Single Review: Jimmy Lee Morris – “What It Is”

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Jimmy Lee Morris: “What It Is” (Producer: Adam Hanington)

Jimmy Lee Morris - What It Is

image courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

The latest release from British singer-songwriter extraordinaire Jimmy Lee Morris comes in the form of a tight, nifty single entitled “What It Is.” Morris has previously released fine independent acoustic-based folk and pop that has always put the emphasis on wordsmithing and strong melody. This latest single adds an infectious beat to his resume that recalls everything from the Beatles and the Kinks to Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello. The song is a pure collaboration of Morris’ ever present acoustic guitar as an anchor, with the addition of Hanington’s production gloss of synthesized keyboards and bouncy rhythms. The result is a tune that is extremely catchy and fun, with a nod to the ‘60s as filtered through a mid-‘80s lens. If you don’t start tapping your feet and gyrating in some form or fashion upon the song’s first downbeat, then you better check your pulse!

Looking Ahead

The “live” page of Jimmy Lee Morris’ website shows several dates coming up in 2019, including three in March: Friday, 1st March at Napoleon Inn, Boscastle, Cornwall (9:00 pm); Saturday, 23rd March at Crowhurst Park, Battle, East Sussex (8.30 pm); and Saturday, 30th March at The Jolly Sailor Inn, West Looe, Cornwall (8:00 pm). For dates April and beyond – and to check for additional gigs to be added – be sure to check the website.

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.

Single Review: Laurel Marsh – “An Unchanged Reality”

Laurel Marsh

photo by Joel Booska; photo courtesy of Laurel Marsh

You may know Laurel Marsh from her rock ‘n roll world. She was bass player for Boston-based all-female rock band Jaded for six years. She’s currently singer/bass player for Connecticut melodic metal band Suicide Dream and half of Boston/Worcester electronic band (duo) ZagreuS. In addition, she records solo. “An Unchanged Reality” is Laurel’s latest piece of solo work, released in September 2017; it was preceded by “Heart Speak” earlier in the year.

Single Review of Laurel Marsh: “An Unchanged Reality”

Laurel Marsh - An Unchanged Reality

photo by Joel Booska; photo courtesy of Laurel Marsh

This song was designed to be experienced via sound and visual, via music video. But I tend to get a lot more time to listen to music than to watch videos, so I decided to review it from that perspective. As a soaring, atmospheric number, it takes a few listens to sink in without the video accompaniment. With musical tidal surges rising and falling and the ever-presence of Laurel’s simultaneously sweet and ominous vocals, “An Unchanged Reality” floats and soars not unlike a lot of alternative atmospheric pop music, but this song is infused with a primal rhythm, as well. And the vocals? Controlled power, the sort that’s essential for a hard rock or metal singer. Well, a good, versatile one, at least. The vocals are so musical in nature, I often find myself forgetting that this song isn’t purely instrumental, with the words themselves less important to the experience than the sounds they provide and their vocal delivery. After a few listens, I began to anticipate the weaving, enchanting, smoothly lurching rhythms, and “An Unchanged Reality” has become a playlist favorite. I find myself whistling or softly chanting along with its haunting melodies, looking ahead to their next subtle twist or turn.

Laurel Marsh

photo by Faith Emond; photo courtesy of Laurel Marsh

Again, though, the song is visual in nature, and it’s really worth watching it in video form via its YouTube video here. You won’t be surprised by the use of water or the integration with nature in the video; indeed, it is an exceptionally well-suited visual representation of the music. Or perhaps the music is an aural representation of the video. The two are so intertwined it’s difficult to separate them (even though I did and am impressed by the enjoyable audio experience).

As was the case with “Heart Speak,” “An Unchanged Reality” was a two person project. The descriptions on YouTube video pages show how the arrangements, performance, and visual presentation duties were split between Laurel and Joel Booska.

Looking Ahead

In addition to being a multi-talented, genre-crossing (and genre-bending) musician, your visit to Laurel’s website will introduce you to her yoga instructor work and her modeling pictures, as well, in addition to linking you to her various musical endeavors. But it is here, through the main page, where you’ll find information about upcoming performances. The most recent was a radio show appearance with ZagreuS on January 29th. Check back here and perhaps follow her to see what lies ahead.

Single Review: Paige Davis – “Carousel”

Paige Davis

photo courtesy of Paige Davis

Single Review of Paige Davis: “Carousel”

I first reviewed Paige Davis last spring, in this review of Off the Stage Music’s Behind the Songs event at the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston.

Paige’s new single “Carousel” was released on February 14th in advance of a planned spring 2018 EP release. A pop-country number that sports a G-rated movie, all-American, apple-pie freshness, the song moves through verse, chorus, and bridge progressively, with a well-written complexity that ties tempo and progression to the song’s lyrical ins and out.

Paige Davis

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Interestingly, I get a couple pop-rock connections from the very beginning of “Carousel,” with the opening beat reminiscent of Avril Lavigne’s “Happy Ending” leading into a guitar progression and rhythm that uncannily recalls the early strains of Semi Sonic’s “Closing Time.” As the song settles in, its entirety sounds sonically more like the sort of pop-friendy country I might find on Lauren Lizabeth’s To Be Young (recalling an album I previously reviewed), the sort of music you might have expected to share the stage with Taylor Swift as a teenager, though with a vocal texture very specific to only Paige herself.

I’ll let you listen to the lyrics yourselves. And you should listen. Containing clever turns of phrases, using “Carousel” as a life metaphor, they’re appropriate to a high school fan base but worthy of a budding young artist. “Carousel” is a fine introduction for potential new fans – and a long-awaited reward for her Paige’s existing followers – in advance of her debut long-form (EP) release.

Looking Ahead

Yes, the EP. Also, though it doesn’t list any dates now, keep an eye on the “Shows” page of Paige’s website for upcoming live performances as they’re added.

Single Review: Gracie Day – “I Don’t Want Whiskey”

Gracie DaySingle Review of Gracie Day: “I Don’t Want Whiskey”

Hartford, CT-based Gracie Day has been popping up on my local radar a lot lately, so it’s a pleasure to review the first single (just released today, September 27th), “I Don’t Want Whiskey,” from her upcoming debut EP. Named 2017 New Act of the Year by the New England Music Awards, Gracie’s voice sounds pretty old-school country on this track. A quick examination of Gracie’s YouTube videos point to soul and folk influences playing prominent roles in her voice, as well, but if I were to name the genre at her vocal center, it would definitely be country.

Gracie Day - I Don't Want Whiskey

image courtesy of Nina Pickell on behalf of Gracie Day

On “I Don’t Want Whiskey,” a slight warble to Gracie’s voice and prominent slide guitar give off a good ol’ Opry-ready vibe. Though a full-band production with a rich, radio-friendly sound, the instrumentation is relatively sparse, focusing listeners more specifically on Gracie’s voice. Drums and strings drive a mid-to-late-song bridge that serves as a bit of a musical crescendo, but overall the voice-focused recording brings out the emotion of every voice-crack and lilt in Gracie’s voice. With “I Don’t Want Whiskey” serving as an advance introduction to Gracie’s forthcoming EP, it will be interesting to hear what else she has in store for us.

It also occurs to me that this is one of the few country songs I’ve ever heard about not wanting whiskey. Just saying.

Looking Ahead

Gracie is performing Friday, September 29th at Thunder Road in Somerville, MA. Her Facebook events page also lists a November 4th gig at starlite in Southbridge, MA. You can also check the “shows” page of Gracie’s website for additional information about upcoming shows as she adds them.

Single Review: Wilkes – “Stealing From Heaven”

Single Review of Wilkes: “Stealing From Heaven”

This spring, I reviewed Wilkes’ EP, No Filter Part 1. This single is Jason Wilkes‘ follow-up to that three-song collection.

Wilkes - Stealing From Heaven

image courtesy of Jason Wilkes

With a crisp, opening hook, “Stealing From Heaven” grabs the listener immediately. Then the lyrics join, with a Southern twang that screams “country hit.” But the rich, full music bed has rock ‘n roll roots. The tempo moves along energetically. And the stop-starts, vocal bridges, and mid-song guitar run bridge the rock-country gap. Combined with some soft, pop-rock isolated guitar work both mid-song and late-song, this is the sort of song that could be a huge crossover hit – Southern enough for country radio while pop-rock enough for hit radio.

Once again, Wilkes has delivered a fun, hit single-caliber song. Jason and his guitarist played all of the instruments, and the song was mixed by Jamie Tate at Rukkus Room in Nashville. (I’ll let you click to Rukkus Room’s website to see the studio’s pedigree and list of big-name clients.) Indeed, everyone involved deserves a tip of the cap for a job well done. And you deserve to hear the latest country-pop-rock earworm created by Wilkes.