roaring audio echo adds a truly unique vibe to this track. While “Long Black Train” is very clearly the radio-ready single, it really is cool to pair it with “In the Pines” as a two-song auditory blues treat. I’m looking forward to hearing what Red Red has in store for us next.

Looking Ahead

Whenever Red Red is playing live again, you’ll find their gigs listed on the “Gigs” page of the band’s website or on the “Events” tab of the band’s Facebook page.

Album Review: 3 Pairs of Boots – Long Rider

3 Pairs of Boots

photo by Eric Wolfinger; photo courtesy of Hello Wendy

Album Review of 3 Pairs of Boots: Long Rider

Fans of old-school, Patsy Cline-flavor country music are likely to dig 3 Pairs of Boots. Long Rider is a varied, versatile collection of swinging, swooping, Americana mixed with old-school country. It took me a while to place who Laura Arias’ pouty-smooth crooning reminded me of. This one will be “inside baseball” for Geoff Wilbur’s Music Blog readers, a mix of a pair of great vocalists I wish you all knew about. Primarily, Laura’s vocals sound like a less edgy version of Angie and the Deserters’ Angie Bruyere but with occasional ventures into the sweet super-highness I associate with Blog favorite Trysette. I realize I’m trying a little too hard there – the band’s bio suggests she’s a blend of Cyndi Lauper and Shania Twain, and that probably paints a better picture for a broader swath of potential listeners.

“Boots” bandmate, the other half of the duo, Laura’s husband Andrew Stern helps provide a great musical backdrop to Arias’ vocals, at times nearly rockabilly, sometimes with a hint of psychedelic rock (just a hint), often with some good ol’ Opry-style twanging. It’s a testament to the duo’s versatility that they’re able to serve up such a variety of tunes in a cohesive package on Long Rider.

3 Pairs of Boots – Long Rider

image courtesy of Hello Wendy

I have several favorites in this collection. Disc-opener “Quittin’ Time,” in fact, is the relatively old-fashioned, smooth, soft-paced crooner that inspired my Patsy Cline comparison. “Devil Road” somehow comes off as a rollicking number, before closer examination reveals a much more leisurely pace than it seems. Some extra inserted beats add to the energy and rhythm of the song without actually speeding the pace.

Now, there is a bit more pace on the next song, a quick-stepping country dancehall number with some lively picking, “Take a Step,” which actually reveals the secret of the band’s name: “Take a step into the unknown, and never look back. I’ve got my 3 pairs of boots. That’s all I need.”

The lively cheerfulness continues on “Everywhere I Go,” before “I Am the Map” slows things down with lyrics like “I am the map, but I am not the road”.

Laura’s voice is at her most Trysette-ish on “Summer of Love,” a very Age of Aquarius-vibed tune, especially considering its steady, firm, relatively traditionally country music beat.

“My Best Friend” is essentially a love song about a friendship that stands the test of time… a guitar. Yeah, it’s a fun song with clever lyrics.

Finally, “Roller Coaster” opens with and repeats a hook uncannily similar to “Here Comes the Sun.” (I keep expecting to hear, at some point, “do do do…”) The energy on “Roller Coaster” is cheerful with a vocal edge that keeps teetering on poignant and pulling back. It’s a cool vibe with which to end this collection of songs that explores the broad range of dependably strong Americana (and Americana-adjacent) duo 3 Pairs of Boots.

In the end, Long Rider is a fun, moderately-paced romp with enough performing flourishes and songwriting surprises sprinkled throughout to make the album a sneaky favorite.

Looking Ahead

Scroll down the main page of the 3 Pairs of Boots website to the “Tour Dates” section to see upcoming performances.

Single Review: Jeffrey Halford & the Healers – “The Devil is Our Man”

Jeffrey Halford & the Healers

photo courtesy of Miles High Productions

Single Review of Jeffrey Halford & the Healers: “The Devil is Our Man” (Floating Records)

You can almost hear George Thorogood’s guitar revving in the opening licks of Jeffrey Halford & the Healers“The Devil is Our Man,” but there’s not really so much blues in this song as there is edgy, angry roots rock energy. And a seriously smooth groove, augmented by well-placed background vocals.

Jeffrey Halford & the Healers – "The Devil is Our Man"

image courtesy of Miles High Productions

Lyrically, this October 8, 2020 release takes aim at a lying, cheating, serial inciter. The song opens with: “He lies, cheats, and steals. Breaks the law, then appeals. Got no shame. Law and order he proclaims. Violence he inflames. The message is fear; the message is fear.” The second verse begins, “Unleashes his slander, delusions of grandeur…” I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about the lyrics’ subject matter, supported by its release date a few weeks before the U.S. elections, not that its target was intended to be a secret.

Jeffrey Halford & the Healers

photo courtesy of Miles High Productions

Musically, “The Devil is Our Man” is a mostly straight-ahead, raucously rocking number, proceeding at full-speed with only the rare exception, and even then only for a moment. Halford’s lead vocals have a sharp, gravelly edge that cuts through the song’s music bed. Still, though, there are also some nice guitar runs and what sounds like the occasional impressive organ work. It’s a really fun listen, a song to crank up to 11 while rocketing down the road with the windows open or the top down.

Looking Ahead

Though the last show currently listed on the “Events” tab of Jeffrey Halford & the Healers’ Facebook page is January 11, 2020, keep an eye out here for future performances.

EP Review: Double Experience – Alignments: Neutral

Double Experience

photo by Laura Collins; photo courtesy of BJF Media

EP Review of Double Experience: Alignments: Neutral (Drakkar Entertainment)

Regular readers know I’ve been clearing a massive backlog of reviews over the last several months. I’m almost caught up, but this late 2019 release from Double Experience slipped through the cracks. Still, as was the case with all of the older albums I reviewed late last year, this is an EP you simply need to know about, if you don’t already. So, with that said…

Self-described “nerd rockers,” Double Experience exhibits a variety of rock ‘n roll influences – all in just three songs – with a sound that centers on moderately hard rock on this EP.

Double Experience – Alignments: Neutral

image courtesy of BJF Media

“New Me” is a straight-up rocker, with an ’80s guitar-driven, heavy-melodic hard rock style defined by, among other things, its crunchy guitar riffs, attitude-laden, high, limits-pushing vocals, and hooky tempo-breaks. Of the three songs, I’d have to say “New Me” is my favorite, but it’s close, and that’s mostly just a personal stylistic preference.

Song number two, “The Imp,” reveals a funkier guitar-rocker style, one far less smooth, with a beat that never settles in, hints of both punk and progressive influence, and – in the end – a song that’s interesting and fun, but in a headache-inducing way. And I’m not talking volume; rather, “The Imp” whipsaws its rhythm so relentlessly you’ll end up somewhat concussed.

“Ghost in the Machine” follows as what could very likely be one of the slower tempo songs on a typical pop-punk album – and I don’t, by any means, mean that it’s slow. But the melody is back, and there’s a more feel-good energy driving the song’s hooks.

If you told me these three songs came from three different bands, I’d almost believe you. Stylistically speaking, at least. Yet they all have a Double Experience-specific sound. And they’re all three styles I dig when done well. Double Experience is a talented rock outfit, and this is a mesmerizing EP. Leave it to “nerds” to produce a recording like Alignments: Neutral. Seriously, check it out, Poindexter!

Looking Ahead

You can keep up with the band’s live performances via the “Shows” page of their website. It seems Double Experiences has stayed visible during the pandemic. Their website currently lists six appearances per week on Twitch: A songwriting-based one on Wednesdays, acoustic live performances on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and less structured “side quests” on Sundays and Thursdays. Click on that “Shows” tab for times and deets.

EP Review: Ben Lang – Modern Man EP

Ben Lang – Modern Man EP

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

EP Review of Ben Lang: Modern Man EP (Moo Moo Records)

Ben Lang‘s debut EP, Modern Man, showcases his original style. It’s off-balance, country-tinged, singer-songwriter fare. Slightly Americana with a hint of folk but firmly, most definitively focused in Ben’s solidly written songs and delivery.

One of my favorite pieces of biographical information about Ben Lang is that he was a founding member of Biv and the Mnemonics (or, more fully, Roy G Biv & The Mnemonic Devices), a San Francisco-based band that released a couple of albums in 2009 and 2013. Honestly, I haven’t yet checked out the music (even though I just shared the link), but I’m sure, at the time, I would have because I love the band name.

But I disgress. Let’s get back to talking about Modern Man. EP-opener “Houston-New Orleans” is driven by a repeated, thump-along rhythm, propelling Ben’s strumming and storytelling-style sung (not spoken) vocals. It’s the sort of tempo and energy that’d be likely to draw you into a live music venue if you heard it while passing by. I enjoy the whole disc, but this is probably my favorite song on Modern Man, though it’s a close call.

The title song, “Modern Man” plods along a bit more obviously, in the stylistic sense, inasmuch as the rhythm really smacks you in the head. Within the context of the song, though, it moves the tune along pleasantly, as if “Modern Man” is a directed conversation with rhythm.

The mellowly energetic “Nailin’ It” sports a guitar-pickin’ style and a song structure that builds on itself throughout, increasing interest and engagement over the course of the song.

“Hollow Spaces” is more sparsely instrumented than the rest of the disc, an open – hollow – space in an already light-touch collection of music. This lightness is followed by the much more energetic, quick-tempoed “Tee Off With Your Head” – as a listener, you’ll think, “Well, I should have expected that contrast.”

Ben closes the EP with “Mr. Moon,” an old-fashioned, near-crooner that even includes the lyrics “ba doom, ba doom,” fittingly, Vaudevillishly shuffling this EP to its final note.

If not for the hint of country, I’d compare Ben’s sound to Brett Newski, and, in fact, listening to Ben’s music makes me wonder if Brett’s catchy alt-singer-songwriter fare didn’t veer a bit more country, if ever so slightly, than I had realized. Regardless, I found Modern Man to be an EP that’s a pleasant introduction to Ben Lang’s hip, comfortable style, a style and a set of songs that start out nice enough, then grow more enjoyable with each listen. I’m not sure if I should credit Ben’s songwriting or performance style more, but Modern Man is a fine disc, and I’ll gladly look forward to Ben’s follow-up, whenever he creates one.

Looking Ahead

Technically, I’m looking back, but on November 27, 2020, Ben hosted a virtual album release concert for Modern Man.

Looking ahead for real, whenever Ben’s next live performance happens, you might find it on the “Events” tab of his Facebook page. I’d have to guess they’re pleasant, light-hearted, good-time affairs.

Album Review: Tomás Doncker – Wherever You Go

Tomas Doncker - Wherever You Go

image courtesy of Frank Roszak Promotions

Album Review of Tomás Doncker: Wherever You Go (True Groove)

Tomás Doncker is a true bluesman, with his collection Wherever You Go covering all the bases with aplomb.

Album-opener “I’m Gonna Run to the City of Refuge” is the loosest, noisiest entry on the disc. It infuses the sloppy, fun energy of a raucous live performance into the album, giving a taste of what a live performance might sound like when Tomás wants to get the crowd jacked up, and though it’s not even close to one of my personal favorite tracks on the album, it’s a perfectly fitting way to get things started.

The very next track – the title track – is one of my favorites. Tomás’ delivery of “Wherever You Go” reminds me of some of the grittier, more heartfelt versions of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” occupying a similar emotional zone. The song will put a lump in your throat as you listen to it. Sonically, its melancholy vocals and tearfully soaring guitars would be a perfect movie soundtrack backdrop for a starcrossed couple holding each other tightly as they know their futures lie separately. If you don’t have to swallow hard just to get through listening to this masterpiece, you’re stone-cold heartless.

Up next, the funky rhythm of “Have Mercy Baby Please” is the perfect antidote to get you groovin’ again. Oozy, bluesy soul with a very cool energy. Then “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” mutes the funky groove and replaces it with an ominous vibe.

“Change” has more of a dance-styled underlying rhythm and herky-jerky blues riff supporting Tomás’ gruff vocals, leading into “Come Sunday” which, true to its name, derives its momentum from a big, slow, bluesy Gospel sway. The song just keeps getting bigger, lending itself to some intricate, straight-from-the-heart blues guitar runs to the point that, after it ends, you’ll need to take a deep breath to recover.

But take that breath quickly, since “Drown in Blue” brings a mid-tempo insistence – and a rhythm whose intensity makes it seem faster than it really is – almost immediately. This song is sneaky-good, as you’ll catch yourself unwittingly grooving to its rhythm hours later.

The last track on this eight-song release showcases yet another side to Tomás’ musical repertoire. There’s a space-rock music bed driving the mellow, almost Pink Floyd-ish “Door to the Dome,” with distorted, soft guitar runs punctuating this black light and lava lamp-worthy album-ender.

Aside from Blind Willie Johnson’s “I’m Gonna Run to the City of Refuge” and Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,” the rest of the songs are at least co-written by Doncker, so this album – replete with its variety, tied together by Tomás ever-present guitarwork and deep vocals – really is Tomás Doncker’s trademark sound. If you like the blues, especially gritty blues, and especially if you like it sprinkled with a variety of musical influences, you need to hear Wherever You Go. It covers every aspect of the blues you’d expect (and then some) from an artist you’d catch at the high-end blues room, and it even features a transcendent potential hit song, the title track. So settle in, turn down the lights, and listen. Then check the listing as soon as live music returns to see if you can catch Tomás Doncker live somewhere.

Looking Ahead

If you scroll down the main page of Tomás’ website, you’ll find live show listings. At the moment, everything shows as “cancelled” until you reach August. Obviously, as things change, keep an eye out for updates here.