Album Review: Robin Trower, Maxi Priest & Livingstone Brown – United State of Mind

Robin Trower, Maxi Priest & Livingstone Brown – United State of Mind

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

Album Review of Robin Trower, Maxi Priest & Livingstone Brown: United State of Mind (Manhaton Records)

What do you get when you combine classic rock guitar legend Robin Trower, reggae/R&B icon Maxi Priest, and esteemed musician/producer/mix engineer Livingstone Brown? These big-name groupings don’t always work, but in this case, the trio seems to have completely bought into their creative work together, and you get a truly always-on-point recording with broad-based appeal that’s a very cool, easy, enjoyable listen from beginning to end, quite possibly a must-have for your music collection, regardless of which of the three musicians your tastes are usually most closely aligned with.

Trower, Priest, and Brown kick things off with the title track, a funky, smooth, mid-tempo R&B number that flashes what would be a little danceable (if faster) beat that adds character and some guitar parts that draw your attention by slicing right through the rest of the music bed. “United State of Mind” is a great introduction to the style of music these have created. It’s a catchy, laid-back groove worth listening to with your eyes closed, one of my many favorite songs on this album.

Another favorite, the very next song, “Are We Just People,” slows things down but adds some urgency and a massively engaging, rhythmic, sexy musical hook.

“Hands to the Sky” has a big, open, cheerful, sunny-day vibe. The vocals, the phrasing, the upbeat rhythm, and the placement of the horns are all calming and smile-inducing.

“Good Day” showcases the sort of very cool, slow-rockin’ blues guitar-playing you’d hope and expect someone like Trower to bring to this project. It’s just one of several spots on this record that Trower’s guitarwork emphasizes the blues aspect of rhythm and blues.

“On Fire Like Zsa Zsa” is the kind of uptempo, kind-of-danceable number you might hear in the background of a film, perhaps during a montage while the protagonist is strutting through town getting things done or, really, during any montage segment that moves the story along quickly.

Next, the heartfelt, soulful, slow “Bring It All Back to You” is a powerful ballad. “Walking Wounded” follows, just as slow and powerful, but with a much darker tone, captured perfectly by the phrasing and emotion in Priest’s vocals. “Sunrise Revolution” carries the slower tempo through to a third straight song, but this with a hopeful message (“Maybe the time has come, where we should stand as one”), though its a message predicated on the less-than-stellar reality as a starting point. And “Where Our Love Came From” keeps the tone mellow, closing out the disc with plaintive guitar wails, pleading vocals, and a nice, calm fade-out.

Though Robin Trower, Maxi Priest, and Livingstone Brown may be a somewhat unexpected grouping of musicians, the result is a welcome addition to the pantheon of rock/blues/R&B music. It features strong songwriting, too many musical and vocal standout moments to count, and a cohesive-but-varied collection of songs. This is a smooth, relaxed R&B album with good, old-fashioned, big, rich, lush production, but still very song and artist-focused, able to appeal to a broad musical audience. So put the headphones on, sit back, relax, and let your ears enjoy.

Looking Ahead

You can find live performance listings for Robin Trower on the “Events” tab of his Facebook page or on the “Tours” page of his website. Robin currently has September and October U.S. tour dates listed, followed by an October date in Belgium and November gigs in the UK. Likewise, you can find upcoming show dates for Maxi Priest on the “Events” tab of his Facebook page. Currently, Maxi’s only listed upcoming show is a June 5th performance at the Bath Reggae Festival.

Album Review: Aaron Nathans & Michael G. Ronstadt – Shadow of the Cyclone

Aaron Nathans & Michael G. Ronstadt

photo courtesy of Aaron Nathans

World Premiere of Nathans & Ronstadt’s New Music Video: “Strongman”

Before I dive into the review, Geoff Wilbur’s Music Blog is pleased to have the honor of presenting the official premiere of the very-cool video for “Strongman.” It’s the newest video from Aaron Nathans & Michael G. Ronstadt, featuring the song “Strongman” from their Shadow of the Cyclone album.

Album Review of Aaron Nathans & Michael G. Ronstadt: Shadow of the Cyclone

You’ve read about Aaron Nathans & Michael G. Ronstadt on these pages before. I was first introduced to this Philadelphia-Cincinnati duo just two years ago at a house concert in Massachusetts. With Nathans on guitar and Ronstadt on cello, these songwriter-storytellers are able to pave a surprisingly broad path through their part of the music world. On their website, they refer to themselves as “progressive folk,” and I’d be unable to improve upon that in two words or fewer, so I won’t try. From slow to uptempo, from cheerful to ominous to downright silly, their performances and songwriting are varied enough that you’ll find the time passing quickly, wondering where the next curve leads, whether you’re catching them live or enjoying their new album, Shadow of the Cyclone.

Aaron Nathans & Michael G. Ronstadt - Shadow of the Cyclone

image courtesy of Aaron Nathans

“Ghost Writer” kicks off the album with a sound reminiscent of the early ’70s, broad, open-sounding, big-festival folk music you used to hear on FM radio back when I was little kid. Almost-country folk, the storytellin’ kind. Indeed, a lot of the songs on Shadow of the Cyclone are “the storytellin’ kind.” It’s a lane Nathans & Ronstadt fill well, and for their skill at that alone, this would be a noteworthy disc. But they’re more versatile than that.

Nathans & Ronstadt throw a little silliness and a tad more energy our way on the fun, clever “Haunted House.” You know, I think the song’s concept could be the premise for a TV show. Someone get Netflix on the line!

“Strongman” is a bit dark and deep, at least initially, interspersed with lively music with a bit of a circus freakshow (or Coney Island, as referenced in the song) element, packaged into a neatly enjoyable bundle.

Aaron Nathans & Michael G. Ronstadt

photo courtesy of Aaron Nathans

There are many songs on Shadow of the Cyclone that couldn’t be performed without a cello. Notably, the opening to “My Only Leap,” which adds an ominous flavor that would be tough for more traditional duos – those without deep-sounding, bowed instruments that aren’t tucked under the chin, for example – to replicate.

Nathans & Ronstadt plumb the depths a little deeper on “I Go Low,” a deep-vocalled, thought-provoking barroom-swaying declaration of a song that’s a fun ride that really does… well, go low.

The sole cover on Shadow of the Cyclone is a booming rendition of Sting’s “Englishman in New York.” The duo played this when I saw them perform live, and I’m really glad they included it in this collection.

“Phantasmagoria” is an instrumental that explores Nathans’ & Ronstadt’s influences, ranging cohesively (somehow) from hillbilly to chamber music. “Just One Minute” contrasts its pleasantly moving-along rhythm with a lot of tension, which is introduced by tempo changes and instrumentation. “Come On Sun” blends elements of folk-country, mid-tempo Americana, and classic rock (notably, in the occasional distortion); a cool blend.

That’s not everything on the album, but I think you get the picture – really cool, varied stuff with originality you’ll continue to appreciate after eight dozen listens.

Aaron Nathans & Michael G. Ronstadt

photo courtesy of Aaron Nathans

Shadow of the Cyclone ends with “Carry a Tune,” an odd, side-to-side, toe-tapping swayer with well-placed harmonies and big, sweeping orchestration at times that suggests a panoramic view displayed on a motion picture screen. Covering a broad range, the song ends abruptly. Album over.

Coupling well-structured, thoughtful, traditional songwriting with crisp musicianship and booming vocals, then adding this duo’s instruments of choice, Nathans & Ronstadt have a sound that’s familiar but unique and difficult to replicate. That’s their calling card, and it’s the reason you should check out their music. Even if it’s not your go-to genre – it certainly isn’t mine – there’s a very good chance you’ll really dig this exceptionally talented duo’s music.

Aaron Nathans & Michael G. Ronstadt

photo courtesy of Aaron Nathans

Looking Ahead

You’ll find the duo’s live dates on the “Gigs” page of their website. There actually are a couple shows on the calendar at the moment. Don’t get too excited – the venues are doing online shows. But do get excited because they’ll be Nathans & Ronstadt shows. First is a Sunroom House Concert (Dover, DE) performance on March 13th; then a Linden Tree Coffeehouse (Wakefield, MA) gig on April 10th.

You can see each of them individually at performances listed on their individual websites. Per the “Gigs” page of Aaron’s website, he doesn’t have any solo performances scheduled. The “Shows” page of Michael’s website does list three Ronstadt Brothers gigs in mid-April.

Be sure to follow the duo’s and the individual artists’ websites for additional information and upcoming performances as they’re added.

Album Review: Dan Lawson Band – Abyssal Plain

Dan Lawson Band – Abyssal Plain

image courtesy of Dan Lawson

Album Review of Dan Lawson Band: Abyssal Plain

New England blues/blues rock group Dan Lawson Band kicks off its six-song CD with an old-school blues rhythm, groovy, shredding axework, and a seedy blues joint-worthy, half-spoken/half-sung, gravelly vocal growl on “Borderline.”

“Don’t Tell Me That You Love Me” is a classic blues jam, sporting only-in-blues lyrics like those from which the song title is drawn, “Don’t tell me that you love me, don’t be hanging ’round my back door.”

“Hell On Wheels” is that George Thorogood-styled, straight-ahead, attitude-filled blues rocker you’d expect from a good rockin’ blues group of the Dan Lawson Band’s caliber.

“Minor Issue” returns to slower, classic, poorly-lit club-style blues, much like “Don’t Tell Me…” earlier, serving up another tune built upon a classic blues rhythm, with wailing guitar supporting the emotional pleas of the vocals.

“Maryia” is the most classic rock-flavored song in this collection, with a ’70s or ’80s rock vibe. Striaght-ahead rock, “Maryia” brings to mind bands like the J. Giels Band, The Romantics, and the Michael Stanley Band. This tune would fall somewhere within the rock zone triangulated by that trio of rock mainstays.

“Turtle Soup” closes the six-song grouping with a frantic energy, sort of a rockabilly instrumental in blues-rock form. It’s as if the Dan Lawson Band is playing the patrons to the door, and indeed they are. The blues/rock club Abyssal Plain is closing for the night.

Throughout the disc, gritty, bluesy axework abounds, with all the energy of a top-shelf blues band at your favorite hole-in-the-wall dive bar packaged in album form. Thoroughly enjoyable beginning-to-end, I dig this disc.

Bonus

The band included its performance of “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'” in the review package I received. Available as a single, and dating back to 2014, I’ve gotta believe this groovy blues number is a favorite at the band’s holiday season gigs.

Looking Ahead

You can find where the Dan Lawson Band will be performing live via the “Calendar” page of the band’s website. There are currently 8 dates listed, in New Hampshire and Maine, from May through October, starting with a May 15th gig at the Kingston VFW in Kingston, NH. Check the website for details on currently scheduled shows and new performances as they’re added.

Album Review: Zach Phillips – The Wine of Youth

Zach Phillips

photo by Gloria Taylor; photo courtesy of Zach Phillips

Album Review of Zach Phillips: The Wine of Youth

I’ve reviewed a lot of hard rock lately, so here’s a little balance for you. Zach Phillips is a soft rock singer-songwriter of exceptional talent, delivering in The Wine of Youth a well-constructed songs and pleasant melodies delivered with his warm, welcoming voice. Its laid-back soft rock style incorporates healthy doses of soft Americana, more energetic roots rock and perhaps a hint of folk to create Zach’s unassumingly original sound.

Zach Phillips - The Wine of Youth album coverSometimes, as on “Spirits Rising from the Lake,” there’s a clear ’70s rock flavor to Zach’s music, maybe even a more modern Tom Petty flavor. It’s hard to place, exactly, since this song – most on this disc, in fact – just move along so pleasantly I catch myself bobbing my head left and right, tapping my feet, and enjoying. I’m sure you will, too.

Other times, like on “Stars Fading Behind Clouds,” the guitar picking suggests folk – just an example of one of the places I’m getting that vibe. In this instance, there’s an open-spaces, western, Americana flavor, as well.

Zach Phillips

photo via NAMM; photo courtesy of Zach Phillips

One of my favorite songs early on this disc, “Ladybird,” sports a different type of Americana flavor, with slide guitar (and the use of the word “magpie,” probably) giving it a down-home feel, though with a big, full sound like you might hear in a small-town concert hall.

“Cascadia” adds a little psychedelia – and much more volume – to Zach’s laid-back style. Then, next, as much as the power of “Cascadia” will shake you awake, “Stranded in the Sun” will let you drift off again. If you’re looking for the antidote to too much hard rock, this one of the recommended tracks, soft, meandering, and perhaps a little more thinly instrumented than most of the songs on this album. Introspective, as well, its deep thoughts conclude with “Please, would you take me as I am?”

Zach Phillips

photo by Gloria Taylor; photo courtesy of Zach Phillips

Other songs worth noting are “Cemetery Girl,” with a guitar and vocal style that are darker, producing an almost alt-rock vibe on what’s still very clearly a soft Americana style; “Caroline”, with a plodding pace that belies the song’s engaging, emotional slow build to power; and “Hey, San Diego,” which is a cheerfully uptempo ditty that lightly twangs, an open love letter to the city of San Diego.

The title song, “The Wine of Youth,” closes the album gently and nostalgically, a soft landing for an album that’s an ideal, welcome respite when you’re looking for a little calmness.

In total, The Wine of Youth is a sharply-assembled, enjoyable, laid-back soft rock album with the depth and breadth of underlying influences to pleasantly allow repeated listens. It’s a great addition to a broad-based music collection. I dig this disc.

 

Album Review: George Lynch & Jeff Pilson – Heavy Hitters

George Lynch & Jeff Pilson

photo courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

Album Review of George Lynch & Jeff Pilson: Heavy Hitters (Deadline Music)

Yes, you’ll know all of the songs. Or most of them, anyway. And we all know how cool popular songs can sound when exceptionally talented rockers give them a hard rock/light metal arrangement. This album does not disappoint. I always dig when hard rockers crank up the volume on covers of mellower tracks. When done well, you get… well, George Lynch & Jeff Pilson‘s Heavy Hitters.

Lynch and Pilson are joined on this album by Brian Tichy on drums and Wil Martin on lead vocals for most of the songs. Jeff Pilson takes the lead on “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” with Angelo Moore adding organ on that track. And Marq Torien provides vocals on “You Got the Love.”

The album kicks off with a delicious cover of Joan Osbourne’s “One of Us.” The big, open, slightly jangly sound of a George Lynch guitar opening is unmistakable, and the song builds slowly to power, pulling you in as you listen, loosening the reins just a little, and then delivering the goods with powerful guitars and vocals. Even though it’s a slow/mid-tempo number, it packs a huge punch and contains a dark, meandering guitar solo; it will soon be a favorite.

George Lynch & Jeff Pilson – Heavy Hitters

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

That’s followed by Lynch & Pilson’s renditions of Rufus and Chaka Khan’s “You Got the Love,” Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth,” Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World,” Madonna’s “Music,” OneRepublic and Timbaland’s “Apologize,” Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ “Nowhere to Run,” Prince’s “Kiss,” R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” and Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova,” with Lil’ Richard’s “Lucille” as a bonus track.

Among those, in addition to “One of Us,” there are a few more standouts for me. (Your mileage – depending on your specific musical tastes – may vary.)

“You Got the Love” sounds like the sort of jammin’ funky metal you’d expect from Extreme – not the hits, the more adventurous album tracks.

“Ordinary World” is enveloped in one of those guitar-heavy music bubbles, with a little edginess in the vocals before hitting the big, open, feel-good chorus. Honestly, before looking at the album information, I forgot this was a Duran Duran song. With this arrangement, it seems more like something you’d hear from one of those ’90s post-grunge hard rock bands instead, though it was one of Duran Duran’s more guitar-rockin’ hits, so it didn’t need as big an overhaul as, say, “Rio” would.

“Music” is pretty true to Madonna’s original, except cranked up to eleven with Tichy beating the hell out of the drums, trying to knock them through the floor, keeping a heavy, steady rhythm, AM radio static-filled shout-sung-but-tuneful vocals from Martin, a notable funky bass bit from Pilson, and, of course, Lynch’s guitar wails. By the end of the song, you’ll forget the original wasn’t this heavy.

“It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” is performed as a straight-ahead hard rocker, packing lots of oomph. And Lynch and Pilson mostly just add a full, rich, warm, rockin’ music base to “Champagne Supernova,” essentially turning it into the big-sound, six-and-a-half minute long slow-dance metal ballad on the disc… with the requisite late-song, super-long, shredding guitar solo, obvs. (Why do you think hard rock/metal guitarists are always so willing to do ballads?)

You’ll have other favorites, I’m sure, but those are mine. On the whole, this is a fun, really rockin’ album. George and Jeff have done a terrific job selecting songs that are well-designed for a hard rock/metal makeover. You know I love original music, but I also love super-original covers of great songs. If you do, too – especially when it’s George Lynch manning the axe! – grab a copy of Heavy Hitters.

Looking Ahead

When he’s back on the road, you’ll be able to catch George Lynch’s tour dates here at the “Tour Dates” section of his website. The George Lynch Fan Page on Facebook also does a good job of keeping up with him. You’ll have your choice between Jeff Pilson’s website and his Facebook page to keep up with his endeavors.

Album Review: Gráinne Duffy – Voodoo Blues

Grainne Duffy - Voodoo Blues

image courtesy of Frank Roszak Promotions

Album Review of Gráinne Duffy: Voodoo Blues

Voodoo Blues is a collection gritty, energetic, good-time blues and blues-based rock ‘n roll that’ll grab you by the throat at song number one and won’t let go. Gráinne Duffy‘s voice reminds me a lot of blues-based hard rocker Joanna Dean, whose solo release Misbehavin’ – with its moderate hit “Kiss This” – and subsequent album Code of Honor with her band Bad Romance back in the late ’80s and early ’90s were a couple of my favorite hard rock albums during tail end of the so-called “hair metal” melodic hard rock era. Code of Honor, in particular, leaned heavily toward the “blues” end of blues-based hard rock. Voodoo Blues is similarly positioned, though it may be just on the blues side of that line, at the rock end of hard rockin’ blues. Anyway, for me, “reminds me of Joanna Dean” is the equivalent of “must own this disc,” but I’ll dig into Voodoo Blues with a bit more detail.

The album kicks off with “Voodoo Blues,” an expansive, hot, hot desert-flavored opening that turns into a jangly rockin’ blues number, with wailing blues-rock guitar accompanying Gráinne’s rockin’, growlin’, oh-so-tuneful bluesy rock vocal howl. “Mercy,” next, accompanies that howl, guitar, and beat with some filthy, back alley blues-joint organ in ample support.

Pardon me, but doesn’t the opening guitar-driven rhythm of “Blue Skies” doesn’t have a hint of a country flavor to it? Or perhaps that line’s just been blurred by Shania Twain, who could also sing the hell out of this song with its big vocals and sass. Regardless of the comparison, Gráinne delivers it with a little more gravelly growl. Then, on “Shine It On Me,” Gráinne adds a little bit of a funky rhythm to the blues, as both guitar and organ drive this big-stage number.

Things slow down with “Don’t You Cry For Me,” an old-school, screaming, swaying, lay-it-out-there, preach-the-blues number. “Roll It” brings back the energy before “Wreck It” cranks it up to a full-on wail again; it’s a song with kind of a Fabulous Thunderbirds tempo, a hint of a wry Sheryl Crow-like hip coolness in the vocal delivery, and a George Thorogood-like pace on the guitar line.

Gráinne mellows things out with the smoother “No Matter What I Do,” a song whose tempo allows you to lean back, close your eyes, and sway. Kumbaya, rockin’ blues ballad style.

“Tick Tock,” the penultimate track, is a grimier number sung with serious attitude. And the disc closes with “Hard Rain,” a thumping, plodding, persistent, uncompromising, rockin’ blues tour de force that, I’m sure, fills the room with sound when performed live. And just like that, crash, the album’s over.

Speaking of catching a live show – and I’m just imagining here – if you’re around Boston, you’d hope to hear her in a premier blues listening room like 9 Wallis – a spot I love… and would love a lot more if it weren’t on the exact opposite side of the city from me. Of course, with her big sound and even bigger talent, she could just as easily be playing a large theater.

Anyway, I’ve been looking forward to sharing Gráinne Duffy’s music with you for a few months now. She’s one of those singers you know is special within the first five seconds. So, you know, give her five seconds to prove me right.

Looking Ahead

When she performs live, you’ll be able to find Gráinne’s performances listed on the “Events” tab of her Facebook page.

EP Review: Dead Rituals – Dead Rituals II

Dead Rituals

photo courtesy of Dead Rituals

EP Review of Dead Rituals: Dead Rituals II

Kind of classic alt-rock meets dream pop with an edgy, indie attitude, Dead Rituals II is a really cool amalgamation of sounds that Dead Rituals‘ adept songwriting fits together quite well.

“Broken Memories,” for example, is primarily a catchy, hooky, mainstream classic alt-rocker that shifts about two-thirds of the way through into a floating dream pop number punctuated by rock drums as it merely prepares for its fade-out over the course of about 80 seconds. I wouldn’t recommend it as a songwriting style in general, but it totally works here, and it’s a great way to start this short collection of songs.

Dead Rituals - II

image courtesy of Dead Rituals

“Slow Down” has a more clearly ambient dream-rock vibe, mixing some classic new wave pop-rock rhythms with a very cool, buzzy, expansive rock sound. It’s this combination that gives the song its energy, a more rocking version of an album I discovered several years ago, the eponymous 2013 recording from the UK band Trophy Wife. Yeah, I know, I’m describing Dead Rituals’ sound – particularly that of “Slow Down,” by comparing it to a band you probably haven’t heard of. Sorry about that. But it’s a really cool sound; I’d love to pair Dead Rituals with Trophy Wife on a double-bill in college-town dive bar. Anyway, to keep us on our toes, “Slow Down” does the opposite of “Broken Memories”; rather than a long fade-out, the late tempo change in “Slow Down” is almost abruptly followed by the end of the song.

“When the Lights Are Out” again feels like it’s being played in a very big room, a slower-than-mid-tempo number that pings a bit like a guitar-driven, introspective, slightly-mumbling, college pop-rock band playing in an empty swimming pool. It’s a unique, engagin sound, and I’m sure my description hasn’t done it justice.

The four-song EP concludes with an acoustic version of “Slow Down” as a “bonus track.” It’s a fun deja vu, an altered version of the EP’s second song.

With a style that’s completely familiar yet creatively original, Dead Rituals II is a collection of music absolutely worth giving a listen to. Several, in fact, as it grows more comfortable and latches onto you deeper with each listen. Check it out.

Beyond the EP

Since releasing this EP in October, Dead Rituals released the song “2020 Eyelids” in December and “Broken Memories (Sight Telma Club Remix)” without a release date, though presumably after this EP, which contains “Broken Memories.” It’s an interesting reimagination of the track by Sight Telma Club.

Though no upcoming dates are listed at the moment, keep an eye on the “Events” tab of Dead Rituals’ Facebook page for gig listings.

EP Review: Potter’s Daughter – Casually Containing Rage

Potter's Daughter

photo courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

EP Review of Potter’s Daughter: Casually Containing Rage (Melodic Revolution Records)

Casually Containing Rage is a three-song release from progressive rockers Potter’s Daughter (Dyanne Potter Voegtlin on piano and vocals and Jan-Christian Vögtlin on bass).

Fans of progressive soft rock and ’70s soft pop-rock music might really dig this album. A jazzy flavor combines with experimental progressive stylings and a wide-open ’70s album-oriented soft rock vibe to comprise this three-song collection.

The first track, “To My Love,” is a new arrangement of a song that appeared on Potter’s Daughter’s 2018 debut album The Blind Side. Dyanne and Jan-Christian are joined by Amit Chatterjee (guitar), Patrick Carmichael (drums), and Tom Borthwick (soundscaping). The vocals are crisp and clear with a chanting quality and cadence. The music bed is airy and somewhat eerie, except for the third quarter of the song, which features a slow-jamming, softly wailing guitar solo. It’s an otherworldly combination; hence, my application of the descriptor “experimental progressive.”

Potter's Daughter - Casually Containing Rage

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

Next, “Accidentally Like a Martyr” is a Warren Zevon cover. This one was recorded by just Dyanne and Jan-Christian, with Jan-Christian adding guitar and drum programming to his bassist role. It comes perhaps the closest on the disc to delivering a song you might have heard on the radio, namely a 1970s AOR radio station, but decade notwithstanding, it’s the song of the three that’s the most accessible to the broadest listening audience.

The final song on the EP, “We Could Be,” is a song about racial injustice, featuring bits from David Greene NPR broadcasts. It has a mildly funky, ’70s lounge-music groove, with news reports talking about George Floyd in the background behind the lyrics “We could be better than this. We could be so much better than this,” followed by news reports about Ahmaud Abery in the background during a musical bridge. We all know music can be impactful, and this is Potter’s Daughter’s song for social justice, with very much a ’70s soft rock flavor. It subtly builds in strength, just enough to add impact as it continues.

Casually Containing Rage is a great introduction to Potter’s Daughter’s specific progressive style. It’s worth a listen for anyone whose musical taste includes even a hint of any soft prog or ’70s AOR soft rock leanings.

Looking Ahead

One place to find future Potter’s Daughter live performances is on the “Events” tab of the band’s Facebook page.

EP Review: Leah Belle Faser – Crossing Hermi’s Bridge

Leah Belle Faser

photo by Deborah Celecia Wagoner; photo courtesy of Michael J. Media Group

EP Review of Leah Belle Faser: Crossing Hermi’s Bridge

Leah Belle Faser has one of the biggest, baddest, “how is she not a star already?” sounds of the young country artists I’ve heard lately. Just a few seconds into my first listen, I knew I review this EP and share her music with you. And now, after several listens, whenever one of her songs starts on my playlist, I rack my brain trying to remember which famous country artist she is. That’s an easy way to tell you’ve found a truly special artist. And the lyrics and music are all Leah Belle Faser originals, too. She’s a complete artist.

Leah Belle Faser - Crossing Hermi's Bridge EP cover

image courtesy of Michael J. Media Group

The (boom!) massive hit of the disc is its third song, “Better Than Mine.” It’s a melancholy, dreamy number, performed more mid-tempo than slowly, but still not usually a breakout song tempo… oh, but the hooks! And the faster-and-slower tempo changes. And the lyrics! It’s a heartbreak, post-split song about the conflicting emotions after a breakup, when, even though it was clearly the right call – something portrayed by this song largely in attitude and briefly by lyric – it’s hard to see an ex moving on faster and, seemingly, better. And the lyrics in the chorus? Check this out (because you’ll be learning them and singing along): “When I said I wish you the best, but I didn’t know that would mean you’d be doing just fine, without me in your life, a new girl every night, I guess your best is better than mine.”

Leah Belle Faser

photo by Deborah Celecia Wagoner; photo courtesy of Michael J. Media Group

EP-opener “The Lift,” however, has hit potential in its own right. Leah’s voice raises strongly, lilts sweetly, and pushes persistently and convincingly through the lyrics of this song about finding love. Big-time country hit lyrics, to be sure: “Kiss me like you met me in the pouring rain, when I wore that Stardust t-shirt and it drove you insane…”

And “Second Hand Store” is an energetic, sassy pop-country number, with a cheerful tempo and small-town charm. On this song, it’s just some of the small turns of phrase that pull me in, from the catchy, unexpected rhyme of “With Burberry and Tiffany, you’ll have your epiphany” to the clever little “You finally realized the juice ain’t worth the squeeze.”

Leah Belle Faser

photo by Deborah Celecia Wagoner; photo courtesy of Michael J. Media Group

The third song on the disc is “Better Than Mine,” which I’ve already gushed about. It’s followed by “What Could Have Been,” that truly thoughtful song of missed opportunities, when you’re young and in love but are just passing driftwood riding divergent currents. No snark in this one. Just plenty of feelings, sweetly detailed vocals runs, and a textured depth of emotion, both when Leah stretches out the notes and when she quickly dashes through a lyrically-clever, fast-paced run.

The softness continues on “Back Home,” a memory-filled song about missing where you came from while pursuing your future far away. A song about sometimes wanting the life and surroundings you grew up with, about your home always being in your heart and missing what you’ve left behind. Leah’s voice roars, then softens, then roars again, taking you on a roller coaster ride that leaves you with watery eyes and a lump in your throat. (I’m not crying; you’re crying.)

Leah Belle Faser

photo by Deborah Celecia Wagoner; photo courtesy of Michael J. Media Group

Rock guitar kicks off “Play On Words,” and Leah’s voice reflects an attitude and edge that’s almost along the lines of Alannah Myles’ “Black Velvet,” but more country and with a little bit of that sassy Opry twang. Every time I hear this song I think it reminds me of a really famous song. And then I realize I’ve now heard “Play On Words” enough that it, in fact, is the song it reminds me of. Sign of a great tune.

Finally, Crossing Hermi’s Bridge concludes with “Ruled” a mid-tempo pop-country-rocker, that defiant number that’s almost a requirement of a young vocalist. Leah has shown a variety of sides of herself on this short, seven-song collection, but this song is the only one that displays this specific tone of very cool yet quite familiar defiance.

And… whew! Even without the well-crafted lyrics, with every word so cleverly and precisely chosen like an established veteran songwriter, Leah Belle Faser’s delivery would deserve a country music fan’s attention. But she’s a songwriter and lyricist of astounding caliber, too! Just wow! I realize I’m more than 700 words into the review, but I’m speechless… figuratively speaking.

Leah Belle Faser

photo by Deborah Celecia Wagoner; photo courtesy of Michael J. Media Group

Looking Ahead

You need to click on the “News” tab of Leah’s website too find her upcoming shows, and she has three listed. On February 13th, she’ll be at J. Michael’s Prime in Canton, GA. On March 5th, she’ll be at the Old Vinings Inn in Atlanta. And on March 13th, she’ll be performing at Engelheim Vineyards. If you’re venturing out, go hear her perform live. And if you’re not going out for live music right now, then check back at Leah’s website a couple weeks after you get your second vaccine.

Album Review: William Shatner – The Blues

William Shatner – The Blues

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

Album Review of William Shatner: The Blues (Cleopatra Records)

One of a kind. This album. And William Shatner. The Blues grew on me slowly, and I guarantee it’s not for everyone – in fact, you probably really have to love Shatner and “get” his persona to dig this disc – but man, it’s got style. And it leaves me with a singular conclusion: William Shatner is a herky-jerky rock and blues beat poet.

First, make sure you’re in the right mood for this album. It’s never smooth – Shatner’s delivery guarantees that, as his vocals, more spoken than sung, are largely near but outside the pocket, farther off the beat than you’re accustomed and not consistently so, providing dissonance, but they also deliver a very original, hipper-than-perhaps-initially-apparent vibe. Never quite what you expect, the album is a work of art, and it has a style all its own, even if it takes a few listens to really understand its groove.

There’s also some amazing musicianship on this record, and you’ll recognize many of the famous tunes Shatner covers. The Blues contains 14 songs, most of them featuring big-name artists in accompaniment. In fact, here’s the track listing of all 14 songs, with the featured artists who appear with Shatner on the first 13 tracks: “Sweet Home Chicago” featuring Brad Paisley; “I Can’t Quit You Baby” featuring Kirk Fletcher; “Sunshine Of Your Love” featuring Sonny Landreth; “The Thrill Is Gone” featuring Ritchie Blackmore; ‘Mannish Boy” featuring Ronnie Earl; “Born Under A Bad Sign” featuring Tyler Bryant; “I Put A Spell On You” featuring Pat Travers; “Crossroads” featuring James Burton; “Smokestack Lightnin’” featuring Jeff “Skunk” Baxter; “As The Years Go Passing By” featuring Arthur Adams; “Let’s Work Together” featuring Harvey Mandel and Canned Heat; “Route 66” featuring Steve Cropper; “In Hell I’ll Be in Good Company” featuring Albert Lee; and “Secrets Or Sins” (without a “featured” superstar accompanying Shatner). Sure, I’m not the habit of just listing the tracks in a review, but how better to show the renowned musical talent appearing on this particular disc?

Album-opener “Sweet Home Chicago” quickly catches your ear, if largely due to the easy familiarity with this grand old blues standard. “I Can’t Quit You,” an otherwise mellow groove, is sung with a truly pain-felt wail. And on “Sunshine Of Your Love,” Shatner’s loud-whispered vocals, along with the psychedelic music, help create a sixties vibe; you’ll half-expect Austin Powers to pop in mid-song.

Among other favorites: “Mannish Boy” is reminiscent of what you’d expect in an old school, smoky Chicago blues club. There’s an almost carnival barker-esque flavor – there may be a little old-fashioned Batman villain hiding in there – to Shatner’s enthusiastic delivery of “I Put a Spell On You.” And the chugging-along tempo of “Smokestack Lightnin'” is accompanied interestingly with Shatner’s sobbing-style vocals.

Interestingly – and it’s hard to tell if it’s true or if you just become accustomed to Shatner’s delivery style – the album closes with four relatively mainstream songs, much more so than the first ten. So even if you decide to sample but can’t get into the arthouse beatnik-blues mostly resident early on the disc, at least give the last four tracks a listen. These last four songs are the ones I’d suggest are performed the least uniquely, thought that’s a relative term.

The first of those is “Let’s Work Together.” Shatner’s wails coincide with screaming guitars. His “let’s work together” delivery is commanding. And you’ll find yourself singing along each time he sings the lyrics “every boy, girl, woman, and a man.” This one’s fun, with the most minimal need to appreciate an artistic delivery required.

Next up, Shatner’s spoken delivery is so on-the-mark on “In Hell I’ll Be in Good Company” that I can’t imagine it performed any other way. This song and the preceding “Let’s Work Together” are frequently my two favorites on The Blues. Or at least the two into which I can sink and get comfortable.

Shatner then delivers a fun, light-hearted blues-rockin’ rendition of “Route 66,” supported quite well by the smooth, steady guitar-rich music bed. And finally, the album slows to close with a sparsely-instrumented blues number, guided by a softly sobbing guitar and Shatner’s delivery, as if revealing deep, dark life secrets, appropriately, on “Secrets Or Sins.”

This one-of-a-kind album is a great, irreverently reverent tribute to the blues from Shatner. When I’m in the mood, it’s a real treat to listen to. But most of the collection requires active listening, in much the same way modern art demands active viewing. So when I’m not in the mood, I skip it and listen to something else. And that’s the best way to appreciate this album. If you’re into music that’s really “out there” – or if you can appreciate comfortable old favorites that are performed purposefully this far from the mainstream – give William Shatner’s The Blues a listen. Or maybe two or three. I’m really glad I did.

Need more Shatner?

Need more William Shatner in your life? Try his YouTube page, which is really cool. Or his website, which also lists his personal appearances. And, of course, you can find him on Facebook and Twitter.