Album Review: Mychael David – Heroes & Honkytonks

Mychael David - Heroes & Honkytonks album cover

image courtesy of Beard Artist Management

The Backstory

I first heard Mychael David about four years ago, when I checked him out in advance of a local concert and realized there was a veteran, elite country music singer in the area, if only I had previously taken the time to investigate.

Mychael has that classic country voice, but with the energy level to bring “real” country to the masses in a powerful arena setting, with a hint of classic rock power that only adds to his appeal. His patriotism, support for the troops, and appreciation of good police officers is at the forefront of his performances, and it’s genuine and sincere. There’s no need to try to package Mychael David. He is the package. I love that he plays frequently here near his New England home, and we enjoy the heck out of him, but I’d love for the big-arena, national country music world to discover what we already know: This guy’s one-of-a-kind. The real deal. 100% USDA prime country music.

But you already know the purpose of the Blog is to introduce you to music you really need to hear. So with great pleasure I’ll begin my review Mychael David’s most recent album, Heroes & Honkytonks.

Album Review of Mychael David: Heroes & Honkytonks

Mychael is known for consistently stocking his band with top country/classic rock musicians, and Heroes & Honkytonks doesn’t disappoint, with guitar runs and a rhythm section that provides supportive and, at times, explosive music behind Mychael’s world-class deep, strong country voice.

Mychael David

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Mychael kicks things off with a number that hints at some classic country roots, the uptempo, room-rockin’ “Goodbye is Still Goodbye,” with a subtly hooky riff you’ll be humming in your head for hours afterwards, a hook I swear reminds me of a guitar lick from an ’80s rock hit, but I can’t quite place the song. He follows it by going all-in old-school and keeping the tempo up with his rendition of “Folsom Prison Blues.” Mychael has a rare voice that can do icons like Johnny Cash justice, yet he maintains a tone of his own that makes every song he performs a Mychael David song, even if it is a relatively faithful version of someone else’s.

Next up, “Little By Little” is an engaging, energetic song about building a life together, about everyday life – one of those identifiable, everyday life, everyman songs.

It’s followed by a powerful song that’ll leave you choked up, guaranteed. Recalling the good ol’ days, when the “good guys” used to win, referencing several of our favorite TV show sheriffs as a proxy for the changes in modern life, as well, in “Put Your Badge Back On.” Mychael’s spoken/sung delivery on this song is well-suited to the emotion. And oh, man, there’s some sweet Southern-rock-meets-country guitar noodlin’ going on in the background, too.

Mychael David

photo by Geoff Wilbur

How do you follow a song that emotional? With humor. “The Dog Don’t Know Sit” is one of those well-crafted fun ditties you might have expected on a Ray Stevens record, though I’d posit this is a silly song with plenty of heart.

The album’s lyrical content turns toward varying degrees of sorrow for the next three songs. “Stranger in My House” kicks things off with powerfully-voiced relationship-ending anguish supported by bluesy-country riffs. “Whiskey Ain’t the Only Thing (Running Out On Me)” adds some twangy slides and a lower tempo to support a more sadly acquiescing vocal tone with just a hint of an emotional quaver, so well-suited to the track. And “This House Just Ain’t a Home” utilizes piano as the primary support for Mychael’s vocals in a soft-yet-strong, powerful lament.

If you’ve been paying attention to either the words or the tone of the preceding tracks, you’re in dire need of a pick-me-up at this point, and Mychael delivers. The next song is a dance hall dancefloor-filler that’ll lift your spirits, “Who Wants to Honky Tonk.”

Mychael David

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The disc closes with Mychael’s tribute to the military, the soaring, anthemic “Some Gave All.” I’ve seen this in concert, with Mychael walking through the crowd, shaking hands with veterans in the audience. It’s a powerful moment at a concert, and a strong finish for this record.

A big voice with a powerfully updated spin on classic country music. Again, why isn’t this guy headlining stadiums? So if you’re not familiar with Mychael, check out Heroes & Honkytonks; it’s an album that belongs in any serious country music fan’s collection.

Looking Ahead

As can be expected, a lot of Mychael’s summer dates have been cancelled, but some outdoor summer concert series performances have gone on as planned, just a little more socially-distanced than usual. There’s currently one upcoming show on Mychael’s schedule, per the “Tour” page on his site: a Sunday, August 16th date as part of the West Boylston Summer Concert Series at the Town Common in West Boylston, MA. Keep an eye on Mychael’s website for additional upcoming show dates, as they’re added.

Album Review: Ali Handal – That’s What She Said

Album Review of Ali Handal: That’s What She Said (Red Parlor Records)

One of the best guitarists you’ve (probably) never heard of. That’s Ali Handal. Not sure? Ask her to play some Zeppelin for you. She’ll rock it on an acoustic better than most axewielders will do with an electric, as I witnessed at a house concert two years ago. And sure, That’s What She Said showcases some of that, but only within the context of driving a song; that’s right, it’s a rock ‘n roll singer-songwriter release that’s more about her songwriting chops and delivery than her jaw-dropping guitar skills.

Ali Handal - That's What She Said album cover

image courtesy of Red Parlor Records

That’s What She Said is a collection of songs serving up attitude and wisdom, starting with the album-opening “You Get What You Settle For,” a song that’s musically a bluesy rock riff and lyrically an anthem imploring women not to sell themselves short. And, of course, with a singalong-worthy “whoa-oh-oh,” it sets an energetic tone for the disc.

Song two, “Smoke More Pot,” is a very Sheryl Crow-ish tune, a funky-rocker with lyrics sarcastically lamenting having done things the right way: “I should’ve smoked more pot, dropped out of high school, joined an all-girl band, broken all my mom’s rules. I could’ve been someone by now.” The musical hook here is a subtle, repeated jangle, but it helps make the music as memorable as the lyrics. A recurring theme on this disc, by the way.

After rockin’ “The World Don’t Owe You a Thing,” Ali follows with guitar and organ rock-flavored mid-tempo (and multi-tempo) “Let Go,” an autobiographical tune about how her cancer battle shaped her approach to life for the better.

Then comes a turn away from songs with lessons, though I’d suggest there is a lesson in how to live on the fun, jazzy-bluesy-rockin’ “I Love My Pussy.Cat.” Not the double entendre-filled romp you might expect; just a song about Ali’s love for her kitty-cat. And a few spots where you can – nay, must – meow along.

Next up, turn on the lava lamp for a psychedelic, mellow rocker, Ali’s cover of Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be.” That’s followed with folk-structured, guitar and organ rock-styled, uplifting “Enough For Me,” featuring the lyrics “What if I let it go, what if I say it’s so, what if I am enough for me, I’m enough for me.” Stuart Smalley’s new mantra, perhaps.

That’s followed with a slinky, sexy musical entrée in the next number – something from a dimly lit joint where a stand-up bass player is a permanent fixture on the front left corner of the stage – only to be confronted with some unjazzy lyrics in the clever, lighthearted “Thank God for Birth Control.” (I just checked the songwriting credits; why am I not surprised Eric Schwartz was involved?)

Ali Handal

photo courtesy of Red Parlor Records

Another powerful song follows, Ali’s other cover on the album, Ani DiFranco’s “Not a Pretty Girl.” The song is on-point with the album’s feel and theme, and Ali delivers it in her own style, making it very much an Ali Handal tune.

Back to the superficiality of success theme first touched upon in “Smoke More Pot” (or in that neighborhood, at least), and a good track to follow “Not a Pretty Girl,” “Everybody’s So Naked” is a funky, fun number sporting lyrics like “Everybody’s so naked. It’s a race to the bottom. Everybody thinks they’ve gotta show ’em if they’ve got ’em. Naked. I don’t wanna play your way.” Yep. Self-esteem and talent championed in a clever, rhythmically super-catchy song.

“Better Man” delivers another self-esteem message – clearly a That’s What She Said theme – with a haunting, smoky old west ghost town guitar vibe and an edge in the vocal delivery the belies its insistently uplifting tone.

And what better way to close an album by drifting away softly, nodding off to “Last Lullaby.”

With that ends a collection of memorable music from a world-class guitarist, singer, and songwriter. A disc with plenty of earworm-caliber hooks and memorable lyrics that are dependably one or more of three things – insightful, clever, and deeply moving. If you haven’t heard it yet, you owe yourself to remedy that.

More About Ali

If you’d like to read more about Ali, there are song great interviews online, like this one at Guitar World and this one at Guitar Girl Magazine. For young women trying to make it in the music world – and in life – she can be an inspiring role model, and for musicians she’s an example of how much support you’ll get when you’re super-talented but kind, work well with others, and do things the right way. But I didn’t dig into any of that in this review so I could focus more one how her talent, musicianship, and songwriting simply rawk!

Now, to avoid distracting from her original music style, I tried to avoid mentioning this at the top of the review as evidence of Ali’s guitarslinger street cred, but you can sometimes also catch her as lead axe for a group she joined just within the past year or so (if memory serves), filling Joe Perry’s role in Aerosmith tribute band RagDolls.

Looking Ahead

When things return to normal, next time Ali hits the road, you’ll be able to find info about her shows here, on the “Tour” page of her website.

In the meantime, Ali has been producing a “Quarantine Series” of videos you can find on YouTube.

Album Review: Tom Ingersoll – Friday

Tom Ingersoll

photo courtesy of Tom Ingersoll

Album Review of Tom Ingersoll: Friday

If I were to write a quick-hit review of this recording, it would be: Tom Ingersoll is a homespun storyteller from the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, and Friday is a journey well worth joining him for. Give this album a good, deep listen.

Tom Ingersoll - Friday album cover

image courtesy of Tom Ingersoll

Of course, such an abbreviated review would be a disservice to Tom’s unique American folk-based sound. And Friday‘s album-opener “What You Want” encapsulates that very sound energetically – there’s a rockabilly twang and energy underpinning Tom’s Americana-meets-folk delivery, and this song showcases his signature style ideally. Tom’s core strength is as a songwriter, and he’s created the ideal audio experience to highlight his impeccable songwriting chops, with Friday changing tempo frequently, highlighting Tom’s variety of delivery, style, and influence, centered around a cohesive, identifiable Tom Ingersoll sound.

Tom Ingersoll

photo courtesy of Tom Ingersoll

“What You Want” is, indeed, a great disc-opener. Its pull-out-the-stops soft energy is contagious, reeling the listener in and eliciting a commitment to ride along for the rest of the disc… within limits, of course, but this album never tests those limits, as it definitely doesn’t disappoint, even for a song. Off the bat, there’s no chance to catch your breath because “High Road” follows, a jangly-raucous number that paints a vivid picture of said “high road.” It sounds like there’s a hint of a Tom Petty influence in “High Road”; it’s subtle hint.

Tom slows it down with smooth, reminiscent “Goin’ Through the Motions,” a wistful, thoughtful number. But then he brings the rougher-edged storytelling delivery back – deploying a soft version of the rough-edged vocal delivery he used in “High Road” – on “The Poorest Poet,” with its fiddlin’ and pluckin’ around a campfire vibe. Two different singing styles with the same level of emotion.

Tom Ingersoll

photo courtesy of Tom Ingersoll

“Don’t Expect to Hear” is one of my favorites on this record. A jerky-tempoed soft opening explodes into energetic sound, all supporting Tom’s tellin’-it’-like-it-us, insightful-everyman voice. There are elements of ’70s folk-pop, California country, and Southern rock in this song, with tempo changes that keep the listener entertained and a little off-balance.

Especially on the heels of the previous songs, the soft, sweet “Nighttime on the Water” is practically a lullaby. But, of course, Tom generally follows soft songs with energy on this album, so there’s a bit of a rockin’ edge to “Where’d You Go?” – the sort of tune you might crank up just a little when you’re at the lake, during a relaxing nighttime on – or near – the water.

Tom Ingersoll

photo courtesy of Tom Ingersoll

“Sixes and Sevens” adds a little bluesy edge to a jangly rockin’ sound bed, which Tom textures with some rhythmic vocal delivery – and, really, you can’t imagine this song being constructed any other way. There’s a slightly uneasy tension among the instruments, vocals, and song structure throughout, reminiscent of Billy Joel’s “Pressure,” and not just because “pressure” is a featured, oft-repeated lyric in “Sixes and Sevens.”

Next, and I can’t necessarily pinpoint the detail that seals it, but “Journey of Joy” is one of Friday‘s several James Taylor-recalling tunes. Earnest, relaxed, and comfortably happy, it’s another well-placed track, a great release from the previous song’s “pressure.”

Tom Ingersoll

photo courtesy of Tom Ingersoll

Tom concludes, then, with the silliest two tracks on the album, G-rated versions of the sorts of songs one might expect from Eric Schwartz. First, “Love Letter Writer,” a truly enjoyably, clever, cheerful, a-pickin’-and-a-grinnin’ ditty; then album-ending “Why,” in which Tom seems to be almost arguing with himself. Or perhaps the voices in his head. Definitely a great way to close an enjoyable album.

More complex than you’d expect from an album so pleasant. Filled with more surprises than you might expect from a collection so cohesive. Friday is surprisingly good a delivering good surprises. Well worth a listen, which will certainly be the first of many.

Tom Ingersoll

photo courtesy of Tom Ingersoll

Looking Ahead

Tom doesn’t have any recent or future shows listed, but you can keep track of upcoming performances at the Events tab on his Facebook page or the “Live” page at his website whenever they’re scheduled.

 

Album Review: Jimmy Lee Morris – Jumping Falling Flying

Backstory

As I’ve mentioned in previous recent reviews, I’m currently working through a years-old backlog of album reviews, as I’m again finding time to write semi-regularly. This spot in my review queue had been reserved for Jimmy Lee Morris‘ 2018 release Last of the Tall Ships, which I quite enjoyed getting to know. (Personal favorites from that release were “Buying Time” and “Something About You.”) But Jimmy continues recording, so instead I’ll be taking a look at the January 2020 release, Jumping Flying Falling. Technically, it’s not the newest Jimmy Lee Morris album. That distinction would fall to his July 6th release, Distant World, on which Jimmy re-imagines songs from his early-’00s band The Collaborators. Or perhaps Jimmy Lee Morris, a sort of greatest hits collection released on July 20th. But Jumping Falling Flying remains his most recent release of new songs, so here’s a review of this latest release of new originals from a talented singer-songwriter.

Album Review of Jimmy Lee Morris: Jumping Falling Flying

Jimmy Lee Morris - Jumping Falling Flying

image courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

The Jimmy Lee Morris albums I’ve heard since I first reviewed his music a mere four years ago have been hooky, mellow, and pop-folky. This disc infuses a bit more rock ‘n roll than the others. It’s all very much in-style for Jimmy, not a surprising departure; in fact, there was a bit of this on Last of the Tall Ships. Jumping Falling Flying is more just a nudge toward the rockin’ end of the Jimmy Lee Morris musical canvas, and it’s always fun when a favorite artist explores his various influences. Though it was released in January, Jumping Falling Flying is an ideal collection of laid-back yet energetic, song-driven, light summer rock music. And again I mention the hooks. As soft-touch as Jimmy Lee’s music is, his discs are chock-full of hooky earworms.

Album-opener, title track “Jumping Falling Flying,” gets things started in the right, energetic direction. Old-style rock organ in support of a steady rock rhythm and occasional sunny guitar lick that amply serves as a hook, supporting a light, airy melody and vocal. Indeed, the first of many new favorites on this recording.

“All These Things” again leans on the rock guitar as a bit of a distorted light-rock backdrop framing Jimmy Lee’s emotional, memorable, insightful vocals and lyrics.

Next up, it’s sock hop time. “Rock and Roll Party” is a throwback. The sort of catchy golden oldies-style rock song made modern, as you might expect from Huey Lewis. With an opening riff straight from the Happy Days jukebox or the Hill Valley High School “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance, you’ll be twisting, watusi-ing, and getting down while listening to classic axework on this fun third track. Tune in Saturday, via time machine, to hear Dick Clark introduce this one on American Bandstand.

Time to catch your breath? Nope. “Big Shot” is a country-rock saloon number with some surf-rock guitar. Jimmy Lee Morris’ songs are versatile, maintaining a signature vibe across a wide variety of arrangements. Four songs in, and it’s becoming apparent there’s no point in trying to predict what’s next on this fun ride. Sure, the turns are smooth and comfortable, sometimes subtle, but the highway isn’t straight.

Jimmy Lee Morris

photo courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

“White Witch and the Highwayman” and its harmonica introduce a lively, mid-tempo Americana flavor to the record. This recalls several previous Jimmy Lee Morris songs, painting pictures and telling tales with its lyrics, an exceptionally emotive spoken-word vocal delivery steering the ship. I’m wondering if “Wilderness Wood,” a title song from an old album, might hold up well under a similar musical arrangement. I’m betting it would. But this is “White Witch and the Highwayman,” a fun frolic at song number five.

Starting the back side of the album, “Love and Lies” hints at a light Grateful Dead vibe while pleasantly, wistfully reminiscing.

“À La Tienne” and “Look up to the Sky” mark a return a Jimmy Lee Morris style more akin to that we’ve reviewed frequently here at the Blog. Mellow, emotional light folk strummers with pop influence. Pleasant, comfortable, and enjoyable.

“Not Going Back” has a little of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ jangly rock vibe to it. A mischievous glint runs through the delivery and musical arrangement. The song moves; it’s what I refer to as a traveling song. Maybe something George Thorogood would play if in a really laid-back mood, or maybe a semi-mellow Jeff Healey track from the Road House soundtrack. But nah, it’s still quintessential Jimmy Lee Morris. Yet another style of arrangement but still part of a cohesive collection.

And, finally, “It Always Rains Around Here.” A bit of a Randy Newman vibe to this toe-tapper. A pleasant song that’ll put a smile on your face, and a terrific way to close the album satisfyingly.

I must say, as a complete package, Jumping Falling Flying is a particularly interesting Jimmy Lee Morris disc. It holds together well, and the album is a journey, traveling through a variety of rock, folk, and even country influences. If you’ve dug his past work, this collection is a must-have. And if you’ve yet to sample some Jimmy Lee Morris music, this album would be a mighty fine place to start.

Looking Ahead

Well, first of all, Jimmy Lee Morris has been active. Jumping Falling Flying was only released in January, and it’s already four-deep on Jimmy Lee’s Bandcamp page, after the aforementioned greatest hits album, the reimagination of his work with The Collaborators, and and actual old album from The Collaborators. It has been a busy release schedule for Jimmy Lee Morris this year, but yes, Jumping Flying Falling remains his most recent album of new originals.

Obviously, gigs are in short supply now, but when they’re happening again, you can find Jimmy Lee’s performances at his Facebook page.

Album Review: Amanda White – Kittens Give Zero Fucks

Amanda White

photo by Emilie Storrs; photo courtesy of Amanda White

Album Review of Amanda White: Kittens Give Zero Fucks

Old-school, New York punk rock energy meets at-times progressive rock arrangements, capped with a voice capable of “hitting oh-my-god!” notes. Amanda White‘s music feels simultaneously familiar and completely original. This opera singer with a punk rock soul produces music that’s potentially appealing to dyed-in-the-wool punks, expansive progressive rockers, and many of us in-between with the mix of power, punk, impossible vocals, and clever, catchy songwriting found on Kittens Give Zero Fucks.

“Last to Bite” ably opens the disc with a edgy, soaring vocals, crunchy guitarwork, and an unrelenting steady beat that marches forward with the purposefulness of a story-advancing rock-theater piece.

Amanda White - Kittens Give Zero Fucks album cover

album art by James Sullivan; image courtesy of Amanda White

The punk attitude comes to the forefront of the next track, “Fuckall Rockstar,” a devil-may-care, norms-be-damned rocker with only-in-punk lyrics like “got a rack like Michelle Obama,” “every virgin has been unchasted,” and “sir, your voice is a little scrapy, and your tone is a little rapey.” But it’s sooooo catchy, you’ll soon be singing along. Best not to listen to this song on your way to work if you’re prone to singing aloud the song stuck in your head, ’cause this tune will set up camp in there.

Speaking of earworms, the next song, Amanda’s energetic “Whackadoodle World” with its crunchy, hooky guitar line, is yet another of the several brain-burrowers on Kittens… Granted, the lyrics you’ll catch yourself singing along with, “Wha-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-oh,” aren’t the most substantive in the song – nor are they NSFW, so there’s no worry there – but you will get to sing them often.

“Ur Wife” is a crunchy, catchy immorality tale, riffing with energy off a steady, juke joint bass line, that playfully utilizes Amanda’s vocal range, storytelling lyrical skills, and punk rock abandonment of social norms. A strong bet to be one of your favorite songs on the album, but probably not your wife’s favorite.

“Dark Art” is, as advertised, dark. Perhaps best described as a gothic progressive art rock track. Dark and brooding, it could easily be one of the extra songs in an extended-length remake of Phantom of the Opera.

Amanda White

photo by Kyle Schneider; photo courtesy of Amanda White

“Ruder” marks a return of the raucous kitten who cares not, and it leads into the closest thing you’ll find to a ballad on this album, “Someone’s Watching Over You.” The instrumentation at times hints at an uneasiness you might find in certain Rockwell and Sting tunes that shall go unnamed, but the melody is memorable, the vocals soar theatrically – the song is even a little Annie-ish if Annie were singing about punk or goth sunshine – and, in the end, this song is either comforting or disconcerting, depending on your mood at the time.

Next up is the catchiest, hookiest track on the disc – the obvious choice for a hit single – “Where the Hell is Amy?” An energetic raw, bar-crawl pop-rocker with a fun, naughty, trashy attitude, “Where the Hell is Amy?” is a party anthem for good times, spilled beer, and questionable decision-making.

“Adora” follows with a thick-as-molasses wall of heavy progressive rock sound that brings the rawk back. It’s a musical, emotional tour de force that brings the album nearly to its conclusion, followed by the equally heavy, progressive, thick “Fade.” Oh, but where “Adora” strikes a regretful, reminiscent tone, “Fade” skews far more ominous and dark. And yet, as prog as most of the song is, the chorus skews punk, tying the elements of Kittens… together nicely. This, I suppose, is the true magnum opus on the disc, clocking in at three seconds shy of eight minutes… and ending with the album’s final lyrics “Endlessly, endlessly die.” Well, that’s happy.

Amanda White

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Prog rock, rock opera, punk rock, some opera-style vocals and Broadway moments, all with a punk attitude, frequently with punk riffs, often with progressive arrangements. With her amazing voice, Amanda hits some big notes. There’s clear theatrical influence in some of the songs. Amanda knows how to write a hook… when she wants to. And she and her band have the chops to skew progressive more than a non-pure-prog band typically does. That’s why her sound is so unique – Kittens Give Zero Fucks is punk if you must categorize it, but if you chose the right two or three songs, you could convince a listener it’s a very odd prog rock album. So, whether punk is your go-to genre, or you’re a broad-based music fan who likes variety and enjoys talent wherever it lies, or if this is one of a handful of punk recordings – perhaps the only one – you dig because it’s a take on your progressive or operatic and theatrical musical tastes, Kittens… is unlike anything in your collection. You owe it to yourself to check it out.

Looking Ahead

Amanda doesn’t have any upcoming gigs scheduled, but keep an eye on the “Events” tab of her Facebook page for any future performances.

Album Review: iamCURBIE – Better Late Than Forever

iamCURBIE

photo by Maurice Thompson; photo courtesy of Curbie Ciamarra

Album Review of iamCURBIE: Better Late Than Forever

New Jersey-based Curbie Ciamarra, who performs and records his original music as iamCURBIE, is a talented rock ‘n roll singer-songwriter.

I love the instrumental opening to this album, the title track, “Better Late Than Forever,” a rich music bed with a Southern rock-ish, singer-songwritery soft guitar wail. It sets the stage for what is not your ordinary soft-to-mid-tempo rock singer-songwriter fare. Very quickly you’ll realize this album is a softer-edged music from a rocker with a textured, emotional voice.

iamCURBIE - Better Late Than Forever album cover

image courtesy of Curbie Ciamarra

Drawing from a variety of old-school softer-rock sources, and techniques that work very well live – a hand-clap bit, for example, and a well placed stop-start pause – the second song though the first with vocals, “Ego to Feed,” is a quick favorite. And it flows smoothly into “Into the Shade,” which adeptly ups the tempo. “Into the Shade” contains vocal hooks and a forward-driving acoustic-electric guitar rhythmic motor that carry Curbie’s emotional vocals exceptionally well.

“Day Dreams” stands out as a softer track mid-album, with a soft, almost lullaby-ish music bed blending well with Curbie’s impassioned vocals.

If you’re looking for an opening hook that’ll grab radio listeners from the start, try the first strums of “Worth It.” It’s a moderately uptempo number that’ll be have you swaying in your seat. I’m also a fan of the way the energy in this tune builds; it’s a fun payoff.

“Keep Moving” is a poignant, emotional number that will connect immediately with anyone with families, particularly those who are away from their families more than they’d like. Among the songs on Better Late Than Forever, this is certain to be the one that connects most strongly with some listeners, with one caveat. This sentiment is actually largely duplicated but with a different mood on the catchy, uptempo, fun “159” later in the album – those with kids who prefer the sentiment without the hint of anguish found in “Keep Moving” might actually prefer “159.”

iamCURBIE

photo by Maurice Thompson; photo courtesy of Curbie Ciamarra

The biggest singalong line – at least for bar gigs – is probably in the catchy “Spirits (Maggie)”: I’m just here for the beer.

I’ll skip down and close with the album-closer, “Harley’s Edge III F.I.P.” As if proving there are more weapons in his arsenal, this emotional, powerful song includes a guitar sound not previously used on this disc. It’s all about emotion on Better Late Than Forever, and this well-produced number closes the disc in exactly that manner.

Considering the entirety of the album, each of the songs on Better Late Than Forever has a unique appeal, and any one of them may end up a personal favorite. The collection is well-written, emotionally performed, effectively produced. A worthy addition to one’s album collection.

Moreover, the songs on this record would play well in acoustic coffeehouses or bigger rock venues with full band support. Yeah, Curbie’s a songwriter and a performer. And this disc is likely to appeal to multiple audiences, including rockers who appreciate a softer approach from time to time, pop-rockers who occasionally like some edge in their music, and folky singer-songwriter fans who can appreciate richer arrangements to songs they’d like enjoy stripped-down, as well. Or, really, anyone whose idea of good music begins with a well-written and adeptly-performed song.

Looking Ahead

You can keep up-to-date with iamCURBIE’s performances at the “Events” tab of his Facebook page. It currently lists one upcoming show, on Thursday, July 9th, at Martell’s Waters Edge in Bayville, NJ. Curbie is also one-third of Curbie and the Sidewalkers, in which he’s joined by Ben Weinberg and Steve Carr. There are currently no upcoming gigs listed on the trio’s Facebook “Events” tab.

Album Availability

The Bandcamp page for the album (which I hotlinked to at the top of the review) appears to only offer digital downloads, but the CD is available at Amazon (and, I presume, at Curbie’s shows). You can also download MP3s at Amazon, but the price is lower at Bandcamp.

Album Review: Kate Eppers – The Wishing Well

Kate Eppers

photo by Lee Mac; photo courtesy of Kate Eppers

Album Review of Kate Eppers: The Wishing Well

Kate Eppers‘ captivating vocals immediately bring to mind those of the sort of musical theater performer with the potential to cross over to mainstream popularity. Why musical theater? It’s a combination of emotive, room-filling vocals and delivery. And these songs are tailor-made to package that big, attention-grabbing voice into song-shaped packages. Plus, of course, the reprise at the end suggests a theatrical flair. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Kate Eppers - The Wishing Well

cover photo by Jeremy Dorson Photography; cover image courtesy of Kate Eppers

Beginning to end, The Wishing Well is intense. It grabs the listener’s attention from the very first note, and throughout the music and vocals, from one song to the next, sustains an urgency that’s uniquely compelling.

“Prove That You’re Real” kicks things off with a music-box melody, joined quickly by Kate’s crystal clear vocal, simultaneously wispy and full of power, matched in the latter half by a crunchy, distant guitar line, as Kate’s voice increases in prominence.

“Silence (I Will Wait)” picks up melodically where “Prove…” leaves off. It continues that crisp, angelic vocal style and offers a terrific lead-in to the thumping rhythmic guitar-and-drum opening of “For Me There’s Only You.” In fact, the mix of sweetness and urgency in “For Me There’s Only You” crashes like rockin’ a series of dance pop diva-esque waves, as it’s an epic love song that suggests lyrically and subtly ominously musically that all isn’t quite right. As a result, this steady, beat-driven tune with its penetrative vocal insistence is likely my favorite on the album.

Kate Eppers

photo by Jenglish Photography; photo courtesy of Kate Eppers

Next, Kate takes a soaring vocal approach to troubled emotions in demon-fighting “Burn This City to the Ground.” The music supporting her vocal contributes to the ominous feel, though the soft ending suggests either resolution or resignation, depending on the listener’s state of mind at the time.

“Follow Me” is uplifting and brings hopefulness back to the collection, and the song’s official video is a great complement to the music, offering a fantasy-world, mystical quest-driven love story that provides imagery well-befitting the song.

Next up is perhaps my other favorite in the collection, the title track, “The Wishing Well.” You can feel the emotions well up throughout the song, as vocals and lyrics suggest a wishful fantasy ending with a less-than-satisfying return to reality. The song itself? Utterly satisfying for the listener as a complete journey led by a magical voice.

Kate Eppers with Brian Murphy (One Time Mountain)

photo by Lee Mac; photo courtesy of Kate Eppers

You recall I mentioned a theatrical closing? Yes, “Medley of the Melodies” is a six minute instrumental recollection of the six songs in the collection, wrapping up The Wishing Well‘s package with a musical bow.

Kate’s voice is big, sweet, and ready for the stage. I’m guessing Broadway would be an ideal landing spot for her. But her voice is equally suited to a big, crisp pop album, versatile but distinct, able to capture a variety of moods, notably the roarin’ big ones but also the softer, subtler ones more easily conveyed via album than musical theater. The Wishing Well is a journey worth taking, and Kate Eppers’ voice and talent is a discovery you’ll welcome.

What’s Next?

Since The Wishing Well was recorded (while it sat in my review queue), Kate released another single. “The Hero of Our Time (You Are Mine)” hit online music outlets last summer.

Kate doesn’t have any live gigs on her calendar right now. But who does? As live music returns to our lives, though, you’ll be able to find her upcoming performances listed online at the “Tour” page of her website and the “Events” tab of her Facebook page.

 

Album Review: Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate – Nostalgia for Infinity

Hats Off Gentlemen It's Adequate

photo courtesy of Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate: Nostalgia for Infinity

Nostalgia for Infinity is a new album from the sparingly-named band Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate. From London in the UK, the band are led by singer/multi-instrumentalist/producer Malcolm Galloway and bassist/co-producer Mark Gatland, with flautist Kathryn Thomas. This looks to be their seventh release since 2012 and presents an ambient soundtrack with a nostalgic throwback feel to the prog folk rock of Pink Floyd or Mike Oldfield.

Hats Off Gentlemen It's Adequate - Nostalgia For Infinity album cover

image courtesy of Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate

It’s easy to get lost in its soundscape of swirling hypnosis, and this musical drama provides a luxurious bedding for the vocals that gently scintillate and tease, leaving you in their enigmatic haze.

A complex score to an imagined movie which allows you to lay back, tune in, and drift with the ebb and flow of the enchanting musical waves.

At just over an hour long, you have to invest time to listen, and I recommend doing just that. Headphones on, chill out and listen to music like we used to, as it was intended to be listened to. No shuffle play and media swirling distractions. Listen from start to finish. That is, after all, how the artist intended you to experience their work, and great, enjoyable musical reward will be yours.

Hats Off Gentlemen It's Adequate

photo by Lisa Knight; photo courtesy of Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate

Looking Ahead

Here at the Blog, we often like to list upcoming tour dates at the end of reviews. That’s more challenging during this pandemic, but if you look at the “Gigs” page on the band’s website, you’ll see the HRH Prog X concert at O2 Shepherds Bush Empire in London is still scheduled for October 27 and 28, 2020. The band’s Songkick website also still lists a November 11th show with Blank Manuskript at The Fiddler’s Elbow in Camden and HRH Prog XI at O2 Academy Leeds on April 3 and 4, 2021.

You can also follow the band here on Facebook and here on Twitter.

Album Review: Sarah Levecque – Moments of Silver

Sarah Levecque

photo by Chris Yeager; photo courtesy of Sarah Levecque

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Sarah Levecque: Moments of Silver

Sarah Levecque has been a fixture on the Boston music scene for several years now. Playing multiple coffeehouses, nightclubs and venues of all kinds truly earns you troubadour status. It also gives you the fuel of experience and emotional depth that she bestows so eloquently on her latest release Moments of Silver. Her musical style could easily be categorized as Americana or roots music. But, whatever the genre, her voice and songwriting approach will stop you in your tracks. She’s got this smoky, ethereal delivery that makes you hang on to every word. And she is backed by a group of faithful compadres in fellow guitarist/backing vocalist Peter Zarkadas, bassist Johnny Sciascia and drummer Scott Sherman.

Sarah Levecque - Moments of Silver album cover

image courtesy of Sarah Levecque

“Circle Back Around” is the lead track on the album and is a brisk traveling tune. The mix of acoustic guitars and electric slide dovetail nicely with Levecque’s buoyant lyrics. “Please believe it’s all temporary, a lapse in time,” she sings. “Oh don’t backtrack now if you missed something this time. ‘Cause it’s all gonna circle back around.” The thoughtful singer-songwriter kicks off the festivities on an upbeat note. She gives you hope and, perhaps, some personal tools for survival.

“Dead Center, Head On” follows and is a strong country rocker. Levecque employs the spirit of Bobby Gentry and Tanya Tucker, with a little Lucinda Williams thrown in. This features some smooth lead guitar and a cool laid-back traditional Bakersfield vibe.

The title track has a very spacious atmospheric quality to it. Early Joni Mitchell comes to mind here. Tasteful guitar fills suggest a modal feel blended with a Grateful Dead kind of openness. A somewhat surreal asymmetric mood also is present.

“Go With It” restores a bright pace, with its bopping country charm. Levecque offers good advice as she sings “Go with it if you feel it. Don’t let it pass you by. Making this living is killing you slow. Before you know it you’ve got nothing to show.” Those are words which could apply to anyone and lift one up from their lowest point.

Sarah Levecque

photo by Chris Yeager; photo courtesy of Sarah Levecque

“Dissatisfaction Got You Down” explores another therapeutic angle. This has a very classic blues structure. It essentially drones on minimal chords a la John Lee Hooker. Levecque uses her voice in subtle hushed tones, supported by cool understated guitar breaks.

“Good for Nothin’, Good for Now” features a smooth driving beat and a lyrical struggle with destitution and self worth. “I wanna feel the wind coming out of nowhere cold, ’cause nowhere is where I’m headed,” she sings. But she seems to resolve things with the line “I might be good for nothin’, but I’m good for now.”

“Keep a Line Open” is a mid-tempo song that expresses sentiments of connectivity and communion with others. We all have our struggles, but the chorus “Keep a line open for me, I’ll keep a line open for you” is the kind of message we could all use right now.

“Rolling Over the Cracks” is a nice mix of minor and major keys. It slowly smolders and crescendos with a kicking electric guitar solo. The melodies here really support the lyrical call to action of moving forward through despair. She sings “Is it tragedy or disorder? Is it what’s waiting behind black windows or down the dark corridors? It’s all been off the tracks. Somehow we gotta keep rollin’ over the cracks.”

Sarah Levecque

photo by Chris Yeager; photo courtesy of Sarah Levecque

The album concludes with “Blues Keep Me Company.” It’s a thoughtful ballad that brings it all back to Levecque’s roots, which are the blues. It’s a place she can always return to and seems to find solace in. The hook states “I’ve been trying to outrun the failure, but trouble keeps gaining on me. So, I’ll let the blues keep me company.”

Sarah Levecque is an introspective artist who writes from the heart and puts a lot of emotional weight into her songs. Perhaps her greatest gift is her ability to clearly articulate the human experience and share her passion, vulnerability, and strength with the listener.

Looking Ahead

Though she doesn’t currently have any shows on the concert calendar due to COVID-19, you can find out when and where Sarah Levecque will be performing live via the “Shows” page of her website.

Album Review: Shawna Caspi – Forest Fire

Shawna Caspi

photo by Roni Hoffman; photo courtesy of Shawna Caspi

The Backstory

I first discovered Shawna Caspi‘s music quite by accident, just in time to catch a live performance in the fall of 2017. This fortuitous discovery and review of an exceptional live performance in a unique setting was, of course, chronicled in a review. Fast-forward to today, when I’m just now getting a chance to review an CD that has graced my car stereo for more than two years. So, let’s jump in, shall we?

Album Review of Shawna Caspi: Forest Fire

Shawna Caspi - Forest Fire

image courtesy of Shawna Caspi

Shawna can be described, most succinctly, as a folk singer. Of course, that’s an incomplete description. There’s a lot of picky, plucky, upbeat guitar, a sweet, surprisingly powerful voice, a matter-of-fact, old-school folky delivery, and well-written songs that paint a picture and tell a story. But yeah, she’s exactly the sort of artist you’d expect to find headlining a folk festival. And yikes, she bursts with talent; you’d be excited to spot Shawna’s name on the marquee as any event’s headliner.

Forest Fire opens with “Love in a Moving Van,” exactly with one of those plucky guitar rhythms you’d expect. Cheerful, vagabondish… this CD has you smiling right out of the gate. She follows it with the engaging story-song “Devil’s Rolling Pin,” a tune that delivers a rich music bed and emotive vocals, driven by rolling rhythmic musical motor. One of my faves from day one, from the first time I heard it delivered live during her WICN studio performance. (Yes, the one I wrote about.)

Shawna Caspi

photo by Ian Sinclair; photo courtesy of Shawna Caspi

A mood change is next, to the dark, somewhat haunting version of Lynn Miles’ “Brave Parade.” Slow, brooding, quietly defiant, and full of inner strength. All this, of course, established by the quiet guitar plucking and serious, sweetly strong vocal line, hinting at that intersection between traditional country-folk and modern singer-songwriter vocals. “Never Enough” follows with lyrics that reside in the same neighborhood as “Brave Parade” but with a more uptempo, determined focus and a hint of a haunting Chris Isaak-esque edge striking a peppy, uncomfortable balance.

“Oleaster,” next, is a catchy, memorable, smoothly flowing song that strikes a hopeful tone, leading up to “Numbers Game,” with its ominous overtone. Then the cheery “Take This Mountain,” a very folky tribute to finding homespun happiness as a metaphor for navigating life.

Next up, Shawna adds her signature to the swaying country music dancehall standard “Tennessee Waltz.” Her sweet, precise vocal phrasing brands Shawna’s rendition of this oft-recorded classic her own.

Shawna Caspi

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Following is “The Love I Know,” a soft, flowing number without a happy ending, a song whose tones and tune are a fitting album-ender.

Of course, if Shawna’s dulcet tones on “The Love I Know” do send you off to dreamland, you’ll be awakened by “My Baby Can Fix a Bike,” if you’re lucky enough to have a disc that contains this bonus track. With all the angst and inner turmoil elsewhere on this album, it provides a nice, cheerful, lighthearted “alternate ending.”

Beginning to end, this CD has been a joy to have in my car, as one of the handful of discs rotating through my CD player, accompanying me on my commutes and adventures for far too long, though not, of course, during the last three months. An elite talent on the folk scene, Shawna Caspi is someone you absolutely should check out, if you aren’t already familiar with her voice and music.

Looking Ahead

Shawna is working on her next disc, and I’m looking forward to it.

Also, you can keep an eye on Shawna’s performance schedule at the “Gigs” page of her website. Tonight, Monday, June 8th, at 8:00 PM EDT, she performs online on a Club Passim Live stream, her COVID-cancelled concert here at Boston’s iconic Club Passim restructured as a more socially distanced live stream. She has two other online shows currently on the calendar. On Monday, June 22nd, at 7:00 PM EDT, she’ll perform at the Philadelphia Folksong Society’s Digital Concert Venue. And on Sunday, July 12th, at 7:00 PM EDT, Shauna will be performing her scheduled Flying Cat House Concerts showed, originally scheduled for that Indianapolis venue, online via Facebook live stream. Details and links for all of these online shows are on the gigs page at her website.