Live Review: Ali Handal and Billy Crockett at Fox Run Concerts

Ali Handal and Billy Crockett

Fox Run Concerts, Sudbury, MA

April 29, 2017

The Backstory

I had been introduced to Ali Handal’s music more than two years ago by some mutual musician friends in Los Angeles. Since then, I’ve tried catch her when she has performed live in the Boston area but have heretofore failed in that endeavor. Last night, however, she opened a double-bill that fit my preferred time and location – an early time slot in an outer western Boston suburb – so I was finally able to make it happen. Better yet, it was a house concert; these more intimate performances in front of smaller audiences are one of the great new(ish) trends in independent music that I’ve really enjoyed since returning to music journalism.

Last night, she opened for Billy Crockett, who, after reading his bio, seems like someone I should have already known about. He is a respected artist who has been around the music industry for years, but our paths had not yet previously crossed. With a quick listen to some of Billy’s YouTube clips in preparation for the evening, I knew I could expect a stellar evening.

Ali Handal

Ali Handal; photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Opening Act: Ali Handal

Ali Handal opened her six-song set with strength. Granted, that’s no surprise, but her initial song of the evening, “You Get What You Settle For,” showcases the element of her voice I can best describe as an expressive roar. There’s perhaps a bit of a bluesy edge to the song, as well, with some cool funky guitar effects.

What’s so intriguing about Ali, though, is her range. In addition to an arena rock-worthy roar, strong and smooth enough yet artfully restrained befitting an acoustic singer-songwriter event like last night’s, she has a crisp, sweet, high end to her vocals as well, which she’s able to weave seamlessly into her songs, allowing them to showcase both power and sensitivity.

Halfway through her set, in fact, she displayed that sensitivity particularly well on “Distance,” with the sweeter vocal augmented by an interesting guitar-picking style. It’s that mix of power and sensitivity that make Ali a unique talent – well, that and the fact that her guitar skills are capable of providing varying soundbeds beneath her strong voice.

And there’s also her engaging stage presence, intimate but with a sense of humor, that draws her audience in. She closed her set, in fact, showcasing that sense of humor with “Thank God for Birth Control,” the prototypical anti-parenthood song, if there ever was one. And I’m not sure there ever was.

In all, it was a fun set by an exceptional talent. I’m glad I finally found a chance to see Ali Handal live, and I look forward to seeing her perform as a headliner, perhaps, sometime down the road. (Also in a club or arena setting where she can better unleash her rock chops, perhaps allowing me to hear her perform my current favorite Ali Handal tune, the more raucous, rawkin’ “But I Do,” live.)

Billy Crockett

Billy Crockett; photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Headliner: Billy Crockett

Billy Crockett’s music has been labeled folk/Americana, and I suppose it is, but there’s more to it than that. Rather than pigeonholing it, I hear music with the potential for significant crossover appeal beyond a single genre, one well-placed hit away from making Billy a household name. I hear a sort of timeless singer-songwriter vibe in Billy’s songs. It’s the sort of music you’d hear at festivals and occasionally on pop radio in the ’60s/’70s. Rich, storytelling songs driven by Billy’s powerful, emotionally expressive vocals.

In a house concert setting, Billy’s personability and storytelling ability carries over into his between-song banter, and, as a result, this evening at Fox Run Concerts had that sort of intimate, gathering-of-friends feeling. Of course, the on-stage “friend” on this evening was an exceptionally talented troubadour. And during his songs, the intensity with which Billy feels his music is written on his face, carried in his voice, and driven home by his full immersion in his performance.

Billy followed Ali’s set with his own short set before intermission, then returned for a longer set to close the evening. He kicked things off with “Feel It,” an emotion-driven acoustic singer-songwriter number. He followed it with the engaging “That’s Something,” displaying the richness and versatility of his strong voice, supporting the vocals with a ’60s/’70s folk-influenced strumming.

Over the course of the evening, my mind kept circling back, comparing Billy’s music to that you might find on a soundtrack. More precisely, a Broadway soundtrack. I’m not talking about those big production numbers. Rather, the emotion in his voice and progression of each song’s music and content are more akin to songs (and portions thereof) that share important plot points, in which an individual character tells backstory, explains his emotions about something, or moves the story forward. This past winter, I (finally) caught a production of Cabaret in Boston, and I think Billy’s songs, particularly the more haunting, introspective ones, remind me of some segments of that evening’s performance. Not exactly, though. The pace and tempo of Billy’s songs and distinct enunciation remind me a bit of Randy Newman, best known by the general public for his movie soundtrack work, though I wouldn’t compare Billy’s rich, distinctly original voice to Randy’s beyond that. More appropriately, I’d call them musical neighbors.

Billy continued with songs like “Record Player,” which appealed to the audience’s nostalgia, and “On Your Way,” a storytelling song with a bit of a dark tension to it, before intermission.

After the break, Billy returned for a full set. Highlights of the second set included “Ghosts,” a song whose warm, rich guitar song adds gravitas to the vocal; “Meant That,” with all its soulfulness; and the engaging, somewhat twisted tale of “Rabbit Hole.”

Billy closed his set with “Mavis,” his tribute to Mavis Staples, augmenting his trademark vocals with some dancing guitar strumming, and an archetypal storytelling singer-songwriter song, “Already Perfect,” recalling for me hints of Joshua Kadison or Bob Halligan, though with a Billy Crockett spin.

For his encore, Billy led a singalong of James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James,” followed by his cover of “Native Boy,” dropping the curtain on an evening of warmth, camaraderie and song, wrapping up a double-bill perfectly suited to a house concert.

Billy Crockett and Ali Handal, of course, are clearly artists whose power and skill can (and often do) engage thousands as easily as dozens. Singers of that caliber in an intimate house concert can deliver a special evening, and, indeed, they did.

Looking Ahead

Though Ali doesn’t have any more gigs left on her latest East Coast swing, she does have a Saturday, May 20th house concert (with limited seating) scheduled in Reseda, California. For more information about this show and for future concert information as it is announced, see this link to her website.

Billy does have a few shows left on his East Coast tour. Per his website, you can see him at Club Passim in Cambridge, MA on Wednesday, May 3rd and at Rockwood Music Hall in New York on Monday, May 8th. Then he’ll be back in Texas, performing on the main stage at the Kerrville Folk Festival on Thursday, May 25th. Check this page for more information about those gigs and upcoming performances, as they’re added.

As for more detailed reviews of Ali and Billy – since live reviews tend to be more hastily written than album reviews, based on my notes from a single evening rather than dozens of listens – watch for my review of Billy’s current album Rabbit Hole in the coming months. Likewise, Ali will soon be releasing a new record soon; when that’s available, rest assured I’ll reach out to “her people” for a review copy.

Album Review: Odds Lane – Last Night on Cherokee

Odds Lane

photo courtesy of Bongo Boy Records

Album Review of Odds Lane: Last Night on Cherokee (Bongo Boy Records)

Odds Lane delivers blues rock that leans heavily on the blues while mixing it with a raucous, rocking rawness. What keeps the songs interesting, though, is the infusion of other influences into the music, suggesting the musical palette of Doug Byrkit and Brian Zielie reaches well beyond the St. Louis-based duo’s stylistic base.

Whether it’s the slapping boogie rhythm of incessantly catchy “Falling Down” or the chunky beat driving “Take It Slow,” Odds Lane’s style feels old and familiar, like you’ve heard it before. For a reason. Because this is what the good stuff sounds like. Last Night on Cherokee is an album full of textbook oozing-the-blues blues-rock numbers. And it’s clearly the result of a pair of talented musicians/songwriters.

Odds Lane - Last Night on Cherokee

image courtesy of Bongo Boy Records

Last Night on Cherokee starts strong with the thumping, pulsing blues rocker “This is What It’s Like.” A perfect introduction. An ideal first single. Straight-ahead blues rock. Part George Thorogood, party Fabulous Thunderbirds. And maybe an alt-rock tinged jangle for additional character. Great way to kick off the disc.

There are catchy numbers throughout the album, but three have made it onto my oft-sampled (and shared via Twitter) phone-on-shuffle playlist. In addition to “This is What It’s Like” and “Take It Slow,” my other favorite from this disc is the traveling-song tempoed “Red & Yellow Clowns.” It’s catchy…  until you listen to the lyrics. Then it’s catchy and kind of creepy. Just don’t listen to it for the first time while walking somewhere dark and deserted. Trust me. But with the creative lyrics and song-long transition from Americana flavored laid-back number to jangly rhythmic tune to, finally, almost-frenetic blues rocker with crunchy guitar, it’s quite possibly my favorite song in this collection.

That’s not to suggest the rest of the disc isn’t solid. It’s a great listen beginning-to-end, touching all the blues-rock bases with style and substance. There’s a booming, thumping rhythm on “Dust to Dust” that’ll rattle the windows, the strong reggae influence behind “100 Miles,” a fair bit of psychedelic influence in “Too Close to the Sun” and “End of the Line,” the jangly rock core of “Bottom of the Sea,” and amazing, classic blues guitar riffs propelling solos that, while relatively brief, are the driving forces in the progression of songs like “Strange Love” and “The Lonely.” This is a blues rock – or, perhaps more appropriately, a rockin’ blues – album you’ll be glad to have in your collection for years to come, a disc that continues to get better across multiple listens as you discover its nuances. Often, they’re in-your-face nuances, but they’re nuances nonetheless.

I’m fully aboard Odds Lane’s rough-edged, broadly-influenced blues bandwagon. Don’t let it ramble too far down the road before you join me for a ride.

Looking Ahead

Check out the “tour” page of Odds Lane’s website to see where you can catch them live. They’ll be performing twice on Tuesday, April 18th at Firecracker in St. Louis – first at 11:00 AM, then again at 8:30 PM. They have May dates listed in St. Louis (May 4th and 10th), Clayton (May 5th), and New Offenberg (May 6th), Missouri and in Springfield, Illinois (May 18th). Again, check out the band’s website for more details on those and other upcoming gigs.

Album Review: Alchemilla – The Divide

Alchemilla

photo by Joshua Pickering; photo courtesy of Alchemilla

Alchemilla – The Divide

The Backstory

Alchemilla is one of my favorite local bands, and I still haven’t made it out to a live gig yet. Their time slots are just too plum, I suppose. They play late sets in close to Boston, while I tend to prefer early sets in the outer western suburbs. One of these days I’ll make the trek, but the stars have not yet aligned, so I’ve just been enjoying the band’s recorded music.

EP Review of Alchemilla: The Divide

Wall-of-sound hard rock with melodic undertones. That’s Alchemilla. Heavy music that screams hard rock credibility, so you start listening to the music for its “sound,” but with songs whose earworm qualities slowly reveal themselves so you eventually rave about the band’s tunefulness. And, indeed, the group’s newest release, its The Divide EP, is a solid continuation of its previous release, the Hearts EP I reviewed in the Blog more than a year ago.

Alchemilla - The Divide

image courtesy of Alchemilla

By comparison to the overwhelming heaviness of Hearts, The Divide is perhaps a smidgen lighter, though you’d never guess if this was your first exposure. The music will still melt your face, but there’s possibly a bit more open space in the sound wall, a slight sound evolution that gives the new music a little freshness. It’s a great record-to-record progression, similar enough to leave longtime Alchemilla fans thrilled, but just different enough to provide a fresh, unique collection of songs that occupy their own space in the band’s timeline; it’s the sort of progression one would hope for from a favorite heavy rock band.

“Fatal” kicks things off with crunchy hard rock guitar and enough space for Kat Bondi’s tuneful vocal roar to be noticed between the instruments, announcing (with authority) the greater presence of classic rock spices in the band’s trademark wall-of-sound stew this go-round.

Alchemilla

photo by Alchemilla; photo courtesy of Alchemilla

Not that Alchemilla’s forceful drumming can be ignored, as it steps up to drive the tempo even harder on the next track “Big Star,” combining with a crunchier guitar sound to crank up the volume a bit.

Energetic tunefulness comes next, as “Pass Blind” introduces itself as Alchemilla’s crank-it-while-driving-on-the-open-road number. Just when it seems the song won’t leave time to breathe, though, it unveils an almost ’70s black-lit-room softly heavy, well-placed guitar bridge that carries the tune most of the way to its conclusion before briefly regaining its faster tempo. It goes together well but still surprises me a little with each listen; though it makes sense as it’s happening, in my memory it almost feels like two songs.

Alchemilla

photo by Joshua Pickering; photo courtesy of Alchemilla

Then, ah, here comes the tempo respite. Title track “The Divide” plods along, its pace a bit more reminiscent of many songs on Hearts, providing continuity to Alchemilla’s musical journey. Tunefully plodding, with its vocal roar and psychedelic classic rock-flavored bridge. In the end, it’s one of my favorite songs on this disc, though depending on my mood, my top choice can be any of the six. Back to “The Divide,” though, there’s enough space and a relaxed enough tempo (finally) to allow the listener the think and appreciate… not just this song, but the EP so far.

The softer side of Alchemilla continues to rule the record a bit longer, with the almost psychedelically heavily mellow “Flooded Lands,” offering a vegetative respite enveloped by sound, perhaps lounging on a bean bag chair in front of a lava lamp and black light Zeppelin and Rush posters, before the collection closes again with another energetic rocker, “Got to Choose.” The album-ender slyly tricks the listener with a mellow enough opening, almost flowing from the previous track, before cranking up the tempo a little more than a minute in. By the end of the song, “Got to Choose” is almost frenetic. Fully awake and alert, it leaves the listener ready to start the journey over again.

In the end, hard-rockin’ or mellow, Alchemilla’s music is listenable, tuneful, heavy rock that only improves with multiple listens. And, indeed, encourages multiple listens. Compared to Hearts, The Divide is another helping of the same delicious rock ‘n roll steak, perhaps with a few different spices.

Looking Ahead

I don’t see anything on Alchemilla’s concert calendar right now, but you can bet I’ll be watching for a show I can get to. (And you’ll know when I do… because you’ll see the review.)

Album Review: Brett Newski – Land Air Sea Garage

Brett Newski

photo by Emma McEvoy; photo courtesy of Reybee, Inc.

Album Review of Brett Newski: Land Air Sea Garage

Brett Newski‘s music combines ’90s/’00s pop-rock singing and songwriting, a punk attitude, and a coffeehouse delivery style to form a catchy, engaging, understated-yet-rich sound that would comfortably fill an auditorium. He’s simultaneously unique and familiar. Think Matchbox 20’s songwriting with Green Day’s attitude and a hint of a nod to Wally Pleasant’s offbeat delivery, perhaps a little more oddly unique than Barenaked Ladies. And damn, the songs on Land Air Sea Garage are catchy.

There is a great deal of detail in Brett’s songwriting, and if you pay attention to lyrics on this disc you’ll learn the following three things, and probably more, from his songs: 1) There must be at least two Mollies; 2) Girls with purple hair are the arbiters of who is and isn’t cool; and 3) “Post-normal” is a fun self-descriptor, and we should really all consider using that phrase more often.

Brett Newski - Land Air Sea Garage

image courtesy of Reybee, Inc.

The most surprising thing about the song production on Land Sea Air Garage may be how Brett’s able to maintain the purity-of-rawness of his stripped-down music while recording it with such lush, rich, room-filling sound.

The album opens with a raw-alt-folky-rock explosion via the energetic mid-tempo “Garage.” That’s followed by a jog to the mildly hauntingly eerie “Stranger,” suggesting a little Americana influence, mostly by way of a surf guitar-esque edge in spots, at least to the degree someone like Chris Isaak might mix that with alt-pop-rock.

Indeed, Brett maintains his central musical persona throughout the album, with various external influences making cameos, resulting in a cohesive, complete disc with more than enough variance from song-to-song to keep it interesting across dozens of listens.

The most noticeable song on the disc, of course, is “D.I.Y.” It’s the song that most reminds me of Wally Pleasant, with its lyrical cleverness drawing a vivid picture in each verse. The song also leaves the listener to wonder why Brett uses the f-word freely repeatedly in the chorus but swallows it in one verse. This traack simultaneously embraces and critiques D.I.Y./punk/alt-music culture throughout, including an amusing nugget referencing Modest Mouse. And wow, it’s a monster earworm! I guarantee, within a listen or two, you’ll be singing along to this one.

Brett Newski

photo by Emma McEvoy; photo courtesy of Reybee, Inc.

Also interesting is “Molly,” a love-gone-wrong warning tale in which Brett creeps along wistfully throughout the verses before belting out its faster-tempo, jangly “damaged goods” chorus and building in power through the end. It’s a great song-tempo format when done this well, one I’d expect to conclude with an out-of-breath exhale at a live performance.

“Bending Spoons & Skipping Prayers,” a mild-manneredly rambunctious number, is also worth noting because it utilizes a recurring Neil Diamond/”Sweet Caroline”-ish sing-along segment that jumped out at me as something special during my very first listen.

But my enduring personal favorite seems to be “Barcelona.” The song itself is simply a mid-tempo, strumming, alt-pop-rocker with some well-placed orchestration. But it’s well-written and just hooky enough to grow on the listener. It wasn’t an early favorite, but now, after several dozen listens, it’s the tune I most often sing along to. I’d rate it “most likely to still be a favorite in ten years.”

Seriously, though, the whole disc is strong, including the songs I didn’t mention by name. One of those may well end up being your personal favorite.

Land Air Sea Garage was my introduction to Brett Newski’s music. The album showcases his meticulous attention to detail when crafting his songs (in such a way that it’s supposed to seem he didn’t try very hard), his awareness of the importance of a subtely great hook if a song is to withstand multiple listens, and his comfortably mainstream-yet-quirky delivery. It leaves me hoping to catch him on tour and anxiously awaiting his next release. I suspect his longtime fans are just as satisfied by this disc.

Looking Ahead

From clicking the “Tour” tab on Brett’s website, it looks like he has a few shows lined up this month (March 8th in Youngstown, OH; March 11th in Pittsburgh, PA; March 12th in Fort Wayne, IN; and March 15th in Madison, WI) before heading to SXSW in Austin March 15th-18th. That’s followed by a March 24th through April 12th tour of South Africa. And on April 28th, he’s releasing his next album. So spin Land Air Sea Garage with impunity because there’s a new album coming to replace it soon. (“Join it.” Not “replace it”; “join it.” You’ll be allowed to keep this one, too.)

Album Review: Ava Wolfe – Casablanca

Ava Wolfe – Casablanca

Album Review of Ava Wolfe: Casablanca

blank CD

Blank CD; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Ava Wolfe describes this as a “pop noir” album on her SoundCloud page, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t come up with a better description. Ava’s voice is soft, sensual, sexy, and powerful, and the songs upon which she drips her dangerously delivered lyrics are those you’d expect to hear in a way-too-cool lounge that would be a modern-day descendant of Rick’s. Add the occasionally old movie audio clip, and I really can’t improve upon the term “pop noir.” The hook-laden album in all its black-and-whiteness is deliciously enticing.

It doesn’t hurt that Ava kicks Casablanca: The Album off with “xkss,” an alluring, terribly original-sounding attention-grabber. Why is this song unforgettable? It could be the slowly building, subtly dominant rhythm. It might be the oh-so-cleverly-utilized audio clips, from Casablanca to a judiciously positioned segment from Le Mans, an exceptional clip I couldn’t quite place at first. There are a lot of well-placed elements in this song, but it wouldn’t come together this spectacularly without Ava’s sultry, precise delivery. The first early release from Ava’s Casablanca album last year, “xkss” is the song that hooked me and the reason I began following Ava’s music.

Beginning to end, as you listen to this CD – especially the first few times through as you grow accustomed to the music – you realize you’re listening to something special, though you can’t quite put your finger on why. There’s something coolly seductive about Ava’s music. Much of it resides in her sensually powerful vocals, but the music and arrangements are attention-grabbingly unique, a modern sound drenched in nostalgia for something that never quite existed as it’s being presented. In the end, you’re drawn to the Ava’s songs even though you can’t help feeling as if they’re perhaps just a little too cool for you to comprehend. In any case, it’s an exceptional performance from an true pop music artist… a star who isn’t famous yet.

Indeed, it’s hard to decide which songs to highlight, as the album Casablanca itself is a work of art. The brash coldness of “cool” is a powerful, moving number that’s almost ambient at times. “m.a.f.i.a. land” adds just a dash of hip-hop to its stripped-down vibe, the song’s music sporting the bare-bones frame of a dance number, employing rhythm but at a mellower tempo. And “sapphires” is a glamorous number, with orchestration supporting a piano-esque keyboard line behind Ava’s richly breathless vocals; the delivery suggests it could only be sung by a “jewel-covered pop goddess.” And those are just the first four tracks from this 10-song collection.

I have other favorites on Casablanca, too. “jazz baby,” for example. It’s perhaps the most pop-accessible song on the disc. Ava’s vocals are sweet and rich; along with an almost folky guitar, they’re stretched across a warm string bed. The song builds and soars. The tempo changes a bit. And then the song ends abruptly; because on Casablanca, every song must be coolly different in at least one way.

“bordeaux” is a richly-sung number that gives the feeling of a jet-setting drive through the French countryside in a convertible. An Aston Martin perhaps. Or an MG. With a gorgeous, educated, seductively (that word again!) playful woman in the passenger seat. Scarf flapping in the wind. Something straight out of an old James Bond movie. Or more likely a less obvious film, one whose semi-obscurity would require a true film buff to recognize. It’s not the only song on the album that hints at that imagery, but it’s strongest with “bordeaux.”

Other favorites include “come on,” “my man (mon homme),” and the album-closer, “wheels up,” a softly brooding number, again almost ambient at times but with soaringly half-whispered, pop star-caliber vocals from Ava. And, remaining true to the style and ambiance of the entire album to the final note, “wheels up” ends by fading to black.

Ava Wolfe is a pop artist. A unique talent with a vision. And her vision, Casablanca, is a truly special collection of music.

Album Review: Lori Diamond & Fred Abatelli – Lifted

Lori Diamond & Fred Abatelli

photo by Shannon Power; photo courtesy of Lori Diamond

Lofi Diamond & Fred Abatelli – Lifted

Album Review of Lori Diamond & Fred Abatelli: Lifted

Lori Diamond & Fred Abatelli - Lifted

image courtesy of Lori Diamond

There aren’t a lot of artists performing an easy listening folk style the way Lori Diamond & Fred Abatelli do. Lori’s full, rich, soaring voice combines with Fred’s adept, softly energetic and colorful guitarwork to put an original, engaging spin on a style that’s not lately been a significant destination for such talented artists. As a result, Lori and Fred are a dominant local force in this lane of the musical highway, and their well-crafted albums – Lifted the latest – are necessities for a well-rounded music collection. After numerous near misses, I finally caught the duo live this past fall, and now I’m pleased to review their most recent (2015) release.

This album begins with “Always There,” a soft, soaring, keyboard-powered number that features a blend of Lori and Fred’s vocals in support of Lori’s vocal lead.

Lori Diamond

photo by Nikilette Walker; photo courtesy of Lori Diamond

Influences are all pretty straightforward throughout the album – folk, soft rock, easy listening – but other influences pop up from time to time. There’s a little soul in Lori’s voice in second track “Way Back Home,” which otherwise comes across as a ’70s-style vocal soft pop tune. Indeed, many of the songs might have connected with more mainstream audiences in the ’70s, as that’s when vocal soft pop was at its pinnacle within pop culture. As is the case with all musical styles, though, there’s always room for the best in any genre, especially when they keep things modern and interesting. Great music is timeless.

Back to the album, though, the next track “Dreaming” picks up the tempo a bit, adding playful and jazzy elements.

Fred’s vocals take the lead on the title track, “Lifted,” a heartwarming love song that sums up the heart of this album, its warmth almost suspending time as it washes over the listener. This comfortable, uplifting warmth, in fact, is a hallmark of Fred & Lori’s music, fitting well with the duo’s personalities in a live setting.

Fred Abatelli

photo by Nikilette Walker; photo courtesy of Lori Diamond

“The Outside” follows with a bit more energy again, its path guided by Fred’s subtly adept guitarwork, easy to miss behind Lori’s softly dynamic vocals and the song’s message of inner vs. outer beauty.

“Good Harbor” is another soft song, with the richness of Lori’s voice in lead, supported by Fred’s, driving a song that’s clearly about a very special place. It’s followed by “Castle,” perhaps my favorite song on this disc, whose piano lead-in and late-song ivory-tickling combine with soaring vocals, ranging from rich power to softness, to weave an interesting, softly dynamic path.

“Wayfaring Stranger” is the only cover on the disc. It’s a full-on ’70s cocktail lounge-shaking number, showcasing Lori’s only serious vocal wails within this collection and featuring fancy Western-flavored, smooth axework from Fred. This original, inspired rendition is an adult contemporary musical masterwork.

Lori Diamond & Fred Abatelli

photo by Nikilette Walker; photo courtesy of Lori Diamond

The album closes softly again with “OM,” a peace and love-inspiring, warm, rich number. It’s the perfect choice to end a Lori Diamond & Fred Abatelli CD, as if the album rides off into the sunset leaving the listener surrounded by warmth. And there’s that word again. Warmth. That’s at the essence of Lori & Fred’s music on Lifted, warmth… delivered with care by a duo of exceptionally talented musicians.

Looking Ahead

Keep an eye on the tour page of Lori and Fred’s website to see when they’ll be performing near you. There are currently several dates listed around Massachusetts in the next few months.

Live Review: Caisy Falzone at Pianos

Caisy Falzone

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Caisy Falzone

Pianos, New York, NY

February 11, 2017

Backstory

Occasionally, I day-trip to New York. Typically, I hit a museum or two, visit a couple restaurants, walk around the city a bit, and catch a little live music.

Caisy Falzone

photo by Geoff Wilbur

There were a couple bands performing on Saturday night who I’ve reviewed before and would have gone to see if it had been possible. But Amy and the Engine, whose album I reviewed last year, was taking the stage at the Bitter End a little too late for me to make it to the show and still catch my train home. Project Grand Slam, whose album I reviewed last year, was performing at Sugar Bar; I’d’ve probably attended their gig, but I didn’t know about the show until I saw the band’s Facebook posts after it was over. I did, however, search show listings and sample several artists’ music in the day or two before my visit, and a listen to Caisy Falzone’s Your Time EP convinced me I’d almost certainly enjoy her live performance. So I made my way into Pianos early Saturday evening relatively sure I’d enjoy Caisy’s set before it even began.

Caisy Falzone

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Show

Performing solo with just a voice and a guitar, Caisy Falzone sings charmingly catchy, stripped-down, singer-songwriter pop-rock. In addition to an inherent vocal sweetness, Caisy infuses her songs with emotion at times via a somewhat uniquely hoarse delivery style, something she uses coolly effectively where many singers might instead lean on vocal gravel. It, when combined with her engaging stage presence and strong songwriting and wisely-selected cover song selection, provides Caisy with a memorable calling card in an otherwise relatively crowded sub-genre.

Caisy Falzone

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Caisy opened the evening with “I Feel You Look At Me” (note: my song title accuracy may vary), immediately charming the audience with sweet, echoing, atmospheric vocals. She followed it with a song that’s more of a strummer (“Almost There”?), one on which she showcases a typically singer-songwriter styled rhythmic vocal emphasis.

Caisy Falzone

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Caisy next served up her version of Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me.” She nailed it, leaning particularly effectively on her hoarsely emotional vocal delivery for this one. It was followed by a new, untitled pop song which was, yes, more pure radio pop styled but still clearly stylistically Caisy.

On “Hold Me Down,” from the Your Time EP, Caisy down a steady, strumming rhythm, with her voice cracking compellingly in the emotional spots. She followed with a cover of Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic”; in this case, the emotion was drawn directly from the song, as Caisy clearly connects with this classic guitar-pop rock hit.

Next up was “Say”(?), an “old song,” Caisy noted, from her acoustic duo past. This song explored the more ethereal end of Caisy’s vocal delivery, complementing it with particularly emphatic strumming.

Caisy Falzone

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Her rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” was engaging and almost innocent-sounding. Worth mentioning is the original way in which Caisy delivered these vocals, seeming to round the vowels a bit, resulting in a unique vibe and memorable performance of this often-covered tune.

Caisy closed her set with “Drift,” another track from her latest EP. On this she employed a persistently hoarse vocal delivery, rhythmically rising and falling in power, combined with a simple-but-effective, interesting guitar rhythm.

Indeed, this set was a great way to cap a day in New York. Caisy’s musical toolbox isn’t notably exceptional, but she mixes and matches her tools effectively. An evening at one of her shows seems to be a guaranteed enjoyable time, and I look forward to hearing how she utilizes her skills and builds upon her song catalog as her career advances.