Album Review: Tosha Owens – Wrong Side of Right

Tosha Owens - Wrong Side of Right

image courtesy of Tosha Owens

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Tosha Owens: Wrong Side of Right

Multiple award-winning singer-songwriter Tosha Owens hits it out of the park with this latest blues and soul drenched venture. Owens has been a consistent fixture on the Detroit music scene since the ‘80s, and this album proves she is not one to rest on her laurels. She and guitarist/producer/co-writer Brett Lucas are a great team that has crafted a dynamic set of songs that are sure to resonate.

Tosha Owens

photo courtesy of Tosha Owens

“You Ain’t Right” opens the album with a minor mid-tempo blues burner about a one-sided relationship. From the get-go, you know Owens is gonna give it to you straight. The title track “Wrong Side of Right” follows and picks up the pace, with some light funk as the singer talks about choices and those gray areas in between. “I’ll Just Say It” is a great ballad in the vein of Al Green. This features a smooth jazz touch from John Douglas on flugelhorn. Somewhat of a surprise is a deep cut from the Janis Joplin songbook called “Half Moon.” There are some great horns here along with Lucas’ funky guitar and a standout performance from Owens. Another highlight is the first-person account of one’s need to “pay it forward” in helping those less fortunate, with the very soulful “Cold in Detroit Tonight.” Pianist Evan Mercer kills on the Ray Charles ballad “Ain’t That Love.” It’s a fitting and sweet way to put a beautiful bow on this stellar dozen of superb modern and classic soul and blues-rock gems.

Live Performances

The “Shows” page of Tosha’s website lists her 2018 shows. Keep an eye on that page as she adds 2019 performances.

Album Review: Persona – Metamorphosis

Persona

photo courtesy of Persona

Album Review of Persona: Metamorphosis

Persona - Metamorphosis

image courtesy of Persona

This is another extraordinary effort from heavy progressive metal band Persona. Comprised of Melik Melek Khelifa (lead guitar), Jelena Dobric (singer/piano), Yosri Ouada (rhythm guitar), Youssef Aouadi (drums), Walid Bessadok (keyboard), and Nesrine Mahbouli (bass), this Tunis-based outfit has produced a worthy follow-up to Elusive Reflections, which I reviewed here a couple years ago.

Jelena Dobric

Jelena Dobric; photo courtesy of Persona

From the start, you know Persona means business, as they kick off album-opener “Prologue – The Initiation” with a serious metal growl, proving the band’s progressive rock musicianship is matched by its metal attitude. “The Omen of Downfall” and “Esuriance Guilefulness Omnipotence” continue in that strain, with nearly angelic soaring vocals interrupted by growls as the tunes enter into heavier territory from time to time, supported by a menacing musical backdrop.

Melik Melek Khelifa

Melik Melek Khelifa; photo courtesy of Persona

The amped-up energy in “Esuriance Guilefulness Omnipotence” is carried over into “Armour of Thorns” via a less dense, energetic driving rhythm. I very much dig its rollicking tempo and baseline vocal melody, while musical explorations in the back half of the song add variety that keeps things interesting.

Still heavy and with some meaty, chunky guitarwork driving it forward in parts, the softer-touch “Netherlight” fits in nicely mid-album, though the opening growls of “Bete Noire” let the listener know the intensity is about to crank back up.

Nesrine Mahbouli and Youssef Aouadi

Nesrine Mahbouli and Youssef Aouadi; photos courtesy of Persona

I’m running out of adjectives, but “Invidia” and “Hellgrind” keep the energy level up, with “Hellgrind,” naturally, the darker of the two.

The energy level sustains for the rest of the disc, with “The Seeress of Triumph” a back-end favorite, with its insistent rhythmic energy, driving the album toward its closing “Epilogue – The Final Deliverance,” a pleasantly low-key release of pent-up energy that carries Metamorphosis to its conclusion.

Walid Bessadok and Yosri Ouada

Walid Bessadok and Yosri Ouada; photos courtesy of Persona

I’ve now reviewed two Persona albums, and it’s clear they’ve earned a place at the heavy progressive rock table (and concert/festival circuit), likely to appeal to a broad cross-section of fans spanning several rock/metal sub-genres. Truly inventive, progressive axework. Sweetly powerful and soaring vocals punctuated with rough-edged metal chops, replete with the requisite growls. And the songwriting skills to add variety to the song mix. I’m not sure which album is my favorite, Elusive Reflections or Metamorphosis, but I’d urge heavy prog-rock/metal fans to pick up one, play it awhile, and then grab a copy of the other.

Persona

photo courtesy of Persona

Looking Ahead

Keep an eye on Persona’s concert schedule. There’s nothing listed on their Facebook events calendar at the moment, but watch for future shows. And maybe also sign up for the band’s newsletter via the bottom of their webpage to make sure you don’t miss out. If they make it to Boston one of these days, you bet I’ll be there. (As Europe has a better festival circuit, I imagine you’ll have better luck catching them live there, if you live outside the band’s native Tunisia.) Indeed, if you get a chance, Persona’s music is the sort of power rock assault you just don’t want to miss.

Album Review: Justin Piper – Transcend

Justin Piper

photo courtesy of Justin Piper

Album Review of Justin Piper: Transcend

You first read about Justin Piper here at the Blog in the spring of 2017, when he was one of the songwriters “in the round” featured during Off the Stage Music’s first Behind the Songs event. Today, I’ll take you through a spin of Justin’s latest release.

As you listen to Justin’s album Transcend, you’ll quickly discover instrumental guitar stylings that are unique and intricate; his music is memorable, with song structure and progressions forming tight single units, all cohesive within the album as a whole, tied together intentionally by writing and ordering the songs to connect to those before and after. And, of course, Justin does have an identifiable guitar style, intricate though it is, tying his songs together, as well. The style, if it must be categorized, is perhaps cool, nature-themed jazz, but very adult contemporary singer-songwriter structured (sans the singer part), forming its own little corner of the easy listening genre, as it sure is easy to listen to. In fact, it’s a form of music that stands up to dozens of listens a month for months on end – I know that from experience – without fading in enjoyment.

Justin Piper - Transcend

image courtesy of Justin Piper

Most of the songs on the disc evoke outdoor imagery. In cases like album-opener “Lakeside,” for example, you can almost hear raindrops falling on the lake, and also at times the lake washing against the shore.

“Through Composed” makes me picture an intellectual journey. There’s a meandering nature to the versus, with a faster pace to the chorus, which brings forth thoughts of an accelerated periods of understanding something, interspersed within prolonged periods of seeking and questioning. If I make an effort to picture physical events, I can, as well. That’s the cool thing about Justin’s compositions. They go somewhere, and they’re open to interpretation, even if/when he had something specific (and different) in mind. Of course, a lot of our favorite songs are that way.

Speaking of favorite songs, one of my preferred cuts on this disc, “Camels,” is next. It sports a recurring energetic series of notes that seem to exist in a few spots on this album, with soaring bridges in between. Very hip, cool, and jazzy in nature, this is one of the standout tracks on Transcend.

Justin Piper

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The soft finger-picking on “Rondo” forms a welcome, familiar, comforting North Star each time through the disc. Relaxing and calming. Recalling elements of many of the other tracks but with a light sense all its own, at times seeming to cheerfully indicate beams of sunlight shining through gaps in the pine forest before giving way to slightly different but sonically similar “Lenny Three.”

On “Falling Through the Dark,” Justin takes a little more exotic musical turn, with heavy strumming and a somewhat otherworldly twang driving the music. It flows nicely into “Mahavishnu’s Lullaby,” which softens the hard edges a bit and replaces them with some winding musical twists and turns.

“Peace Three” picks up the pace, perhaps one of the truly jazziest numbers on the album, with lightly dancing runs returning to a frenetic base rhythm. Followed by the memorable rhythm of “Fayetteville Honey,” this pair of songs is a welcome guidepost along the album’s musical journey that sparks a joyful smile of recognition each time through.

Justin Piper

photo courtesy of Justin Piper

From there, “Nearly Arriving” softly sets the stage for another of my absolute favorites on this disc, the pleasant “Snow Shower,” a song whose musical sprinkles land softly and joyfully with a light, upbeat energy. Brings forth images of frolicking in the snow and, during the slower segments, perhaps catching a flake or two on your tongue.

After “Bugs” zips by quickly, with an odd little sound at the end – a bug crawling or flying quickly and then getting zapped? – Justin showcases an odd, halfway off-kilter sound on “The Line.” It brings to mind, for me, an image of a snake-charmer getting a cobra to rise, though that’s only a 90% correct image, as there are a few notes that don’t quite fit. With these two tunes, though, Justin has added a bit of tension to the listening experience.

So he winds the album down with a couple songs that unwind the tension. First, “Stutter Steps,” which is a little stop-and-start – stutter step-like, I suppose – before washing the album out to sea with “Bobbing,” a number that (you guessed it) rises and falls pleasantly before twittering away to an end.

By the end of the first listen, you’ll realize Justin Piper’s dynamic, original talent, combining his songwriting skill with a unique guitar-playing style that’s soft but substantial. And the resulting Transcend is an album that’s enjoyable across repeated listens.

Where to Catch a Live Performance

At the moment, Justin’s performance calendar only lists his recurring Monday night gig at the Bell In Hand Tavern in Boston. Get out to see him some Monday night, and check back for more performances as he adds them.

Album Review: Shawn Butzin – Northern Trails

Shawn Butzin

photo courtesy of Shawn Butzin

Album Review of Shawn Butzin: Northern Trails

This review is long overdue, as Shawn Butzin has already released another EP, Adventures, since, but Northern Trails is such a great album I need to tell you about it. Shawn’s music sounds comfortable and familiar, like a favorite old shoe. I suppose it’s best described as Americana or, perhaps, folk-influenced country. At one time, I might have labeled this California country-rock due to its Eagles-ish rock edge with folky overtones, though Shawn lands on the country side of that equilibrium while I’d place the Eagles on the rock side. But you know by now I rarely have a favorite album that fits neatly into a category. Shawn emotive and not-quite-gravelly vocal combines with energetic strumming and, most importantly, imaginative and catchy songwriting that keeps the album moving forward, never settling into a rut, always turning out new wrinkles into a cohesive set of songs.

I have several favorites on this album, and disc-opener “Carefree to Carolina” is the first. A travelin’ song with twang and a feeling of wide open spaces, it’s driven by a hooky recurring guitar bit and a wisftul, edgy vocal, always persistently pushing forward without abandoning its laid-back posture.

Shawn Butzin - Northern Trails

image courtesy of Shawn Butzin

It’s followed by full-on contemplative moodiness in “What Did I Mean to You,” a plaintive ditty with a purposefully plodding rhythm, all serving the lyrics well. And, as with so many of his songs, Shawn’s lyrical skill shines on this song, with his words precisely chosen, suiting the song’s distinct flavor. In this case, descriptive but not showy.

The jangly, fun “Homemade Jesus” is a toetapper of the first order, its homespun twang delivering a vocal line full of emotion, while a more straightforward harmony vocal line adds stability. The song is over before it really settles in, a quick ditty (and “ditty” is descriptive in this case) that’s sure to be an audience favorite.

“Leaving Colorado” and “Hometown Blues” return the album to its wistful, melancholy lane. In this respect, Northern Trails‘ song order is one of the things that makes it such an interesting listen, a cohesive whole that never bores. Even though each song has its own distinctive sound, I can envision a grouping that wouldn’t accentuate the songs’ individuality as much.

Shawn follows those two songs with a very cool cover of “Blue Bayou.” His vocal waver adds a distinctive Butzin flavor to the well-worn favorite, and he even pulls out an insistive vocal edginess while hitting the high notes that’s not widely used in the rest of the collection. I wouldn’t necessarily have expected this cover based on Shawn’s other songs, but it fits quite nicely among Northern Trails‘ other entries.

Shawn Butzin

photo courtesy of Shawn Butzin

I’d place “You and I” at the alt-country edge of the disc, if only due to the sort of Talking Heads-reminiscent music bed. (I didn’t catch that comparison until after a few dozen listens, but now I can’t unhear it.)

“Back Together Someday” is more pure folky Americana twanger, a notably hopeful number that utilizes brief but abrupt vocal pauses to great emotional advantage.

Shawn plays with the tempo a bit in “I’m Your Loving Man” before slowing things down on album-ender “Your Sweet Love,” a drawn-out-sounding ballad that seems like what you might hear during a slow dance at an old-school country music/’50s pop-rock dance hall; there are a couple spots where I almost expect Shawn to break into “Please Mister Postman.” (I checked, and that was a 1961 release, but yeah, the early ’60s still had that ’50s vibe.) Picture a mirror ball and a sea of couples slowly swaying to the rhythm, and you’ll get the vibe of “Your Sweet Love.”

As a whole, Northern Trails is a collection that stands the test of time. I should know – it’s been on my playlist for more than a year, and I still dig it every time through. So, yes, even though there’s a more recently released EP in Shawn’s repertoire now, this is still the last full-length release, and I heartily endorse checking it out.

Shawn Butzin Live

The “events” tab of Shawn’s Facebook page lists a couple of upcoming gigs. On Saturday, December 15th, he’ll be at the Acoustic Tap Room in Traverse City, Michigan. And on Saturday, January 12th, he’ll be at Rocky’s Bar and Grill in my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Shawn’s bandsintown page lists a lot more upcoming gigs, including January 4th at the Snowbelt Brewing Co. in Gaylord, Michigan; January 24th at the Traverse City Whiskey Co. in Traverse City; and several more shows across Michigan (plus a March 15th date at Uncommon Ground in Chicago) through the rest of the winter.

Album Review: Joe Kidd & Sheila Burke – Everybody Has a Purpose

Joe Kidd & Sheila Burke

photo courtesy of Joe Kidd & Sheila Burke

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Joe Kidd and Sheila Burke: Everybody Has a Purpose

Joe Kidd and Sheila Burke are a contemporary folk-rock duo that features stellar harmonies matched with skilled songwriting and heartfelt themes. In the five-plus years they’ve been together they’ve performed all around the United States, Mexico, and Canada spreading a message of peace, love and harmony.

Joe Kidd & Sheila Burke - Everybody Has a Purpose

photo courtesy of Joe Kidd & Sheila Burke

Fans of classic acoustic and folk artists like Peter, Paul & Mary, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Arlo Guthrie, and others will certainly appreciate this duo. But their music has a timeless and limitless quality that is sure to satisfy any age or era.

The title track “Everybody Has a Purpose” lays the foundation for their music, with a message of being an individual and finding one’s place in the world. Echoes of Jessie Colin Young, Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell certainly come to mind.

Joe Kidd & Sheila Burke

photo courtesy of Joe Kidd & Sheila Burke

Another strong song represented here is Burke’s ode to a serviceman “Veteran’s Song (My Brother).” She has the voice of an angel and her depiction of a soldier who seems to be dealing with PTSD is powerful.

“Shadow At the End of the Road” stands out as well for its haunting melody and mood. It has a Byrds meets Buffalo Springfield kind of feel matched with marvelous vocals and a contemplative resonance.

The struggles of the working man are reflected in the Pete Seeger-like “Grandpa Was a Coal Miner.” Tunes like that and, basically, all their material is directed toward the common man, woman, and human experience.

Joe Kidd & Sheila Burke

photo courtesy of Joe Kidd & Sheila Burke

There is a primary element to Joe Kidd and Sheila Burke’s music that is, at once, relatable and down to earth, yet spiritual and transcendent. The songs “Will Do” and “They Call it Romantic” are all that and are lighthearted and fun too.

Keep an eye out for this duo on the concert circuit as they keep a steady performance schedule throughout the year. Check their website for a list of upcoming performances, beginning with a Saturday, December 1st Rock For Tots benefit show at Freddy’s Bar & Grill in Clinton Township, MI.

Album Review: Thornetta Davis – Honest Woman

Thornetta Davis

photo by Bob Schultz; photo courtesy of Thornetta Davis

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Thornetta Davis: Honest Woman

She is often referred to as Detroit’s “Queen of the Blues.” And for good reason! Thornetta Davis has consistently won numerous awards in her hometown and abroad and, with this current album, shows she is as strong a composer and songwriter as she is a singer. According to the liner notes, this album was roughly 20 years in the making. And, while Davis always delivers a sincere and no-holds-barred performance, this is some of her more personal and powerful material to date.

Thornetta Davis - Honest Woman

image courtesy of Thornetta Davis

This is a full-length feature, with a baker’s dozen of all Davis originals. It’s a seamless cross-section of rocking blues and gospel-inflected R&B that truly is a showcase for what this world class artist is all about. “I Gotta Sang the Blues” kicks things off in an appropriate autobiographical vein. It’s an uptempo funky number that guests the legendary Kim Wilson trading vocals and harmonica with the Detroit diva. “That Don’t Appease Me” finds Davis boasting loud and proud in her defense from a man that did her wrong. This one really swings as well as rocks the house. “Set Me Free” changes the pace a bit, offering a jazzy feel, with great choral vocals and superb guitar from Saginaw blues man Larry McCray. Davis makes reference to Sam Cooke in her notes, and “I Believe (Everything Gonna Be Alright)” kind of rings with that “Change is Gonna Come” kind of vibe. Other highlights can be found in the spirited “Get Up and Dance Away Your Blues,” with horns by the late Marcus Belgrave, and the title track “Honest Woman” that features Kid Rock saxophonist David McMurray and intense revelatory lyrics from the singer.

Davis is joined by many of Detroit’s first-call session players and side musicians, including guitarist Brett Lucas, bassist James Simonson, drummers Skeeto Valdez, Todd Glass and Dave Marcaccio, keyboardists Phillip Hale and Chris Codish and many others. Simply put, it’s a solid release!

Live Gigs

Per the “gigs” tab of Thornetta’s website, she’ll be performing tonight, November 23rd, and tomorrow night, November 24th, at Kingston Mines in Chicago. Thornetta’s Facebook page also lists a March 2, 2019 show with Mike Wheeler at The Token Lounge in Westland, Michigan. I’d definitely keep an eye out for other live shows, too.

EP Review: Edge of Paradise – Alive

EP Review of Edge of Paradise: Alive

Edge of Paradise‘s follow-up to Immortal Waltz continues its full-on edgy hard rock aural assault. Margarita Monet’s emotively powerful voice again combines with a hard-driving, shredding metal music bed to deliver a set of memorable tunes. The songs are in Edge of Paradise’s trademark slightly off-balance, funhouse mirror metal style.

I gave a sneak peek at a couple of this EP’s tracks at the end of my Immortal Waltz review in 2017. One of those was the title track, “Alive.” Driven by churning guitars, some nearly-full-stop tempo changes, and a breathy flavor to a fair portion of the vocals, this is a power rock track. And it’s stylistically very clearly an Edge of Paradise song.

Edge of Paradise - Alive

image courtesy of Edge of Paradise

I totally dig the harmonies in hard rocker “Dust to Dust.” Yet, as straightforward as this track is, it still keeps the listener off-balance with croakily growled vocals and off-balance musical backing during the bridges. Indeed, nothing about an Edge of Paradise song is ever perfectly straightforward, but this churning rocker sprinkles EoP’s trademark song-twisting elements with a light touch for a fun change of pace.

It’s followed by “Mystery,” a theatrical ballad, suitable for anything from radio play to a rock opera performance. Monet’s straining vocals sit atop a music bed based on piano and orchestral strings, driven by booming drums and a rock guitar growl. An extremely touching, emotional, sensitive ballad, “Mystery” shows off Edge of Paradise’s range and is the song on this disc with the broadest cross-genre appeal.

The power is back with “Shade of Crazy,” with Monet’s expressive vocals providing texture to the otherwise hard-driving, powerful, crunchy melodic metal song.

“Humanoid” closes the Alive EP. Kicking off with frenetic drums and guitars behind an odd croaking vocal, the song evolves into a rhythmic power rocker in which Monet’s vocals are largely another instrument, and the beat is the real star.

I’m never sure if Edge of Paradise is one of the more uniquely original progressive rock-influenced melodic heavy metal acts or if they’re one of the more mainstream power rock-influenced heavy theatrical progressive bands on the scene. Regardless, their music is fun to listen to, their musicians and vocalist are top-shelf hard rock/metal talent, and I always look forward to hearing what they’ll do next.

Looking Ahead

I’ve taken so long to get this review written that Edge of Paradise’s new album will be out in just a few months, so there’s plenty to look forward to, but if you don’t already have this EP, it’ll be a great way to fill the gap while the next disc is in the works. In the meantime, also check the band’s website for tour dates. Currently listed are a couple early 2019 shows in Japan – January 31 in Yokohama and February 2, 2019 in Tokyo.