Album Review: Richard X. Heyman – Copious Notes

Richard X. Heyman – Copious Notes

image courtesy of Howlin’ Wuelf Media

Album Review of Richard X. Heyman: Copious Notes

Richard X. Heyman is an American pop-rock songwriter. And, of course, a great performer of his own songs. I’ve reviewed Richard’s music a couple of times already here at the blog. I reviewed Incognito, a couple albums removed from his new release, and I reviewed the first single from Copious Notes, “Choices We Make.”

He starts the disc with the echoing angelic church-like harmonies that kick off “Nearly There,” a typically RXH uptempo, cheerful number steeped in timeless pop harmonies and hooks. Drawing from the fifties and sixties for his rock ‘n roll song base, Richard’s songs are melody-driven and fun to listen to.

The second song on Copious Notes is “Choices We Make,” which I previously reviewed, with its big hook in the chorus. It’s a hopeful song, released just ahead of the 2020 U.S. election, with its election theme apparent from the accompanying images in its YouTube video, though the underlying message could easily be applied across broad subject matter.

Richard X. Heyman

photo by Nancy Heyman; photo courtesy of Howlin’ Wuelf Media

You can tell a great pop song by the way it grabs you from the very first note, and the next track, “Tell Me When,” does just that. Very sixties-styled almost folk-influenced – or maybe in parts Irish folk song-like – in its stylings, the song is a cheerful, extra-uptempo number that’s fun to bounce along to.

Richard slows things down and mellows at times, too. The next song, “Cedarbrook Park,” for example, flows, floats, and soars, but it all feels a bit intentionally off-kilter, like a melancholically haunted memory.

“Sink or Swim” follows. It’s at least partially horn-powered and energetic, like you’d expect on an old-time dance party TV show, with the dancers doing a swim move during the chorus, at least.

Next up, “Oval” brings back the mellow, before “The Truth,” while still with a softer edge, is a rare Copious Notes song that pushes the tempo and level consistently throughout without catching its breath.

“But Our Love” is a soaring song as if a folk-styled, mellow number pulled straight from the early ’70s airwaves… or a love-in concert in the park from the same era.

“One and All” adds a psychedelic vibe that’s there throughout but most prominent in the bridge, while fun and catchy “Return to You” brings back the old-fashioned rock and roll bounce and harmonies, replete with background “oooohs” and “ahhhhhs.” I also dig the cool organ noodling at the end, leading to the fade-out.

Penultimate track “Ransom” sports that early ’70s rich, plush vibe and songwriting style, while ’50s/’60s-style, swingin’ rock horns open the timeless rock ‘n roll number “Greater Good” with its early ’70s message, melding three decades of rock ‘n roll influences to close the disc.

It’s sometimes hard to review a Richard X. Heyman album because there are only so many ways you can write “this is a catchy, timeless, song-driven pop-rock song,” but that description would fit virtually every song on Copious Notes, though different tempos, influences, and songwriting styles give each song an individual identity among this cohesive whole.

Richard X. Heyman is a consistently good songwriter who delivers dependably enjoyable, timeless pop-rock albums. So give Copious Notes a listen and then dig into some of his prior releases, which you’ll likely dig, as well.

 

Album Review: Jesse Terry – When We Wander

Jesse Terry

photo by Alex Berger; photo courtesy of Michael J. Media Group

Album Review of Jesse Terry: When We Wander

His voice. His delivery. His lyrics. But oh, my god, that voice. With When We Wander, Jesse Terry has delivered a timeless, relatable, emotionally connecting album, varied in style, that’s an instant classic. At least, it’ll be an instant classic if you hear it, so give it a listen.

Jesse Terry – When We Wander

image courtesy of Michael J. Media Group

An appealing mix of folk, country, and rich, warm soft rock, When We Wander sits on the radio-friendly edge of singer-songwriter fare. And there’s something everyman about Jesse’s voice, at times recalling John Mellencamp, Tom Petty, perhaps a hint of Bob Dylan, and just about any other singer with a bit of hoarse gravel in his voice, though Jesse’s songwriting about the experiences of everyday life more often bring forth comparisons to Mellencamp.

The title track, “When We Wander,” kicks things off with a folky strum, but you’ll soon discover that’s just one of many influences, as this, like most of the album, are a meaty folk-rock-country mix, falling my onto the soft rock side of Americana. There’s a rich tone, a hint of scratch – not exactly gravel – and a time-worn knowing lilt to Jesse’s voice. There’s also an attention to detail – on this song and on the album throughout – that distinguish this as a major-league recording. Little guitar flourishes, weepy slides, the extra drum beat. Jesse Terry is big-time, with a voice and delivery expansive enough to fill a concert hall with intimate, reflective, storytelling songs.

Jesse Terry

photo by Alex Berger; photo courtesy of Michael J. Media Group

“Strangers in Our Town” is one of those mid-tempo numbers that brings on a strong Mellencamp comparison. Stylistically, Jesse has his own unique spin, leaning a little more country but still a solid hometown pride number that’ll reach you deep inside, right where you live, and make you feel good.

“Ghost Stories” follows, bringing the melancholy, with a sad tone of remembrance, fittingly haunting to this slow number.

The mood doesn’t stay low long, though, as “Hymn of a Summer Night” has a playfully energetic bounce. Like “Ghost Stories” before it, it’s a look back, but this is a tale wrapped around fondness, affection, and complicatedly warm memories of a hometown. One of the neater verses recalls “All of us met on the banks when we got older, figured it was time to get out. But one by one, we came crawling back. There’s something about this simple river town.” It’s a song that’ll make you remember where you’re from, whether you stayed, left and returned, or exited for good.

Jesse Terry

photo by Jess Terry; photo courtesy of Michael J. Media Group

Jesse weaves in and out of uptempo happiness, slow sadness, and melancholy in-between though tales of recollection and stories of times gone by and yet to come remain a familiar theme.

One of the other standouts on this album is “Little Fires,” a mid-tempo tune full of real-life strength and struggles: “There’s little fires outside my window, little fires out of the corner of my eyes, little fires beneath the surface. I can’t put out these little fires.” Of course that’s mid-song. There’s set-up before, and more noodling and a bit of resolution afterwards. Of course. That’s Jesse’s strength… and, maybe, burden. He’s a storyteller.

Jesse Terry

photo by Neilson Hubbard; photo courtesy of Michael J. Media Group

It’s followed by an uplifting number, one that’ll help the listener – and it seems to help Jess – appreciate life, with lyrics that culminate in the chorus’ key phrase: “I’ve got somebody who understands, and that’s a pretty good hand.” The song has a nice country rhythm, what I sometimes refer to as a “git-along beat,” just bouncing along throughout, keeping the mood up, signaling that the guitar-slide is more reminiscent than melancholy, one of my favorite little tricks in this sort of mid-tempo, country-flavored song.

Jesse gives the album a soft, sweet, warm landing with the thoughtful “Just Out of Your Sight,” a both the album and the listener sway the disc to a close.

The rest of the songs are also worthy of mention, but they’re all within the themes and styles I’ve discussed already, so I’d just be repeating myself. Throughout, though, When We Wander is stylistically cohesive yet varied enough and sequenced well, making for an enjoyable beginning-to-end listen.

Looking Ahead

You can catch Jesse live in the Northeast in December – in Plymouth, MA, Stroudsburg, PA, Cortlandt Manor, NY, and Stonington and Middletown, CT. He’ll be in Mobile, AL on January 6th before spending the next few weeks in Florida. He has dates spanning from coast to coast in 2022, and some European dates in October and November 2022. So be sure to check the “Tour Dates” page of Jesse’s website for dates, times, locations, and ticket links for performances near you.

Album Review: DarWin – DarWin 3: Unplugged

DarWin

photo courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

Album Review of DarWin: DarWin 3: Unplugged

DarWin has followed critically acclaimed albums Origin of Species and DarWin 2: A Frozen War with this album, DarWin 3: Unplugged, a collection of orchestral and stripped back versions of songs from those first two discs.

Starting with album one, DarWin has been on the rich, powerful, orchestral side of progressive rock, but DarWin 3: Unplugged takes this a step beyond. As a result, listening to this album while doing other activities makes it seem as if your life has a surround sound movie soundtrack.

DarWin 3: Unplugged

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

This 8-song album contains five tracks listed as “orchestral,” two as “unplugged,” and one as “a capella,” so there are vocals and lyrics on three of the eight cuts.

The orchestral track that opens the disc, “Escape the Maze,” starts meanderingly, as if setting a scenescape within which one might imagine a stream running through the woods or maybe an eagle gliding, perhaps over the sort of frozen tundra depicted on the album cover. In the woods scene, it brings up visions of calmness at times and rapids and perhaps waterfalls at others. When focusing more on the song’s soaring aspects, I’d picture calm floating interspersed with conflict, perhaps the eagle hunting and swooping to attack or maybe trying to escape danger itself. Anyway, it is like all of the other orchestral tracks in that they are truly symphonic, largely string-heavy pieces that surge and sway powerfully as if telling a story. I’d gladly spend an evening at the local symphony to hear compositions of my favorite past-century classical composers and these DarWin songs, maybe with a sip of champagne during the intermission in-between.

The earlier of the “unplugged” songs in the album sequence, “Slowly Melting,” uses its light instrumentation to direct the focus to the intensely emotional vocals. The other, “One Horizon,” is driven by its rhythm, with the vocals and all of the instruments following along, supporting the thumping power.

The disc closes with the a capella track, “Another Year,” with smoky vocal verses leading up to vocal-heavy, rich, mainstream progressive rock choruses. This is the most radio-friendly song on DarWin 3: Unplugged and great way to end it.

I very nearly reviewed DarWin 2: A Frozen War, and I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t except that I was catching up on a laundry list of overdue reviews and trying to move to more recent albums at the time. DarWin 3: Unplugged is a great companion to DarWin’s earlier pieces, but it’s also presented so originally that I simply had to share it, even though I find myself again in catch-up mode. However, as cool as this album is, if you’re into top-shelf progressive rock and aren’t familiar with DarWin’s music, you’ll also want to check out his earlier albums.

EP Review: Public Library Commute – 1000 Summers

Public Library Commute

photo courtesy of DRPR

EP Review of Public Library Commute: 1000 Summers

Public Library Commute is the professional nom de plume of singer/songwriter/producer Conrad Hsiang. His sound on 1000 Summers is that of warm, open, smooth indie pop. Light and airy like a California summer afternoon with the top down, the music is a little jazzy, a little dream poppy, and at times borrows from the pop radio end of hip-hop, particularly in its muted rhythmic vibe.

In fact, it’s this consistent, almost dreamy summer vibe that makes 1000 Summers a perfect beginning-to-end play. Its six songs total less than 18 minutes, but they’re a smooth, cool journey.

Public Library Commute – 1000 Summers

image courtesy of DRPR

“25 MPH” opens the collection exactly with that slow driving, groovy vibe, with the overlapping sounds providing the audio version of a grainy black and white movie atop a colorful mural, drawing your attention in multiple directions at once, yet still leaving you with an unstoppable grin. A cool summertime cruising tune.

“Summertime” continues the same laid-back, soak-up-the-summer vibe but focuses more on Public Library Commute’s vocals, ending with what seems like it might be going to be a dreamy bridge, but on an EP full of songs with short run-times, it’s more of a fadeout.

The songs keeping on getting catchier without sacrificing the EP’s consistent vibe. with the more prominent hip-hop rhythm of “City Love” providing a tempo more amenable to radio play.

“You Been On My Mind,” next, sports an almost pop boy band vibe. Something you might expect from Nick Jonas. The tempo picks up a bit more yet again, not enough to dance to it, exactly, but you’ll find yourself quite significantly bouncing and swaying.

“Moonlight” is the most obvious potential hit on the disc, taking that one more step toward pop, as 1000 Summers continues its trajectory of increasing hookiness and energy. Lyrically and stylistically, it’s the sort of tune you’d croon to your baby: “All that I say, all that I do, I’m over the moon thinking of you.” On this song, the groove isn’t the only thing that’s smooth.

And all-too-soon, you’ve reached the last track, the title track of 1000 Summers. I swear there’s almost a country-meets-the-beach quality to the sound bed, at least at the beginning of the song. Or maybe it’s just the relaxed, almost slack-key styled strumming of the guitar. The feeling presented by “1000 Summers” is one part sunset falling on the beach in the summer, one part slow drive off into the sunset in a convertible with the top down before it ends all too suddenly.

It’s a tough album to describe – and I’m sure I’ve done an insufficient job, but it’s music I just had to share with you. It’s a true original but still oh-so-familiar. You’ll find 1000 Summers a quick favorite, a great summertime EP (that I’ve taken too long to review that I missed the summer). I can’t wait to hear what Public Library Commute creates next.

Album Review: Judy Collins – White Bird

Judy Collins – White Bird: Anthology of Favorites

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

Album Review of Judy Collins: White Bird – Anthology Of Favorites (Cleopatra Records)

Folk legend Judy Collins has released a disc right out of the sixties, White Bird. You know these songs. You love these songs. Your mother (or maybe your grandmother) loved these songs. Judy Collins was a voice from a certain time, but she’s also a timeless voice.

OK, you might not know all of these songs, but you know most of them. While White Bird includes longtime favorites, the title track (and first single) “White Bird” is a never-before-released cover of a 1969 song from the band It’s a Beautiful Day.

Beyond that, though, this collection is packed with most of Judy’s best, most memorable numbers. And, since she was before my time, though I know many of these songs from the radio, this is the first time they’ve been part of my music collection, and it’s the first time I’ve given them the repeated listens that allow me to truly appreciate the songs’ nuances and Judy’s amazing vocal talent.

Probably the most ubiquitous Judy Collins hit is “Both Sides Now,” her highest-charting song in the U.S. Judy has a subtle, sweet edge to her vocals, and they serve the melancholy tone of this song’s lyrics well, building to power at the end. But you know the song, so you already knew that.

The album also includes “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season).” Before it was a hit for The Byrds, it was a Judy Collins tune, and she sings it beautifully.

Seemingly always my favorite song on the collection after most listens, “Chelsea Morning” is coolly energetic and warm, with Judy’s sweet high vocals serving as a cheerful call to greeting a beautiful day.

The never-before-released cover of “White Bird,” though, is also exceptionally impressive. It has that ’60s piano-organ sound and a kind of intense energy for such a sweetly sung song. It serves as a powerful first and title song to kick off this collection.

“I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” is another powerful number, despite its slow tempo and the fact that it really doesn’t build significantly in vocal volume. It’s more the tone of Judy’s voice and of the piano and some of the other instrumentation, as well as the song’s subject matter, that give it its gravitas.

There are a couple duets in the collection. The combination of Judy’s voice with Willie Nelson’s on the soaringly haunting “When I Go” is truly special. And she’s joined by Stephen Stills on “Last Thing On My Mind,” a pleasantly strummed song, and the vocal combo provides a slight – and I do mean slight – rock and roll-ish folk flavor.

The disc closes with “Send in the Clowns,” ending a largely cheerful disc with a powerful heaviness.

It seems odd to even review a Judy Collins album, packed with songs you already know so well. So I guess the message is that this album is available. And, though you know many of the songs, I can attest that this is a great assemblage of them, including at least one – the title track – that you’ve certainly not heard on a record before.

On the Road

Judy Collins is currently on tour. She has a couple November dates remaining in the Midwest – tonight in Chicago and tomorrow night in Three Oaks, Michigan, down near the Indiana border – but you can see her all over the U.S. during the next half-year or so. (December’s dates are in the Northeast, January’s in the Southeast, etc.) You can find dates and locations on the “Concerts” page of Judy’s website. In Europe, you’ll find a single November 5, 2022 show listed in Borgerhout, Belgium, but, of course, be sure to check Judy’s website periodically for more dates to be added, wherever you live.

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

Sweet

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.

Album Review: Laura Ainsworth – Top Shelf

Laura Ainsworth – Top Shelf

image courtesy of Eclectus Records

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Laura Ainsworth: Top Shelf (Eclectus Records/Ratspack Records)

Vocalist Laura Ainsworth hails from Dallas, Texas and is a contemporary artist who is a brilliant interpreter of song. She’s kind of a Great American Songbook revivalist on one hand, but that would only tell part of the story. Her keen sense of style and sharp wit allow her to take established musical gems and rare nuggets and infuse them with a heavy dose of irony, humor, charm and candor. And her gossamer phrasing brings a unique personality to each song where she makes it her own.

Top Shelf is a deluxe packaged collection of the best from her previous independently released albums Keep it to Yourself, Necessary Evil and New Vintage. Courtesy of Japanese distributor Ratspack Records, this vinyl and CD formatted release features extensive liner notes and lyrics, previously unreleased tracks, beautiful photos, and detailed information on the songs and the wonderful musicians who make them leap out of your speakers.

The track list rundown begins with the pseudo-autobiographical adaptation by Frank Loesser and Victor Schertzinger called “That’s How I Got My Start.” It’s a slow and somewhat mid-tempo ballad that sets the pace for her unique and infectious brand of irony-imbued humor. Producer/arranger and pianist Brian Piper leads a lightly swinging ensemble as Ainsworth sings, “Prove it by my rich old banker, how I made that banker hanker. So let this be a lesson, keep ‘em guessin’. ‘Cause that’s how I got my start.” She really lays on that whole femme fatale/jezebel act pretty thick from the get-go.

“Necessary Evil” was an early ‘50s song by singer Frankie Laine that is fairly obscure. But being a musical archivist and curator is Ainsworth’s passion, as she invests this cool little known noir-ish burner with a sultry and seductive kick. Chris McGuire’s smooth tenor sax sets a vintage nightclub mood.

The redheaded chanteuse is in search of the ideal man on another early ‘50s rarity “That’s the Kind of Guy I Dream Of.” She sings tongue in cheek lyrics, with tales of romantic woe such as, “A handsome hunk o’ fellow with the sharpest clothes, a sunny disposition and a smile that glows. That’s the kind of guy I dream of, you should see the kind that I get.” And then she hits you with the clincher, “Got a guy, says he’s a jockey, took me to see his thoroughbred. You guessed it, of course, he looks just like his horse, I shoud’ve stayed in bed!”

Another lesser known Rodgers and Hammerstein song was tailor made for Ainsworth and bluntly called “The Gentleman is a Dope.” Although rooted from a bygone era, It smacks of modern #MeToo sensibilities, with a hint of sarcasm and sass. The small combo sound, with Piper at the helm gives this a minor urgency.

One of the unreleased tracks on the album is an Irving Berlin tune, popularized by Marilyn Monroe, called “You’d Be Surprised.” It’s significant that Ainsworth decided to include it here because it really displays her innate ability to tell a clear and intriguing story. It references that old phrase about never judging a book by the cover. In the case of a shy guy named Johnny, that would certainly apply. “He’s not so good in a crowd, but when you get him alone, you’d be surprised. He isn’t much at a dance, but when he takes you home, you’d be surprised,” she sings. “He’s got the face of an angel, but there’s the devil in his eye.”

“Love for Sale” is a classic Cole Porter song that has been done up tempo by Mel Tormé and a ton of other people. Ainsworth’s version really stands out as slow, steamy and resonant. The tight combo fronted by Piper’s cool and lithe piano playing really set the scene here.

“Skylark” is a familiar standard that, not only stands out for its beautiful lyrics and stellar vocal delivery, but the singular accompaniment of Chris DeRose-Chiffolo on guitar is mesmerizing. The medley of “Long Ago and Far Away” and “You Stepped Out of a Dream” is a lovely pairing in that they harmonically fit like pieces of a puzzle. Chris McGuire’s tenor sax work is just icing on the cake.

“An Occasional Man” was a minor standard sung in the past by legends like Sarah Vaughn and Julie London. Ainsworth and company give this a silky samba feel, with fun-filled lyrics like “I got an island in the Pacific, and everything about it is terrific. I’ve got the sun to tan me, palms to fan me and…an occasional man.” This vivacious crooner really knows how to paint a picture!

The Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen piece “Out of This World” is rather exotic and a nice slice of post-modern world beat-influenced fare. Pete Brewer’s flute and Steve Barnes’ percussion really make this one sparkle. “Hooray for Love” is another Arlen gem that keeps that up beat and free-spirited take on love and romance in full gear. It’s a bouncy and swinging tune.

Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen’s danceable “Personality,” Ned Washington and Victor Young’s delicate “My Foolish Heart,” Gus Kahn’s hopelessly romantic “Dream a Little Dream,” and bonus tracks “Wasting My Love On You” and the randy “Just Give Me a Man” complete this fabulous and comprehensive CD package.

Just FYI, the CD edition of Top Shelf adds numerous tracks from the three studio albums that had to be left off of the vinyl LP edition due to the limitations of the format. But, whether you purchase the fuller length CD or the vinyl version, you’re in for a real treat. Laura Ainsworth is one of the most talented and entertaining vocalists – of any genre or era – on the music scene today!

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.