Album Review: Blurred Vision – Redemption

Blurred Vision

photo by Eric Duvet; photo courtesy of Judy Totton Publicity

Album Review of Blurred Vision: Redemption

How does a band follow up a debut album the caliber of Organized Insanity? In the case of Blurred Vision, quite nicely, thank you. The gents don’t miss a beat on their second studio album, Redemption.

When I reviewed Blurred Vision’s London showcase, I leaned into the band’s obvious Pink Floyd influence. Then, later, when I reviewed Organized Insanity, I noted the broader classic rock influences, in addition to Floyd, that fleshed out the group’s sound. But the songs on Redemption package the band’s progressive and classic rock influences into an increasingly original Blurred Vision rock ‘n roll persona. Oh, sure, you can still pick out Pink Floyd, the Beatles, Electric Light Orchestra, and other influences, but Redemption is mostly just different flavors of Blurred Vision, variations on a theme. Whether it’s the band maturing or simply my increased familiarity coming into play – Sepp Osley’s voice is unmistakable – it’s easy to identify the trademark Blurred Vision sound after just a few notes.

Blurred Vision

image courtesy of Judy Totton Publicity

The opening distorted electronic rhythmic beat of very first track, “One Day,” kicks things off strong, drawing the listener into the song and disc as the music builds into a somewhat haunting, rhythmic mid-speed soft-rocker.

“What Have I Become” follows, led by more aggressive drumming – not loud, but somewhat war dance-inspired – before the song rounds a corner into a singalong-styled openness. And perhaps the “I’m feeling numb” line is what suggests a “Comfortably Numb” comparison to me, not so much in the music itself as in its tempo and mood.

“Redemption” is similarly flavored, though features like the attention grabbing “I want to know” spoken mid-song and the enticing “waiting for the world to rise” lyric give “Redemption” an enticing uniqueness.

“Clever Dawn” ratchets things up a bit, with crunchy guitar and soaring bridges. The increased energy level serves as a nice transition to prepare the listener for the storm to come.

Blurred Vision

photo courtesy of Judy Totton Publicity

That “storm to come” is the first of the two energetic songs that most frequently get stuck in my head, “Magdalena.” It and “P.O.W.” are the songs I find myself singing to myself for days after playing Redemption. “Magdalena” is very nearly a clap-along number that always inspires involuntary dancing – in or out of your chair – and singalongs with “Whoo-hooo! Whoo-hooo! Whoo-hooo!” and “I wanna hear you sing it!” “P.O.W.” has a moderately tempoed, anthemic, high-energy, protest-song vibe. It’s not a singalong song; it’s a shout-along number! I imagine if it were ever released as a single, the natural short-version ending would be around the five-minute mark, but album rock fans will love the minute-plus creepy music interlude before a repeating siren-like guitar line begins the tune’s slowly building rocket-ride back to rockin’ awesomeness until “P.O.W.” clocks out at 8:36. I know Blurred Vision is a progressive classic rock band, but the three minute long instrumental sequence late in this song is probably the proggiest thing I’ve heard from these guys.

Sandwiched between those two tracks, you can hear the Beatles influence in “Mystic Garden,” though with a bit more ethereal, open, airy quality.

“Companion” and “Inside Out – Collision Course” close things out. Slow but steady tempoed “Companion” significantly reduces the temperature in the room after “P.O.W.” There’s an almost dreamlike sheen to its musicality, and it features some nifty, subtle dance-through guitarwork. “Inside Out – Collision Course” follows along the same sonic lines, then transitions via a drum run to a more energetic vibe – the transition between the “Inside Out” and “Collision Course” segments of this disc-closing number.

Blurred Vision, with its consistently high-quality songs and performances, has become one of my favorite bands over the last few years. And its position in a necessary but sparsely-traveled lane of the rock and roll highway, at least among currently active bands – the “peace, love, and rock ‘n roll,” classic, album-oriented rock lane, if you will – makes this band and album an absolute necessity, not just for fans of classic rock but also for people who appreciate great songwriting.

Looking Ahead

Whenever there are again tour dates in the future, you’ll be able to find them on the “Tour Dates” page of the Blurred Vision website.

The band has also hosted two annual John Lennon tribute concerts on Lennon’s birthday, October 9th, in support of the War Child UK charity, featuring Blurred Vision’s song for Lennon, “Dear John,” which appeared on Organized Insanity.

Album Review: Marina V – In V Minor

Marina V

photo by Arsen Memetov; photo courtesy of Marina V

Album Review of Marina V: In V Minor

Long-time readers know Marina V is a Blog favorite. Her expressive, soaring, sweetly clear yet powerful vocals combine well with her frequently-flowing songwriting. And, while she can and does show versatility and range when she stretches herself to faster-tempo and stylistically different songs seemingly effortlessly, Marina does have a musical sweet spot. It’s a designated lane on the soaring pop ballad musical highway that’s reserved for Marina and no one else, and it’s where her legion of fans expect a majority of her music to reside. In V Minor spends most of its time in this lane, perhaps more than her recent albums do, but it’s really hard to complain, especially as she swerves around within the lane quite a bit. And it’s fun to hear Marina release an album of new material mostly within her “greatest hits” zone sometimes. Plus, there are those aforementioned cool twists she puts on her subgenre, too. With depth and darkness, most of the time, you’re not likely to expect; she always does that. She’s Marina V.

Marina V - In V Minor album cover

image courtesy of Marina V

The first song in the collection is the beautifully, hauntingly drawn-out “Cold Cold Winter.” Marina’s piano skills combine with the guitarwork of special guest Jim “Kimo” West and the most beautiful edge of Marina’s voice to deliver a memorable ballad.

It’s followed by the sole cover on the album, a Marina V-tempoed rendition of “We Belong,” the Pat Benatar hit that was penned by the songwriting team of Lowen and Navarro. Marina blows the lid off of this track, and it features a truly special guest, as she sings it as a duet with the song’s cowriter Dan Navarro.

Marina V

photo courtesy of Marina V

Next up is another treat, a fan favorite, a rare (well, infrequent) Marina-penned full-on love song, “143.” It’s sort of the warm side of “Cold Cold Winter,” suitably placed with “We Belong” serving as a transition between the two tracks that are simultaneously similar and polar opposites. (Polar… winter… get it? Yeah, maybe not.)

“Rain My Love” opens with a semi-haunting piano, vocal, and string arrangement, a broad-sounding, soaringly-building sound that hints a bit at Scorpions’ “Wind of Change,” hinting at that sort of power but reining it in and polishing it with a softer edge. (Marina does a powerful rendition of “Wind of Change,” by the way, but it’s not on this album; it’s on Marina’s extended 2017 release of Inner Superhero.)

The power doesn’t dissipate on “Talk to You Sometimes,” it’s just redirected. Another song about strength and emotion – something Marina excels at writing and performing – this song will undoubtedly put a lump in your throat lyrically, and then it contains the best three-syllable delivery of the word “steel” I can recall, which helps release the tension. It’s all about the details.

Marina V

photo courtesy of Marina V

The third weather-titled song of the first six, “Love is Like Snow,” is a bit lighter, more playful, and hopeful. Still a slow song, but one you could move around a dancefloor to if you’d like, and the occasional twirl wouldn’t be at all out of place.

Next up is one of my favorite songs on the disc, “LKD.” And fortunately, like most of us, I’m not out in public much these days, or you might be concerned when you hear me singing the lyrics under my breath, “Live. Kill. Die.” “LKD” sounds like is was specifically written for a James Bond movie, with a breathy, cold, calculated delivery. Or perhaps it was created as an entry into a competition seeking a new theme song for the KGB. I actually researched the answer to this. After noting the Bond-esque edge to the song, I checked Marina’s song notes to see what inspired this track, and indeed, as an assignment in a songwriting group, “LKD” was written to sound like an end-credit song for a James Bond movie. I’m not sure how I feel, now, knowing that it was contrived bloodlust – not the actual thing – driving this song, but I’m pretty sure the word I’m looking for is “relieved.”

Marina V

photo by Justin Higuchi; photo courtesy of Marina V

Next up is another tune I often find stuck in my head, the encouraging “Back to Sunshine.” In addition to its hooks, the tune has Easter eggs for hardcore Marina V fans, as she slips old album and song titles into the lyrics of this song. It’s an neat trick, accomplishing that while writing a memorable, hopeful tune that’s engaging and catchy even without the insider information.

Marina returns to the dark side next with “Sick Sick Love.” The song cleverly builds tension and suspense musically, vocally, and lyrically, proving interestingly compelling, with just enough enthusiasm to suggest the song’s protagonist may not actually be interested in leaving this sick, sick love behind. Given the subject matter, this song is much more fun than it probably should be; I may be wrong, but I envision a mischievous glint in Marina’s eye while she recorded it.

Marina V

photo by Arsen Memetov; photo courtesy of Marina V

“No Time to Say Goodbye” returns to a semi-haunting tone. It’s actually the theme song for Bill Adler Jr.’s novella of the same name, and its sad desperation rather well matches the emotion you’d expect from the book’s plot summary. (No, I haven’t read the book, but I’m intrigued.)

Finally, the album closes with two lullabies. First, “My Love Lullaby,” a sweetly encouraging song about unconditional love. And then the Russian-language “Лунная Колыбельная (Russian Moonlight Lullaby).” No, I don’t understand the song, but thanks to the translation, it’s also quite sweet, and very much a sing-to-your baby song.

Marina V

photo courtesy of Marina V

That’s it. Over too soon? In V Minor is yet another dependably strong Marina V disc, as she has perfected the ability to release only top-notch material. This one, again, resides mostly within her sweet spot when it comes to tempo and taking advantage of her soaring voice and piano skills. The tone and mood ranges from very, very dark to light – to be fair, its touch is mostly soft and generally hopeful, but the breadth of emotion makes the album complex and enjoyable, like an interesting friend. Definitely a pleasure to have this disc as a listening companion during a pandemic.

Of course, as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, Marina has long been a Blog favorite. For more Blog coverage of Marina V, see my 2018 review of her album Born to the Stars. Before that, in 2015, as article #5 of my Blog-launching “Road Back to Music Journalism” series, I reviewed Marina’s Inner Superhero album and a 2014 house concert.

Marina V

photo courtesy of Marina V

Looking Ahead

Marina does twice-weekly livestreams – “The Marina V Show”on Twitch. Started during her pregnancy, Marina perfected the format well before the pandemic hit, interacting with fans via chat and playing old and new favorites. Husband/guitarist/cowriter Nick and “Baby V” make appearances, as well.

If/when live shows return, you’ll be able to find information on the “Tour” page of Marina’s website. Currently, you’ll find dates and times of the twice-weekly “Marina V Show” livestreams. Generally, Sundays at 12:30 PM PST (3:30 PM EST) and Thursdays at 7:00 PM PST (10:00 PM EST).

Marina has also been on Patreon for several years. Her “2 Songs a Month Club” gives patrons two new songs (one original and one cover) each month for as little as $1 per song ($2 per month). Of course, higher tiers offer additional membership perks.

Album Review: Chris Pellnat – Rain

Chris Pellnat

photo courtesy of Chris Pellnat

Album Review of Chris Pellnat: Rain (Houdini Mansions Records)

Artistry and songwriting skills. These are at the core of Chris Pellnat‘s Rain. His delivery is very singer-songwritery. Softspoken and matter-of-fact. The instrumentation is light and airy most of the time – its quirky cheerfulness often belying the seriousness of the lyrics – with occasional well-placed additional instrumentation.

Chris Pellnat - Rain

image courtesy of Chris Pellnat

Speaking of well-placed additional instrumentation, “Hold Me Now” opens the disc in carnival-esque fashion, with crashing waves of music providing emphasis. “Vie Vie Vie Vie Vie” follows with a tempo that suggests the song is walking along at an uneven gait, perhaps followed by all of the town’s children, as if a pied piper. Next up, “Black-Eyed Susans and Queen Anne’s Lace” continues that tempo, but with intriguing bridges tying the choruses to the subsequent verses.

Chris Pellnat

photo courtesy of Chris Pellnat

The harmonica lead-in to “It’s a Cruel, Cruel World” hints at a musical change of pace, though it’s just a modest one. I dig the lyrics, too; no sugar-coating.

“Turning of the Zodiac” is a quirky number – you’ll find yourself singing along with the “boop” sound, for goodness’ sake! – and sports brief sixties psychedelic instrument cameos, as if drawn by the word “zodiac” to this musical summer of love.

Chris Pellnat

photo courtesy of Chris Pellnat

On the back half of the album, I’m probably most drawn to a couple of the tunes. “Anything At All,” for its dark melancholy. And “Honor Bound,” though perhaps mostly because I dig the harmonica bits.

I also enjoy the final song, “Rain,” a memorable song with a bit of a hook that includes a hint of the musical crashing found to open the disc, this time in the form of storm clouds, providing a bit of a stylistic bookend.

Throughout, Chris’ original delivery provides a cohesive, memorable canvas for this collection of songs. The songs themselves are so tight and carefully written, they’d be equally compelling with different delivery styles and lusher production. As I mentioned at the beginning, the dude’s a songwriter. A talented one.

 

Single Review: Todd Rundgren – “Flappie”

Single Review of Todd Rundgren: “Flappie” (Cleopatra Records)

If you’re looking for a demented bloodbath of a sweet little Christmas song, well, rock luminary Todd Rundgren has obliged with one. “Flappie” is Todd’s English-language cover of Dutch comedian Youp van ’t Hek‘s original. The most important takeaway is that, if a Dutch person tells you to avoid the bicycle shed, perhaps that’s a good idea. I suppose another useful lesson is not to mess with children’s pet bunnies.

Todd Rundgren - Flappie single cover art

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

Musically, it’s performed in a music box style, almost a jack-in-the-box style, lightly instrumented and tinny. Todd delivers his vocals in spoken-singing fashion. Stylistically, it is performed very faithfully to the original.

You’ve certainly not heard a Christmas song like this before – unless, I suppose, you’re Dutch. And it’s a little too dark and off-screen gruesome for me to listen to it with any frequency. But hey, it’s memorable, which may not be a good think if you’re easily haunted, and Todd did a great job with it, that’s for sure. And if you’re a big Rundgren fan, it’s available as limited-edition colored vinyl (250 each in red and green), signed by Todd.

Looking Ahead

Todd has been keeping busy. He has been releasing singles every few weeks from his upcoming album, Space Force, to be released in early 2021. He has also been planning the Clearly Human Tour, a series of 25 geo-targeted virtual concerts, beginning with Buffalo, NY on February 14th. You can get tickets to these shows, produced by NoCap, here: https://nocapshows.com/artist?name=toddrundgren.

Single Review: Electric Maestro – “On the Way Up”

Electric Maestro - On the Way Up single cover

image courtesy of Exodus Music

Single Review of Electric Maestro: “On the Way Up”

I was doing a little new music exploration back in June when I first listened to the music of Electric Maestro, a musical identity of electronic funk musician Waynebo. Interestingly, he and I were members of neighboring – likely overlapping – musical spheres for many years back when I was publishing Geoff Wilbur’s Renegade Newsletter out of East Lansing, but we never crossed paths. That’s my loss, as this dude has serious talent.

Waynebo/Electric Maestro has been releasing a fair bit of music during 2020, much of it back catalog material. This seems to be one of his new 2020 releases, and it’s quite a compelling piece of music.

Electric Maestro

photo by Wes Stephens, Keep On Clickin’ Photography; photo courtesy of Exodus Music

An instrumental piece of classic-reminiscent, electronic, synth-driven, dance club dance music, “On the Way Up” reels the listener in initially with a sparse note, then a rhythmic hook, and next a beat. It’s a terrific slow-build, as the song forms element by element, engaging the listener each step of the way. As the song progresses, different beats, rhythms, and scenic aural landscapes come and go, woven in and out throughout a much-too-short six and a half minutes. Knowing its length at the beginning, it’s surprising how quickly the song flies by. You’ll hear a funky rhythm, some light, airy pop beats, and several rhythmic hooks throughout the track, such a variety that it’s amazing, in retrospect, that “On the Way Up” is able to feel so cohesive from beginning to end. It’s in part, I’m sure, due to repeating and recurring hooks, but mostly thanks to the mastery of Waynebo, the Electric Maestro.

“On the Way Up” is a welcome addition to my personal playlist; I eagerly await future releases from Electric Maestro. Based on what I’ve sampled of his recent and past work, this is an artist you simply must know about.

Electric Maestro

photo by Wes Stephens, Keep On Clickin’ Photography; photo courtesy of Exodus Music

More from Waynebo

There’s a lot going on at Waynebo’s website. You’ll find links to his various projects, free DJ mixes, a link to his podcast, The Afterglow, and more. You’ll also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Most recently – just yesterday, in fact – Electric Maestro released “Dance of the Refugee.” I won’t do a full review, especially not based on a single listen, but the beats on “Dance of the Refugee” are exceptional. I’m a sucker for “radio edits,” but I can see spending the full seven-plus minutes on the dance floor to the full version and wondering how it went by so quickly. So be sure to check out Electric Maestro’s newest track, too.

Single Review: Jamie Hart – “Shadow”

Jamie Hart

photo courtesy of Jamie Hart via Off the Stage Music

As you may have noticed, I’ve spent 2020 playing catch-up on some reviews I’d hoped to write the previous couple of years. Well, I’ve finally made it to music I received in 2020, starting with this single, a January 31, 2020 release by award-winning Boston-area artist Jamie Hart.

Single Review of Jamie Hart: “Shadow”

Jamie Hart - Shadow single cover

image courtesy of Jamie Hart via Off the Stage Music

This marked the second single since Jamie Hart dropped the “Lynn” from her moniker. (Worth mentioning in case you were already familiar with her as Jamie Lynn Hart.) And wow, did she ever come out swinging for the fences with this big single release! “Shadow” is one of those substantial pop songs you’d likely hear in The Voice auditions, if it were famous, that highlights a talented vocalist’s strengths. It’s a tuneful, catchy showcase for Jamie’s full range and skill set. Moving effortlessly from booming power to soft emotion, while traversing an appealing melodic path, you can hear Jamie connect with the emotional essence of the lyrics. And, as a fun bonus, you’ll find yourself singing some of the “oo-oo” parts along with her after a few listens. This is a song you’d turn up the radio for when you hear its first few notes.

Jamie Hart

photo courtesy of Jamie Hart via Off the Stage Music

Now, if this is your first introduction to Jamie Hart, yowza! I had sampled a little of her music before – not much, but enough to know she was on my short list of must-cover local artists. This, however, was the first song I’ve had the opportunity to give innumerable listens – the first I’ve gotten to know really well – and it’s an ideal introduction to this incredibly talented vocalist. So, enjoy the vocal showcase of “Shadow” and, if you’re like me, track down some more of her music, too, when you’re done.

I’m now looking forward to hearing a multi-song collection of Jamie Hart’s powerful pop masterpieces – I believe there was an EP in the works, but I haven’t heard more about it, so I assume this may be one of the many 2020 plans scuttled by the pandemic. And I can’t wait to get a chance to experience Jamie’s voice live sometime, too, when things get back to normal again.

Jamie Hart

photo courtesy of Jamie Hart via Off the Stage Music

More recently…

This fall, Jamie was featured on Steeple Doves‘ single, “Louder,” a soaring, rhythmically addictive, defiant anthem that takes great advantage of Jamie’s vocal power. Of course, if you want to go back to last fall, you can listen to Jamie’s impressive September 2019 emotionally powerful pop single “Get Closer.”

Looking Ahead

You can find Jamie’s live show schedule, when there is one, on the “Shows” tab of Jamie’s website or on the “Events” tab of Jamie’s Facebook page.

Oh, and for the full range of sites where you can hear “Shadow” for yourselves, here’s Jamie’s “HearNow” page: https://jamiehart.hearnow.com/.

 

Album Review: The Doughboys – Running For Covers

Album Review of The Doughboys: Running For Covers

Released late last year by New Jersey ’60s-flavored garage rock flagbearers The Doughboys, Running For Covers is an album of 13 cover songs, including covers of a couple of the band’s own old originals, all given an updated treatment in The Doughboys’ modern-yet-classic signature style.

The Doughboys - Running for Covers album cover

image courtesy of Howlin’ Wuelf Media

The album begins energetically with the classic-style guitar-buzz-driven “96 Tears,” a raucously enthusiastic – surprisingly upbeat, given the song’s lyrics – update of the ? and the Mysterians’ number one hit from 1966.

The rest of the disc includes The Doughboys’ renditions of the Kinks’ “The Hard Way,” The Band’s “The Shape I’m In,” the Rolling Stones’ “Play With Fire,” Herman’s Hermits’ “My Reservation’s Been Confirmed,” the Beatles’ “It’s All Too Much,” Lambert Hendricks & Ross’s “Moanin’,” Mose Allison’s “Your Mind Is On Vacation,” Neil Diamond’ “Solitary Man,” and more, plus reimaginations of The Doughboys’ own 1967 singles  “Rhoda Mendelbaum” and “Everybody Knows My Name.”

It’s a couple of the latter cover songs on that list that are really interesting, since they include particularly significant style changes. The Doughboys take blue jazz number “Moanin’,” for example, and infuse it with a timeless ’50s-meets-garage rock energy to completely change the song’s energy without disrupting its mood. And on “Solitary Man,” the band marches forth confidently, delivering this standard with a buzzy, almost Johnny Cash-meets-Hawaii Five-O flavor.

Other favorites include “Your Mind Is On Vacation,” with its bluesy style and harmonica bursts; the fast-paced adrenaline-filled, sped-up, wailing version of David Essex’s “Rock On,” a song also covered by Michael Damian, though still not at The Doughboys’ tempo; and the tunefully mid-tempo “Everybody Knows My Name.” The whole disc is solid, of course, and as a result, my personal favorites tend to change with my mood, so pay attention during your test drive because your mileage may vary.

You know, I always struggle with reviewing cover albums because, well, what do you say about them? About the good ones, you can say something like this: The Doughboys have delivered a disc full of great rock ‘n roll music, putting their distinct sound on classic songs, both famous and obscure. So, even though cover collections are difficult reviews, I really enjoy listening to this record, and I couldn’t resist sharing it with y’all. If you’re a fan of timeless, kinda raw but really tight rock ‘n roll, you owe it to yourself to take The Doughboys’ Running For Covers for a spin.

More Recently

Of course, Doughboys drummer Richard X. Heyman has assembled a renowned career as an independent singer-songwriter. I reviewed his 12th album, Incognito, in 2017. This past fall, he released the single “Choices We Make,” which you can check out via this YouTube video, from an unnamed upcoming 14th RXH solo album. I can’t wait.

Looking Ahead

When live gigs return, you’ll find The Doughboys’ on the “Events” page of the band’s website.

Also, here’s an interesting little nugget from the band’s bio, for those of us not old enough to have first-hand knowledge. The Doughboys were the house band of the legendary Cafe Wha? back in their heyday. I know this sounds like “looking back” rather than “looking ahead,” but this bar in the Village is one of the few remaining (surviving) iconic live music venues on my personal NYC “must see” list. Assuming it survives the pandemic, it’ll be a stop on one of my future trips to the City, visits I sorely miss right now and am looking forward (i.e., looking ahead) to resuming when some semblance of normalcy returns. So, in this paragraph, I’m looking ahead to my future, not the band’s.

EP Review: Sam Sherwin – Left In

Sam Sherwin - Left In EP cover

image courtesy of Media Stew Public Relations

EP Review of Sam Sherwin: Left In

Left In is the follow-up to Sam Sherwin‘s full-length album, Iodine Cocktails, which I reviewed here three years ago. It’s a great continuation of the vibe in that prior release, perhaps skewing a bit more toward the live blues-rock joint vibe than the big stage rock show flavor of the prior release. Still, one can’t help imagining “The Wells Run Dry” rocking a stadium crowd, too, so my comparison is a bit of an oversimplification.

Sam Sherwin

photo by CE Katz; photo courtesy of Media Stew Public Relations

The songs are tuneful and catchy. Sam’s vocals have the ability to cast a rough edginess that suggests real-life experience and emotion while still powerfully hitting all the notes. Very New Jersey rocker-ish, appropriately.

The keys and background vocals add a richness and playfulness to EP-opener “Can’t Depend On You,” balancing the earnest growling blues-rocker song style. A great introduction to the depth and breadth of Sam’s music, this song is a well-chosen first impression.

“Johnny Got Soul” follows, with a bit of a bemused feel to the vocals in the first verse, providing a matter-of-fact descriptiveness that serves the song well. The bridges divide the song into sections, providing a breath of fresh air and break in tempo that helps the listener focus on and enjoy the vibe – the soulful, bluesy vibe, natch – of the verses and chorus.

Sam slows things down with the mellow, wistful “Losing My Faith.” Driven instrumentally by piano with well-placed organ, the music bed well-supports the aching vocal delivery in the verses and chorus and is supplemented by backing vocal bridges, soaring both high and low, in the second half of the track. I know it’s a dorky music-reviewer type of thing to say that one of my favorite things about a song is its arrangement, but I’m playing that card here.

Sam Sherwin

photo by Dwyt Dayan; photo courtesy of Media Stew Public Relations

The fourth and final song on this all-too-short disc, “The Wells Run Dry,” brings back the energy. A gruffy, seedy juke joint kind of energy. Fun, with instrumental runs and a wry delivery. Picture a big auditorium, a well-choreographed lighting sequence, and a rollicking jam band feel, all in a well-structured bluesy rock song package. A great closing number to a well-bookended four-song collection.

I always dig a Sam Sherwin release. Granted, it’s generally a little hard to describe, but at its heart, it’s good, old-fashioned rock and roll with a pop-friendly flair, rooted in multiple decades of the classic rock era, with influences from a broad range of other musical genres. In this case, lots of blues, but not just. I know it’s only rock ‘n roll, but I like it.

Looking Ahead

When live music returns in earnest, one place to look for upcoming gigs would be the “Shows” tab on Sam Sherwin’s ReverbNation page.

Album Review: Burnt Out Wreck – This Is Hell

Album Review of Burnt Out Wreck: This Is Hell (Cherry Red Records)

This is crunchy, soaring, hard-driving ’80s style melodic rock ‘n roll of the very best kind. I reviewed Burnt Out Wreck’s previous album, Swallow, back in 2017. Now, I’m finally getting a chance to review the band’s 2019 release, This Is Hell. As I mentioned in the previous review, Burnt Out Wreck has an ’80s pedigree, with lead singer Gary Moat having served a the drummer in ’80s rock band Heavy Pettin, and with Burnt Out Wreck Gary’s every bit the energetic, raucous rocker now that he was “back in the day.”

Burnt Out Wreck - This Is Hell album cover

image courtesy of BJF Media

This new disc starts out with high energy right from the start, as “Dead or Alive” romps from the get-go. I hear the AC/DC comparison I mentioned in my last review, but there’s a high-screaming, tuneful, frenetic energy that also recalls Kix’s Steve Whiteman. Much headbanging and air-drumming on this fun, rockin’ album-opener.

The album contains a fair bit of good ol’ rock ‘n roll-style raunchy good humor, with tracks like “Paddywack” turning clever phrases and featuring singalong-ready verses. And, of course, later on the disc, “Rock Hard Sticky Sweet,” which is driven by a gritty, bluesy rock guitar line with some Cinderella-like chord progressions (from their really good bluesy hard rock songs), as well as tasty soaring guitar solos during one particular mid-song bridge.

Burnt Out Wreck's Gary Moat

Gary Moat; photo courtesy of BJF Media

One of the more direct anti-love songs you’ll find on this disc is the catchy “Headfuck,” with vocal screams and crashing drums and vocals reminiscent of Headhunter-era Krokus.

Surprisingly, if know how much I dig lyrics, probably my favorite song on this disc is lyrically simple. “Guitars Electrified” is all about the energy, rhythm, and guitar hooks. It grabs your attention from the first note and pulls you in as the instruments join one by one and the power builds. It’s a song all about rockin’ – and it does rock – with vocals, at times, a bit of a blend of Steve Whiteman and Jack Russell, though really just 100% Gary Moat. Much like Autograph’s “Turn Up the Radio,” this is a good, old fashioned, energetic rock and roll party song.

Really, though, every song on the disc has a reason it might be your favorite. “Just a Dog,” for example, has a bluesy rock flavor, and for some reason it reminds me just a bit of ZZ Top’s “Dirty Dog,” though this Burnt Out Wreck tune is much slower-tempoed and grittier. Perhaps it’s because the tunes have a similar attitude… and the word “dog” in them.

Burnt Out Wreck's Gary Moat

Gary Moat; photo courtesy of BJF Media

And the final song on the album, “Snow Falls Down,” closes things out with all of the vocal, drum, and guitar elements that make This Is Hell so much fun.

Another top-shelf, fun, melodic hard rock disc from Burnt Out Wreck, This Is Hell is a great follow-up to Swallow. Though the style is familiar, the songs are fresh and new, and the enthusiasm and energy are genuine. This is a disc that harkens back to the days when rock ‘n roll was all about screaming vocals, guitar and drum runs, and fun, headbanging live shows. This may be greedy on my part, but I’m already hoping there’s an album number three in the works.

Looking Ahead

Burnt Out Wreck has several gigs booked next year through July of 2021. You can find the gig calendar on the “tour” page of the band’s website.

Album Review: Susan Gibson – The Hard Stuff

Susan Gibson

photo by Bill Ingram; photo courtesy of Broken Jukebox Media

Album Review of Susan Gibson: The Hard Stuff

The Hard Stuff is a collection of familiar-sounding, easy-to-get-into, memorable songs. Not surprising, given Susan Gibson‘s songwriting pedigree. “The Hard Stuff” and “Lookin’ for a Fight,” for example, feel like songs you might hear from the (Dixie) Chicks. That what my first impression, made before reading Susan’s bio, which tells me that Susan’s song “Wide Open Spaces,” was a hit on the Chicks’ 1998 major label debut.

Susan Gibson - The Hard Stuff album cover

image courtesy of Broken Jukebox Media

Released in 2019, The Hard Stuff was Susan’s first full-length album since 2011’s Tight Rope, with EP Remember Who You Are filling the void in 2016.

There are so many potential hits – or, at least, potential personal favorites – on The Hard Stuff it’s hard to know where to start, so I’ll start with the first track, “Imaginary Lines,” with thoughtful verses that ebb, flow, and surge interestingly, leading to a heartfelt, memorable, catchy, emotionally energetic chorus.

Next, there’s a nice, forward-moving energy – kind of an almost Barenaked Ladies tempo – to “Antiques,” whose chorus reveals the song’s topic: “Gettin’ older ain’t for the weak. It only happens to the strongest ones. They aren’t useless, they are precious antiques. Better treat ’em like one.” As is so often the case on The Hard Stuff, the song is a lyrical goldmine atop an engaging melody that’s easy to enjoy even if you’re not paying attention to the lyrics.

Susan Gibson

photo by Dave Hensley; photo courtesy of Broken Jukebox Media

“The Hard Stuff” is a rhythmic tune with attitude. As I mentioned earlier, it reminds me of a Chicks song in style, tempo, and (of course) attitude.

“Lookin’ for a Fight” has a more ominous tone and western flavor to it, sporting the singalong-able chorus: “Hey, Jack, you’ve got something to prove. You think your dirty looks will make the mountains move. ‘Out of my way!’; that’s your attitude. There you go lookin’ for a fight.”

“The Big Game” showcases a precision of vocal delivery and lyrical wordplay, and not just the obviously clever “Why ya gotta make it so hard for me to be easy?”

As I mentioned, the disc itself is full of songs that will be personal favorites, varying wildly by person, and the next two are likely to fit that description for a decent subset of of listening audiences. “Diagnostic Heart,” I know, will appeal to some with its introspective noodling. Others will be drawn to the nostalgically delivered tale of troublemaking pasts, “2 Fake IDs.”

The disc’s energetic mid-speed musical motor returns on “Hurricane,” a song that’ll have you bobbing and weaving in your seat a little while listening thanks to its engaging tempo.

Susan Gibson

photo by Dave Hensley; photo courtesy of Broken Jukebox Media

“Wildflowers in the Weeds” is next; it’s yet another song I expect to be a frequent fan favorite, a pleasantly melodic tune that may particularly hit home for those who identify parts of themselves in the lyrics.

And the album concludes with “8 x 10,” a banjo and fiddle-powered, down-home reflection on home, history, and memories of loved ones no longer with us.

The entire collection, The Hard Stuff, is a truly exceptional disc, with the songwriting, the emotion, and the performance composing an enjoyable, heartfelt whole package. If any of what I’ve written appeals to your musical tastes, check this music out; you’ll be glad you’ve given Susan’s album a spin.

Looking Ahead

There are no upcoming live shows listed on the “tour” page of Susan’s website; that’ll be where you can find her gigs when there are some. You can also keep an eye on the “events” tab on Susan’s Facebook page.