Single Review: Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings – “Highways”

Bridget Davis & the Viking Kings – "Highways"

image courtesy of Bridget Davis

Single Review of Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings: “Highways”

We at the Blog are big fans of the unique, original, memorable style of Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings. They have an easily identifiable, pleasant, rolling, laid-back Americana style but with a constantly-present, persistent rhythm that varies from song to song yet makes even the most mellow song seem energized. Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings are the perpetual motion machine of Americana. And their songwriting and delivery style is such that, if you heard them on the radio, you’d say to yourself, “Self, it’s Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings.”

Well, it has been a while since BD and the VKs graced our headphones with something new, nearly five and a half years between I Wasn’t Planning on the End and the new single “Highways,” released earlier this year. In all that time, the band hasn’t missed a beat.

Bridget Davis & the Viking Kings

photo courtesy of Bridget Davis

Opening with a warm texture and bass-guitar interplay (cool to listen to on headphones, since they reside in different ears), “Highways” utilizes many of the ingenuities in the band’s familiar, favorite bag of tricks to support Bridget’s soft, sweet, yet surprisingly dynamic vocal style. Those familiar with the band’s previous work will find the tempo most similar to that of “Transient,” as “Highways” differs from much of the band’s song catalog in that it’s actually as slow-tempoed as its music makes it seem, though it’s sonically more kindred to the faster-paced “Elizabeth” or the slower-paced “I Wasn’t Planning on the End.”

In the end, “Highways” is a welcome reintroduction to Bridget Davis and the Vikings Kings’ easily recognizable, original, trademark sound. If you’re unfamiliar with the band, let this be your introduction. There’s a hint of folk styling and country-leaning Americana energy in Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings’ music, an energy built on and originality, tempo, detailed songwriting, and deliberate performance structure that will appeal to a broad swath of musical tastes. To the band: Welcome back to our playlists. We’ve missed you.

Looking Back

Those who have been with us here at the Blog from the beginning will remember our other two Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings reviews. First, I reviewed one of their live Rockwood Music Hall shows as item #8 in my 9-part “Road Back to Music Journalism” series, in which I chronicled events that led me back to writing – and starting this blog – after a dozen years away. A few weeks later, I reviewed their album I Wasn’t Planning on the End. So if my review of this song interests you, be sure to check out the other words I’ve written about this talented ensemble.

Looking Ahead

Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings hinted in this Facebook post this spring and confirmed with me just recently via e-mail that there is more music coming; “Highways” was just one of several songs recorded live at the Figure 8 Recording studio in Brooklyn. They’ll likely be released one at a time in advance of an eventual EP release. Whether the songs are released individually or all at once, we can’t wait to hear them!

Single Review: Kristian Montgomery & The Winterkill Band – “Secret Watering Hole”

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Kristian Montgomery & The Winterkill Band: “Secret Watering Hole”

Boston-area singer-songwriter Kristian Montgomery is not one to let grass grow under his feet. When the pandemic hit in full swing last year he dove into his inner psyche and soul, coming up with enough fresh material for an album’s worthy triumvirate of creative output. The result of that labor resulted in 2020’s The Gravel Church, 2021’s Prince of Poverty, and the soon-to-be-released A Heaven for Heretics in January 2022.

Kristian Montgomery & the Winterkill Band – "Secret Watering Hole"

photo courtesy of Kristian Montgomery

Surely, Montgomery’s blend of reflective blues and country rock songs combined with his rich, slightly worn and emotive voice is starting to catch fire with fans and critics alike. Montgomery was recently nominated by the prestigious New England Music Awards on the strength of his Prince of Poverty release. “Secret Watering Hole” is a brand new single from the aforementioned upcoming A Heaven for Heretics and continues his blend of an Americana aesthetic, mixed with vivid imagery and detailed storytelling. The song is draped in southern gothic charm and Cajun-laced magic. References to New Orleans and Mardi Gras are supported by a soothing bed of layered guitars and a relaxed, swampy back beat. It’s kind of a meeting of classic styles that match the melodic poetry of The Band, with the groovy laid back sounds of The Allman Brothers Band.

“Another crawling out of the American gutter record” is a quote, found on Montgomery’s own bandcamp page, in response to his last full-length release. Other references to his current single and his previous catalog suggest the slightly outsider world view of like-minded compadres such as The Highwaymen, Sturgill Simpson, Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt, and Chris Stapleton.

The current single “Secret Watering Hole” was produced by Joe Clapp at Ultrasound Studios and captures a sound and mood that is contemporary, yet intimate and timeless.

Looking Ahead

Of course, the album A Heaven for Heretics, which contains “Secret Watering Hole,” is scheduled for a January release. [I’ll be writing that review on or after the album’s release date. -GW] Also keep an eye on the “Events” page of the band’s website for future performances and on the band’s Facebook page for the latest news about Kristian Montgomery & the Winterkill Band.

Single Review: Eliza Neals – “Sugar Daddy”

Eliza Neals w King Solomon Hicks

photo courtesy of E-H Records LLC

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Eliza Neals: “Sugar Daddy” feat. King Solomon Hicks (E-H Records)

They call her the “Detroit Diva.” And, indeed, blues rock singer-songwriter/keyboardist Eliza Neals proudly wears that title as a badge of honor. The opera-trained blonde bombshell has been on the international music scene for more than two decades. She is a true independent artist, with a series of critically-acclaimed R&B-flavored albums to her credit. Neals has shared the stage and collaborated with such luminaries as Buddy Guy, Kenny Olson, Joe Louis Walker, Popa Chubby, Howard Glazer, and a host of blues and rock greats.

No doubt, however, perhaps her biggest influence can be found in frequent co-writer and mentor Barrett Strong. Strong, of course, is a legendary singer-songwriter that made his mark, first at Berry Gordy’s Tamla Records. His iconic “Money (That’s What I Want)” was the company’s first big breakout hit. The prolific tunesmith went on to write a series of songs for Gordy’s subsequent landmark enterprise Motown Records. “ I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “War,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today)” are just some of the chart toppers he and fellow composer/producer Norman Whitfield conceived within those hallowed studio walls.

Eliza Neals – "Sugar Daddy" feat. King Solomon Hicks

image courtesy of E-H Records LLC

That little history lesson brings us to today’s single at hand; the feel good summer of 2021 smash entitled “Sugar Daddy.” The tune was originally written by Strong, but re-arranged, with additional lyrics by Neals herself. The song features young NYC jazz/blues guitar sensation King Solomon Hicks on backing vocals. Michael Puwal (tremolo guitar/additional drums), Chris Vega (bass), Michael Galante (drums), and Tyrone Smith (Hammond B3/saxophone) round out this first rate band. It’s a light-hearted kind of tale that focuses on a relationship from an, appropriately, female perspective. In it Neals sings: “Well, I’m just a girl, and you know that I look real fine. But I love that man, he drive me outta my mind. He puts his lips to my ear, said what I love to hear… I’ll be your sugar daddy, you’s my man!” It carries on with that pseudo-romantic track for a minute, but then, when Neals finds her man fooling around with someone else, the tables get turned quickly in the bridge. She exudes gritty comeuppance, with the lines, “I take his money and I go and I play the town, and he knows my love ain’t true. People all say he should put me down. He’s a fool, he’s a fool, he’s a doggone fool!”

“Sugar Daddy” has a lot of bite and bluesy bravado, thanks to Neals’ raw, soulful vocals and Hicks’ stinging Robert Cray-like riffs. He lays the groundwork for the song’s balance of good-natured free-spirited fun and serious house rockin’ street cred. The tune has been a staple on Sirius XM’s BB King’s Bluesville channel since this past July. But that’s nothing new for the “Detroit Diva.” She’s been in consistent rotation on that pivotal blues network since her seminal Breaking and Entering album hit the charts in 2015. “Sugar Daddy” simply continues that groovy path of excellence for the incomparable Eliza Neals!

Looking Ahead

Eliza has a few upcoming shows listed on the “Shows” page of her website. On Saturday, December 18th, she’ll be at the South Orange Performing Arts Center in South Orange, NJ. On Saturday, February 12th, she’ll be performing at the Cincinnati Winter Blues Experience II in Cincinnati, OH. On Tuesday, April 26th, she’s scheduled to perform at the iconic 100 Club in London [where I saw Bob Malone in 2015 – GW]. And on Saturday, April 30th, she’s be at Jamey’s House of Music in Lansdowne, PA. Be sure to check Eliza’s website for more details on those shows and others as they’re scheduled.

Single Review: Lina Cooper – “What I Gave to You”

Lina Cooper

photo by Joe Welkie; photo courtesy of Lina Cooper

Backstory

Lina Cooper initially reached out to me back in the summer of 2020 during a period when I wasn’t writing many reviews (and had a years-long backlog) in advance of the release of her single “This Time,” and I was blown away by her vocals and songwriting. It was a catchy, poppy, memorable song structured much like you’d expect from Taylor Swift, well-suited to Lina’s sweet, high vocals. Of course, I didn’t review that song, but when I was on a bit of a writing spree and was churning through my review backlog this spring, I reached out to inquire about what she was working on now (at the time). The answer was, of course, “What I Gave to You.”

Single Review of Lina Cooper: “What I Gave to You”

Lina Cooper – What I Gave to You

image courtesy of Lina Cooper

Lina’s exceptional talent shines again on “What I Gave to You.” Softer than the song that initially hooked me, “What I Gave to You” leans into Lina’s high, emotionally expressive voice. Storytelling verses serve as a tempo-changing, volume-varying canvas, all leading to “What you gonna do when all you have is what I gave to you.”

Simple guitar-picking and thin vocals open the song, with additional orchestration and a fuller music bed joining as the vocals and lyrics intensify. For the vocal structure, well-placed, emotionally cracking lead vocals are paired with full background harmonies as the music soars. The song is a musical journey with a key, memorable line for listeners to sing along with during the chorus. That’s the formula for a sneaky earworm of a song, one that’ll grow on you more and more with each successive listen.

Lina Cooper

photo by Joe Welkie; photo courtesy of Lina Cooper

Other Singles

“What I Gave to You” was preceded by “Ethereal,” more stylistically similar to “This Time,” and the rather more disturbing, musically aggressive, almost noir-ish “If You Ever Leave Me” (which has an accompanying horror-style music video).

Other 2021 releases have been an acoustic version of Lina’s “Here to Stay” and the latest single, groovy, punkish, garage rockin’ “AFANASY.” You’ll find a long-form “short musical film” featuring/leading into “AFANASY” here on YouTube.

Lina’s a versatile talent. A good singer and songwriter whose range covers a lot of musical ground, tying it well to her very specific, mainstream radio-friendly voice. It’s time to climb aboard the Lina Cooper bandwagon now while there are still a few prime seats available.

Looking Ahead

There are currently no upcoming shows listed on the “Shows” page of Lina’s website, but check back periodically to find out when you can catch a live performance.

Single Review: Eliza & the Delusionals – “You”

Eliza & the Delusionals

photo by Kurt Skuse; photo courtesy of Reybee Inc.

Single Review of Eliza & the Delusionals: “You”

“You” is a terrific example of catchy, hooky, sunshine-drenched alt-pop well-suited to a summer day in the sun but versatile enough to serve the purpose of adding joy to a gloomy day.

From a songwriting perspective, it’s stylistically along the lines Taylor Swift, very much about the emotions of relatable romantic life issues. Sonically, it’s bright, shiny, cheerful, guitar-intstrumented vocal pop with an almost pop-punk vibe but more of a laid-back energy, kind of a mix of Paramore and Liz Phair’s more mainstream, crossover hits.

Eliza & the Delusionals - You

image courtesy of Reybee Inc.

Early this year, I wrote about the band’s fall 2020 single, “Sentimental.” Also this year, Eliza & the Delusionals released their current single, “Save Me,” and perhaps I should dig in and review that song, too, but “You” is the one in my review queue, and it’s a delicious bit of pop music, a pleasant addition to any playlist. (For the record, so is “Save Me,” with its slightly different, dreamier vibe and richer, more rock guitar-driven rhythm.)

Looking Ahead

Eliza & the Delusionals doesn’t have any remaining shows in 2021, but they have four January 2022 shows listed, all in Australia, in Sydney, Richmond, Brisbane, and Miami. You can find more information about those performances and others, as they’re added, on the “Tour” page of the band’s website.

Single Review: Lealiza – “We Americans”

Lealiza

photo courtesy of Dog Ranch Music PR

Single Review of Lealiza: “We Americans”

Lealiza is a Michigan-based singer-songwriter with a soft, rich, sweet vocal delivery. In the case of “We Americans,” it was a song she felt compelled to write, expressing her disapproval at seeing the U.S. military leaving Afghanistan in a frantic, disorganized hurry. The song went live today, November 11, on Spotify.

The key lyric to the song is “We don’t leave our people behind. We’re Americans, that’s not what we do.” The story in the song begins twenty years earlier, with the event that sparked the war, then contrasts it with the images from earlier this year. You can hear Lealiza’s emotions in the sweet yet powerful vocals, tied tightly to the song’s lyrics: “Some day I’ll come for you sure as the sky is blue. We don’t leave anyone behind.”

Lealiza – We Americans

image courtesy of Dog Ranch Music PR

Poignant and topical, this is a powerful song from Lealiza, ably expressing the emotions she shares with so many fellow citizens as this past September’s withdrawal from Kabul unfolded. She talks of the feelings she felt that compelled her to write “We Americans” in this Facebook post. Beyond this song, if it leads you to explore more of Lealiza’s music – at her YouTube channel or on her website, for example – you’ll find her connection to singing Ladino songs, as well, and discover a multi-faceted singer who’s a sought-after performer.

Whatever Lealiza sings – from traditional-styled music to more current pop-styled songs, and in whatever language – her voice has the versatility and texture to capture your ear and hold on tight. So, while it’s worth giving “We Americans” a listen, don’t let your Lealiza journey end there. And if you’re in the Detroit area, watch for her shows. There’s nothing recent or forthcoming listed, but watch the “Events” tab of her Facebook page for listings of future performances as they’re scheduled.

Single Review: Susan Gibson – “Compassionate Combat”

Susan Gibson – Compassionate Combat

image courtesy of Broken Jukebox Media

Single Review of Susan Gibson: “Compassionate Combat”

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

Looking Ahead

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

Single Review: Tia McGraff – “What If”

Tia McGraff – "What If"

image by Trespass Music; image courtesy of Tia McGraff

Single Review of Tia McGraff: “What If”

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

Tia McGraff

photo by Denise Grant; photo courtesy of Tia McGraff

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

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

 

Single Review: Simon Scardanelli – “The Glittering Prize”

Simon Scardanelli – The Glittering Prize

image courtesy of Simon Scardanelli

Single Review of Simon Scardanelli: “The Glittering Prize”

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

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

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

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

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

Looking Ahead

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

Single Review: beauty is the end – “helplessly hoping”

beauty is the end

photo courtesy of beauty is the end

Single Review of beauty is the end: “helplessly hoping”

We’re reviewed the music of bandleader Clint Degan here before, in the role of Body English’s vocalist and guitarist, when I reviewed Stories of Earth. This, however, is a truly original, unique sound worth approaching with a fresh palate, featuring Cullen Corley on percussion and multi-instrumentalist Degan recording the remaining instruments and vocals. So grab some ginger and be prepared for a fresh musical dining experience on “helplessly hoping.”

beauty is the end – helplessly hoping

image courtesy of beauty is the end

This song is timeless. But beauty is the end delivers an updated version of this Crosby, Stills & Nash classic. The harmonies are replaced by instruments or perhaps just less volume, serving up a modernized sound, adding a hint of progressive instrumentation, softening the harsh harmonic edges of the original with a thinner, more sensitive vocal line and softened transitions. This version completely changes the feel of the song without touching the main melody, and in the process of modernizing, it actually recalls a completely different set of ’70s bands. Call it a two-way transportation through time, if you want, landing at a different destination.

Whatever it’s quite cool and really pleasant, enjoyable listen, gradually becoming a favorite on my playlist. To be honest, after acclimating myself to the beauty is the end version, I find it hard to listen to the original. I’ve come to expect this version’s softness to the extent that Crosby, Stills & Nash’s harmonies in the original startle me. Yeah, yeah, I know. I should show more reverence to the trailblazers, but I really dig this version. Check it out for yourself.

To keep up with beauty is the end, follow the band’s Facebook page.