EP Review: Hobo Chang – Clockwork Monster

Hobo Chang

photo by Rob Watts; photo courtesy of Hobo Chang

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

EP Review of Hobo Chang: Clockwork Monster

Hobo Chang, a band from North East Essex in the UK, are releasing a new EP on the 29th November. When I reviewed their previous album, Beast in 2017, I summed it up as a “hypnotic and swirling sonic landscape with a vaguely disturbing mood.”

This new EP continues in the same vein. Apocalyptic, bedsit rock with a heavy dark melancholy hanging over it, like a psychedelic, indie shroud.

Hobo Chang - Clockwork Monster

image courtesy of Hobo Chang

The songs, “Clockwork Monster,” “Nightcrawler,” “Borrowed Time,” and “Where is Your God Now,” are four tracks of intense, moody prog rock in the trademark style you would expect from the band.

No one song stands taller than another, instead they all co-exist, increasing in their dark mass, like the gravitational pull of a black hole.

If you are a fan of Hobo Chang and the music they produce then you will be extremely happy to once again be immersed in the darkness of this new music which carries all their signature, experimental, musical hallmarks.

Keep up to date with the band on social media or on their website: Facebook @hobochang; www.hobochang.co.uk; hobochang.bandcamp.com

Album Review: Norwood – Lizzy White Doesn’t Give a Fuck

Norwood band photo

photo courtesy of Norwood

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Norwood: Lizzy White Doesn’t Give a Fuck

Norwood album cover

image courtesy of Norwood

Norwood’s new album, Lizzy White Doesn’t Give A Fuck, is the follow up to their 2016 album Notes to My Blood. It finds the band once again presenting fast, wordy, personally observational and quirky songs. If you haven’t heard them before and need a reference, then think indie REM meets They Might Be Giants.

Enjoyably put together with an underlying acoustic vibe enhanced by appropriately layered instrumentation. Whether it’s the violin that bows its way throughout the album or the brass on songs like “Against the Grain,” it all adds to the uplifting, unique, joyous feel of the album.

Norwood band photo

photo courtesy of Norwood

Don’t be fooled, though. On the surface it all sounds upbeat and fun, and this bright and breezy feel could easily be more than enough reason to enjoy the album. But listen harder and you can dig down to discover more of what is going on in the twisting and turning of the lyrics. The songs’ themes are refreshingly original and dripping with enough enigmatic quandary to make you really think, which is very appealing and rewarding in an often trite and cliched musical world.

Norwood band photo

photo courtesy of Norwood

If this album is your starting point for this band, then it is a great one for starters, but I would also recommend you go and discover their previous album, Notes to my Blood, as the two complement each other like cheeky, wry, indie, musical bookends.

The band have a gig coming up in Bellmore, NY on November 5th at KJ Farrell’s Bar and Grill, 242 Pettit Ave., from 7:30pm. You can find this information on the “Upcoming Shows” page of the band’s website.

Engage with the band on social media: https://www.facebook.com/norwoodtunes/ and https://www.instagram.com/norwoodband/.

Album Review: Simon Scardanelli – The Rock, the Sea, the Rising Tide

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Simon Scardanelli: The Rock, the Sea, the Rising Tide

Simon Scardanelli has a new album release on September 6th. The Rock, the Sea, the Rising Tide is a mature and contemplative listen. Simon takes on the mantle of the balladeer, a storytelling troubadour, regaling us with intriguing tales of high seas and adventure, darkness and human frailty, global catastrophe and personal doubt.

This is a carefully considered body of work. Acoustically styled, guitar picked songs with a sparse balance of additional instruments. The occasional use of violin, cello, recorders, and cumbus, round out each song perfectly.

There is a dark theme of human fragility through the album; it’s like a bleak but majestic windswept moor, or like standing on a wild cliff edge gazing over a brooding misty sea. You listen with suspense, transported by the haunting stories within each song. The narrative of his songs is something Simon has always taken great care with, and the poetry, imagination, and imagery that shines through this album shows how much enjoyment he had in writing them.

The album opens with “The Ballad of Jago Trelawney,” the story of a Cornish tin miner summoned into navy service for his country, which ends in a tragic sea battle. Based around a fictional character, the events it describes are from an actual battle that took place in 1793 between the ships English Nymph and the French Cleopatra. It’s from the chorus of this song that the album takes its name.

The album is full of imagined and real-life experiences that Simon has woven into an intriguing and rewarding musical landscape. The perils and mysteries of the ocean continue in the unfolding tales “The Cold Green Sea” and “Pearly Diving Sea,” leading to the only instrumental in this collection. “Becalmed” provides a moment to reflect before the wind once again whips us on to the lightly picked and beautifully haunting “Different.”

The next track is the most personal and introspective song on the album. “Patience” steps away, for a moment, from the more enigmatic storytelling and provides a more direct insight into the writer’s own creative world and, dare I say, insecurities.

Next up is “Human Nature – the Cry.” “Human Nature” was the first single from the album and is a clear warning of the climate change disaster that threatens the planet we live on and the arrogant disregard a particular world leader pays to the threat. It’s a spartan and compelling listen. Complexity disguised with chameleon simplicity with a depth of thought behind every carefully chosen word and guitar phrase.

More human vulnerability and oracular observation are brought forth in “A Simple Case of Time” and “Star City,” which has quirkier feel but remains moodily within the album’s sense of positive desolation.

Before we reach the album’s conclusion, Simon sings touchingly and illustratively on “Requiem for the City of New York,” which is a reflective backward glance at a city he once lived in.

Finally, there is an alternate version of “Human Nature – the Lament.” It is less strident and angry than the single version. It’s sadder and more resigned, and this presents the song in a very different light, which provides a fitting end to this thought-provoking album.

Once again Simon has produced an album uncompromisingly his own. Different from all that has come before and no doubt from what he will do next. This is no fashion-following attempt to please anyone but himself. As he sings in the song “Patience,” “Jumping on a bandwagon seems to be the next big thing.” Never so for Simon Scardanelli, and in following his heart, he has made an album of bleak majesty which pulls its listener deep under crashing waves to the ethereal realm that lies beneath their cacophony. A place of quiet solemnity, where you have space to ponder and unravel these modern folk chronicles as they are spun out before you in sparse but richly delivered song.

You can read more of what Simon had to say about his new album in a recent interview I did with him here.

Keep up-to-date with his news and live shows through his website www.scardanelli.com or on social media: Twitter: @scardo; Facebook: @SimonScardanelliMusic.

Interview with Simon Scardanelli

Simon Scardanelli

photo courtesy of Simon Scardanelli

An insightful interview with the highly creative and much undervalued singer and songwriter Simon Scardanelli

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Singer and guitarist Simon Scardanelli has released many creatively successful albums, singles, and EPs since his initial chart success in the late ’80s with the duo Big Bam Boo. Following the U.S. top 40 hit “Shooting From My Heart” in 1989, Simon relocated from London to New York where he lived, worked and recorded for a few years in the underbelly of New York’s Lower East Side. His darkly challenging album Death Row Tales in 1994 bears testament to that dark and dangerous lifestyle. Since then he released 4 albums and 3 EPs, all embracing different aspects and genres of his musical passion.

Now spending most of his time living in France, he has spent the past few months busily making a new album, his first in three years. The Rock, the Sea, the Rising Tide will be released in September, and I tracked him down to his bespoke studio tucked away in beautiful Brittany in France where he kindly agreed to answer a few questions about it.

Q. Your last album, Make Us Happy, was released three years ago in 2016. Have you spent that time writing new material with the goal of making an album, or do you sit down and write the album once you have decided to make one?

Simon: The plan was to record and release a follow-up much sooner, but building the studio here in Brittany took much longer than expected. It was quite frustrating to be in this beautifully inspiring area but have no way to record, until I’d got my hands really dirty and finished the studio. I was writing all this time – I do tend to be always writing, or at least sketching and laying down ideas on my iPad or phone, but I was itching to get into the studio and record them. The studio was completed in October 2018, and I started work on the album I guess around November.

Q. How many songs would you typically write whilst making a new album and do you find yourself being very critical of what you write, to the extent that maybe there are songs you recorded that you have left off?

Simon: What tends to happen is I have a lot (tens, probably more) of basic sketches, some more complete than others. Then a few will start to emerge as definite contenders. Around these I’ll start to form an idea for the overall shape of an album. The album started out with the title Wood Amongst the Trees, but I’d already sketched the title The Rock, the Sea, the Rising Tide as a possible song title in a separate thread of my sketches, intending that for a different album. Then as the songs started to emerge I realised the themes were pushing me towards The Rock, the Sea, the Rising Tide, so I shelved the Wood album ideas and started to look for the rest of the songs for this album. Yes, I’m super-critical of what I write! Much gets thrown away – or at least stored in folders called “song ideas” by year, such that I have countless possibilities to go back over, which I do from time to time. Occasionally I’ll dig into these archives and pull something out that I complete. My last single, “Human Nature,” was one of these that had been sitting on file for at least a year or more – not lyrically, just the guitar shapes and song melody. As to leaving off songs that are completed: not often really, as I find the process of completing the song in the first place pretty well determines whether it’s going to make the album. So if a song is not coming up to scratch, it doesn’t get finished. At that point I should throw it away… but it ends up in an “ideas” folder anyway. There was one complete song that didn’t make this album, though it was intended to be included – when I came to sequence the songs, I simply couldn’t fit this in. Thematically it was wrong. It’s a song called “Mary’s Home,” about a woman I met when I was in my 20s who’d spent most of her adult life in an asylum, and was child-like at 45, working as a cleaner in a cafe I worked in briefly. When all the songs were completed this one really didn’t fit. Not sure if I’ll release it or put it on another album. We’ll see. Also the single “Without You,” from the end of 2018, was originally meant to be on this album, but that was from the Wood Amongst the Trees mindset, and again, I didn’t really feel it belonged on this album. I’ve been playing it a lot live and actually want to re-record it as there’s a tiny error in the middle 8 lyric that bugs me, and I think it’s benefited (as most songs do) from being performed a lot. So it may end up on an album called Wood Amongst the Trees, or I may scrap that concept altogether and include this on a different album. There’s also the possibility that I re-record it with musicians in a different style; I never know…

Simon Scardanelli

photo courtesy of Simon Scardanelli

Q. After recording the songs how much do you have to listen and live with the tracks until you’re finally happy to release them, and do you ever listen back to your old albums and enjoy them, or do you hear all the things you wish, in hindsight, you had done to them?

Simon: Oh blimey that’s a can of worms! For this album I was trying to keep everything very live and spontaneous. I didn’t want a big production – Make Us Happy wasn’t a “big” production, but it had different forces and was definitely a project that took some serious mixing and editing, arranging etc. Most of that album had percussionist Javier Forero playing cajón, so I recorded that first with a guide, sometimes final, acoustic guitar part, then built everything around that. So violins, saxophone, clarinet, accordion, etc. were all added one by one, and that meant I could do several takes of each instrument, then compile the best takes. It also meant that I could really take time getting the vocal takes I wanted. The new album, however, I recorded mostly in one takes – vocal and guitar together. And this ended up giving me a completely different set of problems, ones that ended up being every bit as challenging as the multi-track approach. So my original idea, to quickly lay down an acoustic one-take album, went out of the window very quickly! I had to make some serious compromises. Firstly, I was playing every song finger style, something I’d been drawn back to these past couple of years – I studied classical guitar in the ’80s but hadn’t used finger style much in the intervening years. Now playing finger style and singing at the same time is – for me, at least – not as comfortable as plectrum playing. Or, at least, I had to re-learn how to do this. So as I was writing I was also exploring techniques – “Human Nature – the Cry,” for example, is an arpeggio (p.i.m.a. for those who play classical; I’ve written the score and it is available!) played throughout the entire song, and a couple of the shapes are a bit tricky to manage – and my engineering and producer head shouted at me whenever I misplayed or crashed a finger on a string, or let the wrong string ring, etc., etc. So I had ongoing battles between perfection and performance at every take. On top of that, when you’re doing loads of takes to try and get the playing exactly right and perfectly in time – can’t click-track this kind of thing – there’s often an engineering problem; you move a few inches to the left and go off mic, or the guitar develops a buzz (this happened to my lovely Furch, un-beknown to me the under-floor heating that I thought was so clever to install in the control room dried out the Furch sitting on a floor stand…) Add to that the necessity to get a great vocal at the same time and – well, it was to say the least a very frustrating process. In fact “Human Nature – the Cry” led to bleeding fingers on my right hand as I played the arpeggio over and over for three days to get it right… ah, so that’s why classical guitars have nylon strings!

So listen and live with the tracks? Yes, and try not to be so OCD about sound quality or timing issues or mis-fingerings, etc. The song “Different” caused me real heartache! So the original almost-demo version I laid down was in my view the best I’d ever sung it. The falsetto voice in the choruses had exactly the fragility I wanted. But some of the verses weren’t great. For a couple of weeks I’d record another version and then leave it a day or two to compare. Always came back to the very flawed first take. But I knew I simply couldn’t get away with it. So eventually managed to re-record a version I was happy with – performance-wise – only to find that the final chorus was really distorted on the guitar mic. The guitar part throughout is very delicate, and I’d obviously set the input level to suit that. But with no possibility to adjust it when I got to the end (the perils of working solo), there was a very limited amount of headroom to play with, and I crashed through that. In the end I had to live with it.

I don’t tend to listen to old albums, though when I do hear tracks I’m usually just about OK with the result from that distance, with the exception of the Dr. Scardo album Dark Dog Days; I hate the sound of that album. I was working in a leased studio (before I built my studio in the back garden) that had the worst control room ever, and I tried to compensate for so much, ended up over-compressing and distorting much of the album. I keep saying I’ll re-mix and master it, but it’s such a big job I probably won’t; I tend to want to move forward always and not dwell on past recordings.

Q. You write, record, and produce your music in your own custom studio. Do you like the autonomy of working this way, or would you like to work with a producer who would take some of the creative decisions for you? I think I am right to say that the last time you were produced by someone else was back in your Big Bam Boo days (for the uninitiated, check out the 1989 album Fun Faith and Fairplay),although you did have others working with you on the recording, mix and mastering of your acoustic album Hobohemia in 2005.

Simon: Well, I’d absolutely love to have a producer or an engineer work with me! But the reality of being an independent self-releasing artist is that there is simply no money for that. In the “old days,” signed to a label, a well-rehearsed band could put an album together in weeks with the right team. And certainly sharing some of the creative decision-making would take the album in different ways and could be rewarding. However, I do like the autonomy, of course. I’m not trying to either “get a deal” – or compete with anyone with my artistic output. So I’ve no “sound” to mimic or achieve in order to satisfy some vague industry trend or standard. In fact, I think music has become so commodified and coded that as an independent artist I feel an obligation to do exactly what I want, even to the point of it not appealing to mass media. I’ve learned to make records (let’s call them that – they are a record, a document of artistic statement of a particular time, not a product to be foisted upon a gullible public!) that satisfy, or at least attempt to satisfy, my artistic development. The popular song format has been around a very long time, and my duty as an artist is to try and stretch it, build upon the format, just a little. Not revolutionary, just evolutionary. Trying to dig into the genre and dig into my inner musician to see if I can add something to the cannon.

Hobohemia was interesting in the making in that I hadn’t recorded for many, many years. In fact, I was rather out of voice at the time and had only just started playing live again. So whilst I had an engineer at the studio, it was pretty well straight takes. I called in my friend Richard Mainwaring (producer of the first Big Bam Boo album, with a very fine set of ears!) to help me master it in my then-damp, dark studio basement, and that was really helpful. However, going back to your earlier question, I cannot listen to that album at all! For me the voice is strained and restricted. I was an emotional wreck at the time, going through divorce, becoming a single parent, etc., and it shows. When asked at gigs which album they should buy, I tend to steer people away from that one, even though my attic has plenty of stock that I should be shifting! I always feel that they may be disappointed by it, having seen me live currently. But then again, plenty who do buy it tell me they love it so… what does the artist know? Nothing!

Q. Your new album is an acoustic, solo affair. This is only the second time you have made a whole album like that. As I mentioned, Hobohemia was your previous acoustic album, and it includes one of your most popular songs “Fish Out Of Water.” Did that have any influence on your decision to make the new album, or is there a particular story and theme behind the new album that made you think it should be recorded in an acoustic style? I believe you recorded the songs in live takes. Did that present you with any particular difficulties?

Simon: Well, yes, difficulties I’ve already spoken about, and in future if I record this way I probably will take the songs out live for a time first to really know them and break them in. I think there may have been a small influence of the Hobohemia legacy that made me want to do a totally acoustic album, but mainly it was that here in France, where I’ve lived for a couple of years now, my audiences are mostly real listening audiences. It’s the reception I get here that encouraged me to write songs that were less “in your face” than before. So songs like “Patience” or “Requiem,” from the new album, go down really well here, even though not everyone understands the lyrics to any real extent, but they do seem to get the overall emotional story. And that is an interesting situation for me, as I began my songwriting career as a 16 year old trying to write interesting, lyrical, and not very commercial songs in my various bedsits and hippy camps! Some time around the ’80s I must have decided that I needed a “record deal,” and that’s when the art took second place, I think. So, in a way, being here is a return to an artistic sensibility not based on any commercial considerations. I’m pretty sure I can say that I wouldn’t have written most of this album had I still been in the UK and trying to gig there.

Q. Do you think in the future you may return to a full band sound like you had on Make Us Happy, or would you even consider working collaboratively with musicians in a band as you did in 2013 on your Dr. Scardo album Dark Dog Days? What are the pros and cons of working these ways and in the end do you actually prefer working alone?

Simon: Definitely planning a follow up to Make Us Happy; I’ve wanted to for a while. It may be called Makes Us Mad, as the political situation worldwide continues to deteriorate and distress me. I have started collecting musicians I feel would work for this next ensemble piece. I want to see if I could get a near-full Breton musician line-up. So that’s probably my next move. There are sketches in a folder, and of course the studio is ready. Biggest problem here is everyone lives 50 kilometres away from anything. So getting disparate forces together the way I could in Brighton in the UK is a far harder task. But, fortunately, most of the musicians I’ve met are keen to be involved in anything challenging and new, so that’ll happen eventually.

I’ve also just this week had a visit from an old friend from my Berlin and New York days, who has been living back in Australia these past 5 years. I last saw him in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he was living, designing sets for the Kirov Ballet. We did a couple of great shows there with his band. He’s putting a really exciting audio-visual project together, and it looks as if I’ll get involved. It’ll be a live show over three days in a theatre in Edinburgh next year, not available as a recording, but as a video eventually. Something big and noisy and completely uncompromisingly art-rock! As to a rock outfit like Dr. Scardo, probably not, but I did recently meet a piano player and rhythm section at a “boef” (a jam session) in Dinan, and we promised we’d try and get together and do something. I’m keen to try a sort of piano trio with guitar outfit in a cabaret type of setting, sort of louche and slightly decadent. Funny enough a few of my songs will work as they are with a piano backing. We’ll see!

Q. After over 30 years of writing songs do you feel more creatively equipped and inspired now than in the past, and do you continue to strive to find words and music to illustrate your songs that stand out from the ordinary and contrived songwriting, that could be said to be widespread these days? Is it possible that this laudable attribute in making your songs as interesting and challenging as you can could somehow mean people find it hard to pigeon hole your style? This is probably a good thing anyway, isn’t it? I mean, after all, great songs are exactly that, whatever their style or genre, and who wants to ruled by what people expect you to do or sound like? Has it held you back, or are you past caring?

Simon: More equipped, definitely. Inspired, too, but it is always hard work, my cliché-o-meter works overtime. Certainly that means I’m not pigeonholed, but it makes following my own path harder, and whilst musicians now have the means of production, the sheer volume of noise out there makes it very difficult to be heard. As to being held back or whatever, I really don’t know. I’m not good at self-promotion. I used to be way back in London in the ’80s when I was flogging my various bands, but now I really don’t know how to do all that stuff, so I’m not past caring, but I am really more interested in spending my time creating works of beauty.

Q. Once the album is released in September, what do you plan to do next?

Simon: I’m already planning the next projects as I’ve said, Breton musicians, cabaret quartet, and Edinburgh project – no doubt something else will come up, too, that may distract me from all or any of these projects. The important thing is to be always creating, always writing. I intend to also spend my time booking shows here in France, build up my network of musicians for my own projects, and possibly get involved in others.

So after a thoroughly enjoyable, insightful and enlightening conversation with Simon in his lovely French countryside studio I thanked him kindly and wished him well before heading off to listen to my copy of his new album which I shall enjoy reviewing for you next month.

Single Review: Chris Ruediger – “Country at Heart”

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Chris Ruediger: “Country at Heart”

If you are blessed with the talent to write and sing music, it often helps if what you do fits snugly into a musical genre. If you are going to choose a genre to perform in (if indeed you have the choice, it may just be in your blood), then country music is certainly a massive scene to be part of. It’s hard to be groundbreaking in such an established and competitive market but there is a level of quality to aim for, a high water mark of achievement. Not everyone can be that lucky, but it just may be that Chris Ruediger has the talent to reach that goal.

Chris Ruediger - Country at Heart

photo courtesy of Off the Stage Music

I would certainly say that Chris Ruediger’s latest single “Country at Heart” has the potential to be right up there with the country music mainstream. He seems to have a natural and easygoing ability to put a song across, and the song itself has a classic but contemporary feel, a pleasant memorable melody, and I expect for many country music fans, a lyric that they can relate to. Like he says in the song, “I’ve always had this in me from the start, I’m country at heart.” His rich voice belies his 19 years of age, and having listened to his previous singles, I would say this latest one is his strongest to date. There is an increasing maturity to his writing, and this song is a tour de force of classic country pop. A coming together of all the right musical ingredients to make it easily his best yet.

It was recorded at the legendary Sound Emporium in Nashville, written by Chris Ruediger and produced by Off the Stage Music‘s Nina Pickell. It was recorded in the room where “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” and countless other hits have been recorded over the years.

Chris Ruediger

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Chris would appear to be something of a rising star having been nominated for the 2018 New England Music Awards in the Male Performer of the Year and Country Act of the Year categories as well as a nomination for Country Act of the Year 2018 by the Boston Music Awards. Things look like they are heading in a positive direction for Chris Ruediger, and it is exciting to hear that he is working on a bigger project to be released in 2019.

You can catch Chris live in Nashville on Thursday 7th February from 8.30 pm at Frisky Frogs or at Belcourt Taps on Thursday 14th February from 6 pm.

Keep up to date with his music and live shows through his social media and website, chrisruediger.com, or on Facebook and Instagram.

Looking Back

For more about Chris Ruediger, you can also read publisher Geoff Wilbur’s review of Chris’ 2017 EP, Secrets.

Single Review: Open Strum – “Wildfire”

photo by Krista Powers; photo courtesy of Michel Goguen/Open Strum

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Open Strum: “Wildfire”

This new track from Open Strum is a breezy, light and open-ended song. On this single, Open Strum comprise of Michel Goguen, Frank Goguen, and George Belliveau. When you listen to more of the Open Strum back catalogue, you appreciate just how diverse they can be. A range of styles from ambient acoustic through to funky electronic.

photo by Nancy Boudreau; photo courtesy of Michel Goguen/Open Strum

“Wildfire” is at the mature poppier end of the scale with a style that is engaging and warm. A drum beat ushers in rich harmony vocals and jangly Byrds-type electric guitars which lead you into a very easy going, bright and highly listenable track. There are some subtle and lovely touches on the mandolin, and the airy production allows the track to shine. It’s a refreshing and gripping 2:39 in length, and whilst the listen is short it absolutely soars, particularly into the uplifting choruses. When the song ends, it feels like it could just be a lull before crashing into some thunderous solo and carrying on for another couple of minutes. However, its simple brevity actually works really well, leaving you ready to go again, time after time.

For those who like a hook to hang it on, I would say that it immediately struck me as an Eagles groove with a Jackson Browne twist.

Check this one out, and then go explore more of Open Strum’s work. You can find them at www.openstrum.com

They will be heading back into the studio, so not much time to head out and play live. But if you plan ahead then you can see them play on June 8th 2019 in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada to kick off next year’s “Music for Critters” fundraiser to help out animal shelters and rescues.

Album Review: Dan Israel – You’re Free

Dan Israel

photo by Steven Cohen; photo courtesy of Dan Israel

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Dan Israel: You’re Free

You’re Free is the new album from Dan Israel, released May 2018.

Dan is a talented singer songwriter with 14 albums behind him; You’re Free is number 14. On this album he sings and plays guitars and is joined by a host of great musicians and singers all bringing an array of musical strengths to his interesting and foot tapping songs.

The songs are mostly about the personal, political and cultural crises that he finds in the world today. In Dan’s own words, “Few of the songs offer explicitly political messages, but many are colored by frustration, anger, and concern over the political situation, environmental degradation, and the alienation that often accompanies our reliance on social media.”

Dan Israel - You're Free

image courtesy of Dan Israel

These inspirations have led Dan to create 11 highly accomplished songs, and whilst you may think the dire state of the world these days would lead to a maudlin bunch of tunes, you would be wrong. There is a jaunty juxtaposition to the songs. Serious matters couched in upbeat musical moods. He certainly has a knack for tuneful, contemplative rock.

The production is also rich and creates a very listenable montage of musical layers. A good mix of jangly guitars and keyboards with tasteful additions of the occasional violin, steel guitar, trumpet, piano and percussion. The sonics match the high quality of the songs. I can’t not draw comparison to Tom Petty as Dan’s voice has similar qualities, and the Americana rock vibe is familiar albeit still fresh to listen to. He has brought his own style to what is a well-trodden musical path, and the music is comfortable but contemporary. Lyrically, too, I am glad to say that he doesn’t fall into cliche, and the words are well though-out and engaging.

His musical influences shine through but don’t drown him out. There are flashes of Dylan and Petty and also, interestingly, I found myself hearing bluesy Stones vibes, especially on the acoustic slide guitar groove “Porch Storm” that ends the album. A similar vibe comes through on “Long Gone Dream” and “Soul Will Be Found,” which have a bluesy retro feel, kind of Canned Heat and Beggars Banquet-period Stones.

Dan Israel, Minneapolis 2018

photo by Steven Cohen; photo courtesy of Dan Israel

The album starts a little downbeat with “Gets You Through It” but is sent hurtling on with track 2, “You’re Free.” I always question whether it’s useful to start making comparisons to other artists. Not sure it’s very fair on the reviewee, but on the flip side it is handy for readers to get a feel for whether they will like the albums based on their own musical tastes. So I’m going with the comparison route, and with that in mind I would say that the title track is very Traveling Wilburys, and that can only be a good thing.

There are nice twists on the next song, “Back To You,” with the introduction of violin and a female backing vocal alongside the main voice. Also some lovely Springsteen-esque organ playing and a bright guitar solo.

“Make This Life Mine” and “Stay on the Run” are softer and bring a beautiful acoustic shade to the album, whilst “Feeling Better” and “If I Didn’t Have You” are back in the Tom Petty groove.

It’s always brilliant to discover an album of music that you dig. Quite out of the blue, I am very lucky to have been introduced to Dan Israel and look forward to continuing listens to this excellent album.

The album is available on LP, CD, and for download. You can find out more on Dan’s website, www.danisraelmusic.com.

Looking Ahead

He is a busy performer, and if you want to keep up to date with his live shows, you should keep an eye on the website, but in the meantime he can be found in June playing the following dates:

Thursday, June 14: Dan plays solo in downtown Minneapolis at 333 South 7th Street, a free show outside on the lawn of Accenture Tower, (in close proximity to Hennepin County Government Center, Capella Tower and other downtown buildings) from noon to 1 pm.

Friday, June 15: Dan participates in the Wooldridge Brothers Starts at Dusk album release show at Eagles 34 in Minneapolis, at 8 pm, along with White Sweater, Lolo’s Ghost, and more.

Saturday, June 16: Dan plays solo at the Stone Arch Bridge Festival in Minneapolis, 3:15 pm on the City Pages stage under the Central Ave bridge; earlier in the day, Dan plays a show at 11 am at a family farm, for the Friends & Family Day event at Tangletown Gardens, in Plato, Minnesota.

Friday, June 22: Dan plays solo at Flat Earth Brewing in St. Paul, 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm.

Thursday, June 28: Dan opens (solo acoustic) for Peter Himmelman at the Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis; the club website lists showtime of 7:00 pm.

Friday, June 29: Dan plays solo at the Trempealeau Hotel in Trempealeau, Wisconsin, 8 pm to 11 pm.

Saturday, June 30: Dan plays solo at Chankaska Winery in Kasota, MN, 6:30 to 9:30 pm.

[Publisher’s Note: Of course, I also reviewed Dan’s last album, Dan, in January 2016. If you’re interested in reading that, too, here’s the link. -GW]