Album Review: Dana Carmel – Little Red Heart

Dana Carmel

photo by Alison Shopmeyer; photo courtesy of Dana Carmel

The Backstory

I first heard Dana Carmel perform live at Rockwood Music Hall in June 2019. I had an hour to kill in the late afternoon and had circled this gig as an event of interest before my trip to the City just in case. This was a case of checking out a new artist because of someone whose musical taste I trusted. Dana’s event had popped up on my Facebook timeline before my trip, and I noticed that Valerie Orth (who I’ve recently reviewed for the third time) had clicked “interested.” So, knowing one of the earth’s most talented artists was “interested” in Dana’s gig, I sampled some of Dana’s music online and made a note of her set time “just in case” it fit into my Sunday.

Still, even though I was enjoying live music, I wasn’t “on the clock” as a music journalist that day; this was a weekend trip to just hang out and enjoy the City. For example, just for kicks, I grabbed a beer at The Waylon on Waylon Jennings’ birthday. I hit up a couple diners for my #OmeletTour on Instagram. And, just before heading to Dana’s set, I stopped by the Rocketman exhibit at Dolby SOHO, where I got to “star” in this kickass trailer. So while watching Dana perform, I didn’t take notes. I didn’t review the show, though I did thoroughly enjoy it. And when Dana handed me a copy of Little Red Heart, I was so far behind on my review queue that I wasn’t planning to review it, either. However, the CD has lived in my car CD player ever since, occasionally shuffled out briefly for Martin Briley’s It Comes in Waves or Jack Russell’s Great White’s He Saw It Comin’, but I’ve primarily only listened to Dana’s CD in my car since mid-2019. Now, two years (and hundreds of spins in my car CD player) later, I just have to share this record and Dana’s talent with you.

Album Review of Dana Carmel: Little Red Heart

Little Red Heart is a collection 11 catchy, well-written songs, ranging from pop to almost jazzy. The instrumentation is light, with lots of open space in the songs. Dana’s voice is piercing, clear, and frequently precise, with attitude and flourishes where necessary. The interesting thing about Dana’s voice is that I think it would be perfectly suited to being a must-hear pop-jazz chanteuse, and she has some great songs on this disc that fit her very well. Some of the catchiest tracks on here are full-on pop songs that are fun to hear in the more stripped-down arrangements on Little Red Heart but that might be enormous hits in fully-produced form. (I guess what I’m saying is “Pop divas, I’ve got your songwriter right here!”)

Obviously, if Little Red Heart has been my car CD for most of the last two-plus years, even with the minimal amount of driving I’ve done during the pandemic, I love this disc. It has a fun vibe, with clever lyrics that are fun to sing along with. It’s an ideal chillin’-and-drivin’ jam.

Dana Carmel – Little Red Heart

photo by Alison Shopmeyer; image courtesy of Dana Carmel

The album opens strong with “Not the One,” a syncopated pop number that grabs you from the get-go. It’s followed by “Castle,” which features a crack in Dana’s voice and a near-whisper that makes it seem very intimate and personal, including lyrics like “I don’t want to hurt, I don’t ever want to feel the pain of knowing you don’t feel the same.” The song is a terrific journey describing the art of hiding one’s heart away.

The title track, “Little Red Heart,” is moody, jazzy groove that showcases some of the sharp, piercing edges of Dana’s voice, almost like an intriguing huntress on the vocal prowl. When I mentioned “jazz singer,” it’s songs like this I was referring to. As much fun as her pop songs are, tracks like this show an edge to her voice that’s distinct and unmatchable.

After “Goodbye,” which continues in a similar vocal vein to “Little Red Heart,” “The End of Us” follows with an off-balance, jazzy vibe, tying it to the previous two tracks, but it adds a growlin’ rock ‘n roll bass line and – in the verses, at least – a poutier rock edge to Dana’s vocals.

My favorite song, probably lyrically at least, is “Baby Boy.” Dig the lyrics “I-I-I-I am not your mama. Don’t get it twisted, it’s me, your lover.” It’s a fun outing of a narcissistic man-child. And there’s a cool bridge in the middle of the song where the music just screams tiki bar.

Dana Carmel

photo by Alison Shopmeyer; photo courtesy of Dana Carmel

Another favorite is a true jazzy lounge number, “Blue to Gold,” as if straight out of a scene in James Bond movie, with Dana expressing insightful turns of phrase like “maybe if I start to let it go, then all my blues would turn into gold.”

I know I’ve skipped several songs – on some days, “Talking to Myself,” “The Great Escape,” or one of the other songs is a personal favorite, too – but I’ve captured above the essence of this album and, hopefully, have convinced you to take a listen to this talented artist.

Lastly, I’ll reiterate, an album does not remain in my car CD player for more than two years if it isn’t really cool.

Looking Ahead

Dana’s Facebook page doesn’t have an “events” tab, nor does her website, so I’m not sure how you’ll find out when and where catch her performing live. (My best guess, of course, would be to follow her on Facebook.) Her website does, however, offer singing telegrams, songwriting courses, and the opportunity to have a song commissioned for a special occasion, among other things, so it’s well worth perusing.

Album Review: Love Love – The Rhode Island Eepee

Love Love – The Rhode Island EepeeEP Review of Love Love: The Rhode Island Eepee

Love Love is a fun, talented outfit that’s ideal if you like a healthy dose of twisted, quirky, intelligent, occasionally haunting and slightly demented whimsy with your alt-pop-rock. Their sound and approach are one-of-a-kind, making them a uniquely enjoyable, valuable addition to any local music scene and their recordings a must-have for any music collection.

A few years ago, I reviewed this band’s self-titled 2015 debut. The Rhode Island Eepee arrived in my mailbox in early 2019 toward the end of the period when wasn’t writing much, so I put the envelope in a pile of “important music mail” and rediscovered it two years later when reorganizing my office. Well, it’s just so cool, I have to tell you about it, especially since this is still Love Love’s most recent long-form recording; the band has only released one song since then, a single entitled “OK,” released in February 2020.

Love Love’s primary members are Jefferson Davis Riordan and Chris Toppin, and The Rhode Island Eepee is an ode to Toppin’s native Rhode Island.

“We Can’t Get Enough of the Was” kicks things off with a cheery, poppy ray of jangly pop sunshine. This catchy tune is not exactly a word salad, but you have to listen to realize it isn’t.

“The Garden,” next, has a hint of a Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles vibe, guided by a slightly psychedelic, distorted, buzzy, rock ‘n roll rhythm and Love Love’s trademark uniquely non-combining harmonies. This is probably the most mainstream song on the disc and the one I’d be most likely to drop into multi-artist playlists.

The EP shifts to a more haunting vibe on the next number, “Rhode Island Ghosts,” which carries a similar vibe to the song “Murderpedia” from Love Love’s self-titled debut EP. The content of “Rhode Island Ghosts” isn’t quite as shocking, but it is creepy enough, both lyrically and musically, to stand your hair on end while listening. This song is the only time on this EP during which Love Love grabs something from the scary side of its musical toolbox, but it’s done quite effectively.

“Blind in the Sunshine (Sunlove Mix)” has a serious watching the clouds while lying in a field of daisies, summer of love-styled vibe. No lyrics, but whooshing winds and a soaring, gliding psychedelic guitar sound. As song number four, this is also intermission music at the halfway point of the seven-song EP.

“Joan Anderman,” next, is a cheery ditty about “the night Joan Anderman got me high.” It sounds like it wasn’t a great experience, contrasting the whimsical music and song delivery. It’s worth noting, also, a secondary storyline in which Love Love is not pleased by the prospect of making music for free, and they’re quite graphic in suggesting what you should do if you suggest it.

“Great Day in Rhode Island” continues the upbeat nature of the prior song, telling the tale of Jefferson and Chris meeting. At this pivotal moment in their lives, represented here by spoken-word narration, the song’s thematic lyric shifts from “we all just want someone to love” to “it’s a great day in Rhode Island.” If that ain’t love, I don’t know what is. Indeed, it sounds like a banner day for the Ocean State.

Continuing with the disc’s state(d) theme, the EP closes with “Rhode Island,” a broad-reaching, soaring, floating, beach-styled epic that dispenses facts about the state of Rhode Island and Chris Toppin’s life. One of my favorite lines in the song is “I’m your Roger Williams, baby, and you’re my Providence.” It’s a catchy, soft-rockin’ tune. Very Love Love-styled. A solid conclusion to a unique, must-hear collection, especially – though not exclusively – for those of us with a connection to Little Rhody.

Looking Ahead

There are no upcoming shows currently listed, but when they are, you may be able to find them here on the “Events” tab of Love Love’s Facebook page.

You can also read a bit about the music group founded in 2018 by Jefferson and Chris, WitchWood Music, here.

Album Review: Sweet – Isolation Boulevard


photo courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

Album Review of Sweet: Isolation Boulevard (Prudential Music Group)

Sweet is one of the seventies’ iconic rock bands. Isolation Boulevard, recorded between UK lockdowns in the fall of 2020, is primarily, though not entirely, a reworking of many of the original tracks on the various editions of the band’s Desolation Boulevard album; it also features a few songs that can’t be found on any of Desolation Boulevard‘s releases. Led by guitarist Andy Scott, the only surviving member from the classic Sweet line-up, this version of Sweet carries on the band’s legacy with talent, skill, and hook-laden aplomb.

Sweet’s heyday was just barely before my time, so this is actually the first Sweet album I’ve ever owned. Sure, I know a lot of the songs from hearing them on the radio. And I know a couple of the songs thanks to cover versions by ’80s rock favorites Krokus (“Ballroom Blitz”) and Black ‘N Blue (“Action”). To be honest, I still prefer Krokus’ “Ballroom Blitz” to the very well-performed versions on this disc. (On “Action,” I like different things about each band’s rendition.) Indeed, I love this album. The entirety of Isolation Boulevard is raucous, hooky, memorable and fun, and it’s been an absolute pleasure to really get to know these songs with repeated listenings over the last few months.

Sweet – Isolation Boulevard

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

I love that the album begins with “Fox on the Run,” a song that sounds both classic and current at the same time. The explosiveness of Scott’s guitarwork and the sharp drum-driven tempo make “Fox on the Run” timeless. Sure, the harmonies and straight-ahead, powerful tempo give this away as a classic-era rock song, but it’s absolutely one worth maintaining on your personal playlist.

Another favorite of mine on this album is “New York Groove.” It’s a classic song that charted in the 1970s for both Hello and Ace Frehley. Its first appearance on a Sweet album was on 2012’s New York Connection. It has a bit of a funky rhythm and, to exceptionally cool effect, transitions in and out of Alicia Keys/Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind.” If you want to find a cool mash-up of classic and modern on Isolation Boulevard, “New York Groove” is your song, probably my very favorite on this record.

You know, this is Sweet, so I can’t really bash any of the songs on here, nor would I want to. Top to bottom, this is a kick-ass, newly recorded classic rock album. However, in addition to those I’ve already mentioned, there are some other tracks that stand out for me. I mean, you know these songs, so I’m not sure what my descriptions will add, but…

“Still Got the Rock”, the first single from Isolation Boulevard, has the cool syncopated drumming and rhythm in its bridge. “Love is Like Oxygen” has that soaring vocals, grounded by a crunchy guitar riff. “The Six Teens” is one of those cool, tense, storytelling rockers. The update of frantic, melodic speed rocker “Set Me Free” was also released as an Isolation Boulevard single; the fast-paced guitar noodling during its bridge is pretty cool. And “Teenage Rampage” is pure energetic, anthemic fun.

I’ve skipped a few songs that’ll, I’m sure, be someone else’s favorites. Seriously, this re-recording of Sweet faves doesn’t disappoint.

Looking Ahead

You can catch Sweet live in the coming months. The band will be undertaking a rather extensive UK tour from November 25th through December 20th, and you’ll find a smattering of 2022 dates currently scheduled in Germany from May through November. For more information on these performances and others, as they’re added, see the “Dates” page on Sweet’s website.

Single Review: Susan Gibson – “Compassionate Combat”

Susan Gibson – Compassionate Combat

image courtesy of Broken Jukebox Media

Single Review of Susan Gibson: “Compassionate Combat”

Susan Gibson released “Compassionate Combat” this past spring, in the middle of a spring surge of COVID-19. The single was released in conjunction with the Compassionate Combat website to help raise money and awareness to support nurses in thanks for their tremendous service during this pandemic.

I reviewed Susan’s last album, The Hard Stuff, here at the Blog last fall. As I discovered at the time, Susan is a celebrated songwriter with a deft touch at creating heartfelt, moving lyrics whose and a singer whose voice is exceptionally well-suited to delivering both the message and the emotion in her songs. “Compassionate Combat” is no exception. Musically, the song is softly instrumented, with soaring components supporting Susan’s heartfelt, emotional vocals.

Of course, Susan is an exceptional lyricist, and this ode to nurses during a time of crisis will warm hearts and jerk tears, from the verses to the chorus of “We ask so much of you. Leave your families and your homes for the work you gotta do. You are the miracle, the gift, pulling 18-hour shifts of compassionate combat. How do you thank someone for that?”

Whew! [sniff!] I’m not crying – you are.

“Compassionate Combat” was produced and engineered by Billy Crockett at his Blue Rock Studio in Wimberley, Texas. Billy is an exceptional singer/songwriter in his own right, widely revered for his talent as a musician, and his studio is a place where musicians and their talents are celebrated. Of course, regular Blog readers may recall a live Billy Crockett performance review and a review of Billy’s CD Rabbit Hole, both back in 2017.


I received this single back in March, and once I began to fall behind on reviews, I assumed the topic would no longer be timely by the time I got around to writing the review. Vaccine rollout was well underway, and appointments were hard to come by, as millions of vaccines were being administered each day. I anticipated that by this summer our hospitals would no longer be overrun. And, though vaccination rates are high and hospitals are not in a state of crisis here where I live, that is not true everywhere. I hope the next surge we see is that of vaccinations, so serious illness rates will decline and, in the vein of this song, our valiant nurses and other healthcare workers whose emergency rooms are still under siege will soon get some relief from their… compassionate combat.

Looking Ahead

Susan has a few performances scheduled in Texas this month – tonight, Friday, November 5th in LaGrange and nightly performances November 17th-20th in Austin, Fredericksburg, Santa Fe and New Braunfels – in addition to a women’s writing workshop on November 6th and 7th in New Braunfels. You can find additional details about these events and a January 14th show scheduled in Austin (and others, as they’re added) on the “tour” page of Susan’s website.

Album Review: Valerie Orth – Rabbit Hole

Valerie Orth

photo by Liz Maney; photo courtesy of Valerie Orth

Album Review of Valerie Orth: Rabbit Hole

Valerie Orth is one of our favorite music artists at the Blog. Longtime readers will already be familiar with Valerie’s talent from reading my review of her Fires and Overturned Cars anthology and my take on her subsequent Wake You EP.

Valerie Orth is a detail-oriented songwriter who pens memorable tunes. Her career has been a little genre-fluid, but I’d place her latest releases – the previous Wake You EP and the current Rabbit Hole LP – in the electronic pop category… with rock, R&B, and a plethora of other influences, in addition to life experience, serving as seasoning in her musical stew. On her website, Valerie describes herself as an “electro alt-pop singer, songwriter, producer, & feminist.” All clearly true. The press releases I’ve received for Rabbit Hole dub Valerie an “alt/cinematic dark pop songwriter,” and I suppose that fits her as well as any other description, especially in light of the music on her latest disc. The music on Rabbit Hole is memorable, complex, catchy, thoughtful, and often danceable.

Valerie Orth – Rabbit Hole

image courtesy of Valerie Orth

Album-opener and the album’s first single, “Rabbit Hole” combines rhythm and electronic flurry-based hooks with static, spots of mostly-empty audio space, and a catchy chorus to grab the listener’s attention and hold it throughout. This is the song you’re most likely to be hearing in your head days and weeks later. Well, it’s the one I do, at least. (Now, what’s this about sex robots? Is that available from Hammacher Schlemmer or SkyMall?)

Rabbit Hole is a great album to listen to in its entirety from beginning to end. It flows well together, and there’s a surprise around each corner. “99 Cent Dreams” feels musically like a funhouse mirror-filled meandering through the protagonist’s thoughts, dreams, hopes, and fears.

The spoken track “El Censo” leads the listener thoughtfully with an open mind into the politically-charged, current events pop number “I Believe We Will Win,” a song whose musical jerks left and right draw attention to the lyrics, including the raw hopefulness of the title phrase. Though the video of “I Believe We Will Win” is a standalone video, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the song presented sequentially with “El Censo” as the lead-in during an awards performance. Yes, I know, Valerie won’t be performing this on a televised awards show, but if I were choreographing such a show, that’s how I’d sequence it.

“Fight For Love” slows things down a bit, moving the album from a societal level to something very personal. The slow-build opening creates powerful tension, drawing us to its sequential, emotional story. If I were to direct a video for this, I’d blend the song’s military lyrical imagery (“fire one more weapon, shoot a bullet through my heart”) with a very intimate portrayal of a couple battling to work things out.

Valerie Orth

photo by Liz Maney; photo courtesy of Valerie Orth

“Done to Me” plunks along in a memorably catchy manner, using the space between the notes and the beats effectively to complement a vocal rhythm that stops, starts, and runs in a tense harmony with the beats, with occasional musical flourishes and a here-and-there dense static soundscape adding character.

“Gold to Dust” amps things up a bit, with a fun, uptempo chorus separating largely spoken-word verses. The back half of that catchy chorus – “maybe I could take a page from you; turn gold to dust the way you do; maybe then I’d be able to forget you, too” – tells you what this song’s about. And, yeah, you’ll be singing along within a couple listens.

“See Jane” is a short (0:53) between-song musically-backed spoken word bit featuring the words of Toni Morrison; it leads into “Limbo Love,” a beat-driven track using stutter-vocals, a vocal bridge that bounces back and forth in stereo, and catchy “everyone…” lyric sequences providing forward momentum and energy.

“Tourist in Nature” follows, a bit more of a standard-formatted song that would be one of the more radio-friendly songs on the album, one that would be just as engaging as a standalone number as within the context of Rabbit Hole. The beat churns along, ratcheting up the tension throughout this persistently-tempoed track. The song’s message? Yes, what you’d guess from its title. How did we get so separated from the outside, natural world?

The disc ends with Valerie’s original interpretation of Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman.” Valerie delivers a slow, deliberate version that creaks eerily and ominously, with a pulsing synth “heartbeat” thumping the song powerfully forward to its conclusion.

On her website, Valerie calls Rabbit Hole “the most experimental album I’ve ever written and produced,” and I’d posit that’s one of the things that makes Valerie such an elite artist. Bowie, Sting, Gaga. They take (or took) chances, try new things, experiment with sounds and styles. Those influences produce surprises, mostly (from an artistic perspective, at least) pleasant surprises. Musicians who are willing to push the envelope, trying new things, and grow present a life’s work that’s worth hearing beginning to end. Though she’s still quite young, with hopefully decades more of music-making in her future, I consider Valerie Orth to be one such artist, and I look forward to hearing what she creates next. I assume it won’t be what I expect, but I expect my life to be richer for having heard it. For now, I’m glad to have Rabbit Hole to tide me over until her next creation. I’d suggest you check it out yourself.

Single Review: Tia McGraff – “What If”

Tia McGraff – "What If"

image by Trespass Music; image courtesy of Tia McGraff

Single Review of Tia McGraff: “What If”

Tia McGraff is an accomplished singer and songwriter, and her single “What If” showcases some of those vocal and songwriting chops.

Tia McGraff

photo by Denise Grant; photo courtesy of Tia McGraff

Tia utilizes a slight rough edge on her otherwise smooth, rich, storytelling voice to amplify the emotional power of this heartfelt song. The music bed beneath is lush and flowing without being so full to overpower the vocals. And vocals and music combine to perfectly suit lyrics like: “There is a place where no one’s a stranger, and we can embrace each other like neighbors. I wanna go there, wanna take you there with me.”

“What If” is a flowing, enjoyable song that supports a powerful message of togetherness, love, and a better world. It’s a song that’ll wash over you if you let it. Give it a listen, and see how it makes you feel.


Single Review: Simon Scardanelli – “The Glittering Prize”

Simon Scardanelli – The Glittering Prize

image courtesy of Simon Scardanelli

Single Review of Simon Scardanelli: “The Glittering Prize”

It’s no secret we widely appreciate Simon Scardanelli‘s songwriting and performance skills here at the Blog. Well, this single, “The Glittering Prize,” ranks among my favorites.

The song opens with a whimsical, carnival-style noodling, and this sort of offbeat flavor extends throughout, keeping the listener a little off-balance, a frequently used stylistic element on some of Simon’s songs.

Paul Walker’s clarinet playing is frequently used to advance the story forward and/or transition between song parts, often moving the song in and out of the chorus.

Seeming to be a story about pursuit of “the glittering prize,” it’s up to the listener to decide whether this fun song is insightful or not, but the song itself forewarns: “If you want it here’s a word to the wise, don’t believe a thing I say. I’m full of contradictions and contrapuntal points of view, and every clever song you thought that I wrote is just a load of words on play. Look at me now, still rhyming them with you.” So seek insight herein at your own risk.

Regardless of context, musically “The Glittering Prize” is a fun addition to any playlist, either to march along with and dance to in the summer sun – Simon’s website dubs the song his “new summer single,” – or to hold onto the summer as the weather turns cold. (It took me so long to write this review, that’s pretty much your only choice right now, anyway.)

Looking Ahead

Though there are no future performances listed at the moment, the “Shows” page of Simon’s website is where you’ll find upcoming gigs, as they’re scheduled.

Album Review: Jimmy Lee Morris – Truth is the Talisman

Jimmy Lee Morris

photo courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

Album Review of Jimmy Lee Morris: Truth is the Talisman

You know how we feel about Jimmy Lee Morris here at the Blog. He’s a singer-songwriter with an identifiable sound, a voice that can range from smooth and soft to that of an edgy rocker, and an ability to write in a variety of styles and voices, melding influences ranging from the obvious folk to multiple subgenres of rock ‘n roll and at times a touch of the blues.

His Truth is the Talisman release is a collection of 20 songs, spanning 40 years of songwriting, recorded by Jimmy during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown. Album-opener “Moon Over Cairo” had its roots in 1980, while the title track is all 2020. The album itself was released in January 2021, so I’m a bit behind on sharing it with you, but please take a listen and enjoy. It’s an interesting trip, spanning a variety of times and influences, covering the many faces/voices of Jimmy Lee Morris.

Though I’ll skip around a bit and share thoughts on several of my favorite songs, there are no weak links on this album; you can depend on the quality of every track, with each of them potentially being one of your favorites.

Jimmy Lee Morris – Truth is the Talisman

image courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

Of course, the very first song, the aforementioned “Moon Over Cairo,” is one that’s particularly worth mentioning. It’s got an eerie, “Wicked Game”-ish opening, a compelling rhythm, and a delivery that pulls the listener in, as if revealing an important secret. With prominent pianowork augmenting – and occasional guitar noodling supporting – the relentless rhythm, this is a slower-tempoed rock song, recalling for me something you might hear from Peter Gabriel or Sting.

The title track, next, is more dead-center the sort of sonically-rich storyteller I’ve grown to expect from Jimmy. “Truth is the Talisman” is well-crafted, lyrically insightful, and thoughtfully delivered with a warm earnestness. As always, Jimmy sets a high bar for himself.

“Get Away” follows, a bit of a “travellin’ song,” lightly voiced, with a little faster tempo than the song before it but still motoring along at just a modest tempo, tossing in some neat little playful hooks and just a hint of psychedelic feedback.

Both musically and lyrically, “You’ll See It in Her Eyes” sounds like it could have been the lead song on the soundtrack of a ’70s movie about starcrossed lovers. The pianowork, guitar accents, and Jimmy’s voice all stoke the melancholy.

Jimmy Lee Morris

photo courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

“Atlantic Highway” has a light, Wilderness Wood-like classic Jimmy Lee Morris vibe, as best embodied on that disc by its title track and “Campervan Song.” “Atlantic Highway” is a cheerful number that’ll lift your spirits with lyrics like “Mr. Harrison said if you don’t know where you’re going, any road you chose to take will take you there. So let yourself go where the wind is blowing, and you will always find yourself somewhere.” In all, the song is laid back, with the purpose of having the listener grin along.

The rest of the disc falls within the parameters of the songs above, all centering around Jimmy’s trademark, central sound while continually exploring his various influences.

“Hold Me Close,” for example, is a sweet, soft, almost lullaby-tempo love song.

I’m also particularly fond of the broad, bright openness of “Giving It All Away,” a song that occasionally brings to mind a dash of John Mellencamp, both early on and in some of the in-song transitions, though the places it travels elsewhere in-between are more uniquely Jimmy Lee Morris.

“I’ve Been Sinking Down” is a versatile number that’s delivered with a bit of an off-balance vibe throughout and that, with some restructuring, I’d think could be performed in a variety of styles, befitting band formats ranging from a jug band to a blues outfit to anything in-between. In the case of Jimmy’s “original” version, it’s a toe-tappin’ strummer atop a low-level but solidly rich music bed. In its present form, it serves as a solid lead-in to “Someone Like You,” a mid-tempo guitar-rocker that leans on just a little distortion and a ’50s/’60s rock-inspired arrangement to augment its energy level.

Another favorite, “Tomorrow Is Too Late,” which follows “Someone Like You,” is similarly styled and keeps its predecessor’s energy going.

Also noteworthy is “Love Will Come Your Way,” a rich, warm, mid-tempo number whose smooth delivery makes it feel like you’re lying contentedly on a sunny patch of grass, despite the actual weather outside on any particular day.

The album’s penultimate track, “I Never Thought,” is a slower number, primarily with a rich, orchestral feel but with a few bluesy chords scattered throughout to provide its uniquely original character. Think slow-dance song at a big country-leaning dancehall.

Jimmy closes the disc with the raucous, rock ‘n roll “Hey Hey.” As if directly from a Happy Days sock hop or the Back to the Future “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance, if you didn’t know this was a Jimmy Lee Morris original, you could be convinced it’s a timeless rock ‘n roll classic. It’s a satisfying way to end the album.

And that’s it. I almost feel bad about skipping over some of the other songs on the disc, as they’ve become like old friends of mine during the last few months of listening, but they’re all along the lines of the songs I’ve written about above, with just enough variety to maintain interest, causing Truth is the Talisman to pass much quicker than you’d expect from a 20-song opus. It’s a solid disc, worthy of many. many listens, something that never surprises me from a Jimmy Lee Morris collection.

More From Jimmy Lee Morris

Jimmy has been busy since releasing Truth is the Talisman in January. In May, he released a four-song single featuring three additional tracks alongside “In the Diamond Rain”; and in August, he made available a nine-song LP entitled Homespun, which he notes on his Facebook page was recorded in 2007/08 with his late musical collaborator Andy Coote playing drums. As if that hasn’t kept him busy enough, he has branched out into some children’s book writing, as well.

Looking Ahead

There haven’t been any recent performances mentioned, but if and when Jimmy Lee Morris plays live, you can find those dates on the “Events” tab of his Facebook page.

Album Review: Space Cadet – Lion on a Leash

Space Cadet

photo courtesy of Earshot Media

Album Review of Space Cadet: Lion on a Leash (Wiretap Records)

The songs on Space Cadet‘s Lion on a Leash (available digitally and on vinyl) recall the jangly, energetic radio-friendly rock of Harvey Danger and Semisonic. Vocalist Matt Hock and guitarist David Walsh were two-fifths of punk rock outfit The Explosion, and a bit of that frantic punk energy can be found powering Space Cadet’s songs, as well. Within my personal music collection, the band whose sound most closely matches Space Cadet’s is Thought Beneath Film, whose 2014 release Cartographers preceded the launch of Geoff Wilbur’s Music Blog by just enough time that I never reviewed the album.

Space Cadet – Lion on a Leash

image courtesy of Earshot Media

Lion on a Leash kicks things off energetically with “Forever For a While.” Its vibe is laid-back despite its uptempo beat and bouts of “la la la la la la” lyrical whimsy that’ll engender an easy smile and a bit of desk-chair dancing.

Perhaps the catchiest track on the album – though there are many, so it’s open for debate – is “Start Running Away,” which features a powerful rhythm, a prominent repetitive hook, and a guitar solo by Brian Baker (Bad Religion/Minor Threat) that adds that extra touch of texture to turn the song’s journey into something truly special. To put it in terms American Bandstand fans might understand: I’d give in an 85. It’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it.

“If Only” is next, with a lush, grainy rock ‘n roll music bed atop an enticing, drum-led rhythm, while “No Accident” follows, guided by a more purposeful beat, a mainstream ’60s rock guitar buzz – with the music opening a bit for the beginning of the chorus – and a neat little bit of meandering guitar for a closing.

The tempo picks up again on “Scream for You,” sporting a catchy guitar hook and a bit of “hey, hey” lyric to grab the listener’s ear. This is a dancefloor-filler or, alternately, in a concert setting, the sort of song that’ll get the audience jumping up and down and encourage even those who’re hearing the song for the first time to join in on the aforementioned “hey hey” and the fun, singalong-worthy “the enemy’s on the inside” lyrics. I very much dig this tune.

There’s a bit of a sharper edge on “Bad Luck.” I could hear anyone from The Romantics to the J. Giels Band performing a version of this song.

“Safe and Sound” follows with one of the biggest jangly hooks on the record, a bit of a distorted, even-tempoed, storytelling suburban anthem.

“Lose Control” picks the energy back and’ll get the concert crowd moving once again. It’s followed by album-closer “Slö,” a mostly-instrumental track with some nice instrumentation mixed behind a heavy, lush wall of power-alt-rock sound. It’s hard to think of a better way to close this catchy, updated-throwback-’90s rock record.


Dig the catchy, jangly, punk-inspired, updated ’90s pop-rock Space Cadet delivers on Lion on a Leash. Pick hits would be “Forever For a While,” “Scream for You,” and “Safe and Sound,” plus “Start Running Away,” which is notable also for its guitar solo by Brian Baker (Bad Religion/Minor Threat), who appears on the track. It’s strong beginning to end, though, so you may find your own favorites.

Album Review: Popa Chubby – Tinfoil Hat

Popa Chubby

photo courtesy of Frank Roszak Promotions

Album Review of Popa Chubby: Tinfoil Hat

A couple years ago I shared the awesomeness that is a Popa Chubby live performance. Well, there ain’t nothin’ like one of his records, too. Popa Chubby is a one-of-a-kind blues cat, and to those who like their blues guitar-driven and rockin’, he’s one of the elite.

This newest album, Tinfoil Hat, is an ode to that weird year that was 2020, including those bits that have continued in 2021. It’s a folk-in-the-style-of-blues protest album. As Popa Chubby states in the album-ending number, “1968 Again,” “It’s 1968 all over again.” In the context of that song, he’s drawing comparisons between this past year of civil rights marches, protests, and loony politicians and the events of that sizzling, raw ’60s summer of change. In that vein, this album, Tinfoil Hat, is mostly one long, groovin’, bluesy protest album.

To kick things off, if you’re in-line with his pro-vax, pro-mask, pro-civil rights, anti-Trump viewpoint, you’ll find this album a rollicking, rousing musical protest romp. On the other hand, if you differ with Popa Chubby on one of those issues, you’ll have to choose your songs carefully. And if you differ on all of them, well, there are still three or four songs you’ll totally dig, but you’ll want to skip the rest.

I’ll actually kick off with those tracks (so you can skip the rest of the review if it’s likely to rile you up).

Popa Chubby – Tinfoil Hat

image courtesy of Frank Roszak Promotions

“Embees Song” is a bluesy crooning love song. Sweet, soulful, and rough around the edges. “I want to know that you want me, baby. Every morning you drive me crazy when you make my coffee and you shake it for me.” There’s a reason bluesy-growled love songs are the best. You can feel the heart in every gruff, emotionally-wailed lyric.

The instrumental “Boogie for Tony,” of course, with its lack of lyrics, falls into this everyone’ll-love-it grouping. The energetic number is reminiscent of the sorts of tuneful, melodic, high-octane instrumentals you’ll often find on Bob Malone’s rockin’ blues albums except, of course, that Bob’s are piano-driven while Popa Chubby’s instrumentals are guitar-powered. Doesn’t matter that it’s an instrumental, though; it’s so catchy you’ll soon find yourself “singing along.”

“Someday Soon (A Change is Gonna Come)” has an implied message in the context of the album, but as a standalone song, you can just rock to it, with its guitar runs and the occasional variance from its even-keel vocal sitting atop a churning, steady blues rhythm.

And, again if taken outside the context of the album, “Can I Call You My Friends” is an anthemic number that you can also just rock to. (Of course, the accompanying music video will quickly disabuse you of that notion.) The militarily rhythmic tempo builds as the lyrics intensify, and there’s some very cool guitar noodling in the bridges. This is one of the songs on Tinfoil Hat most likely to get stuck in your head.

Several of the songs are about COVID-19, particularly complaining about those who refuse the vaccine and/or who refuse to wear masks. Kicking things off is a song for anyone who doesn’t traffic in conspiracy theories – for those who cringe when they hear the term “do your own research.” The disc-opening title track, “Tinfoil Hat,” is a current events-driven blues-rocker mockin’ the crazies.

“Baby Put on Your Mask” gets the pro-masking point across with lyrics that, for example, rhyme “don’t make me spank that ass” with “baby, put on your mask.” Not exactly Robert Frost or, for a more recent reference, Amanda Gorman, but clever and effective.

“Another Day in Hell” is a heavy, slow-paced guitar rocker that could pass for a song solely about those who make our lives miserable at any time, if not for the opening reference to mask-refusing COVID deniers, though a deeper dig suggests it is, at its core, a reference to the monotony of remaining isolated during the height of the pandemic.

The reggae-infused “Cognitive Dissonance” is a very cool musical change of pace, one that, among other things, highlights the disparity of impact upon different segments of the population during the pandemic and the deference to the economy at the expense of human lives, including lyrics like “humans expendable, testing undependable” and “you say ‘my body, my choice,’ but a mask has no voice.”

Civil rights, which for most of the past year-plus has primarily revolved around addressing the disproportionately violent police response to minorities in the U.S., forms the basis of “No Justice No Peace,” reflecting the famous rallying cry. The song is driven by a heavy wall of sound and a plodding, undeniably forward-moving pace. Lyrically, the song can be summed up by its own lyrics, “You can’t turn the guns on your citizens and expect them to comply. It’s America, and the people say, ‘No more black men die.'” There’s also a long, shredding, wailing guitar solo that runs through the song’s midpoint that encompasses the full spectrum of anguish better than any vocal could. For this particular topic, “No Justice No Peace” is an exceptionally suitable, compelling, well-constructed, angry protest song.

“You Ain’t Said Shit” is a bluesy protest number with a catchy recurring guitar hook, and it’s quite obviously about a certain recent ex-president. And if you don’t catch on from early lyrics like, “Why don’t you just shut your mouth. You don’t know what you’re talking about. You got the best words, but you know that you ain’t said shit,” it becomes increasingly obvious as the song goes on with references to “stable genius” and, at the very end, “covfefe.”

I know I’ve taken the songs out of order. The disc-ender is actually “1968 Again,” which is an astute choice for tying together this collection of songs. Tinfoil Hat is the sort of top-shelf rockin’ blues you’d expect from Popa Chubby. It strays a bit farther from blues than usual in spots, with homages to the folky protest songs from a half-century ago and topical references to the last year – year and a half, actually, by the time I’ve finally written this review. Your enjoyment of this disc will depend upon whether or not you agree with Popa Chubby’s politics, but his position is very clear, as is (as always) his musical and songwriting talent.

Looking Ahead

You can catch Popa Chubby live at a variety of dates and locations. He has shows in the northeast U.S. (NY, NJ, PA, MA, RI, MD) in November December, and on January 1st. He’ll be in Brussels on FJanuary 19th and then will tour around France for the rest of the month. In February 2022, you can catch a few Florida dates. And in May 2022, he has a tour of Germany scheduled, with an opening date in Rubigen, Switzerland. Find additional details about these tour dates (and others, as they’re announced) on the “Tour” page of his website.