Album Review: Ne-Yo – In My Own Words

Ne-Yo

photo by Lourdes Suakari; photo courtesy of Reybee

Album Review of Ne-Yo: In My Own Words (15th Anniversary Digital Deluxe reissue) (UMe/Def Jam)

Even though I’ve reviewed a couple recently, I’m not a big fan of writing about reissues. This time it’s different. Ne-Yo broke out of his behind-the-scenes hit-songwriter role and into the public consciousness as a hit performer 15 years ago, very early in my hiatus from music journalism, during a time when I was almost completely not discovering new music. So, for me, this was a chance to dive into discovering a huge record that launched a big, new star during a brief blindspot in my musical history. So please indulge me, if you will.

This reissue, released on February 26th, contains all thirteen original tracks, plus “Girlfriend,” which was a previously just a retail exclusive track. In addition, you’ll find a remix of “Stay” that was released on the Japanese version of In My Own Words, acoustic versions of “So Sick” and “Sexy Love,” and instrumental versions of “So Sick” and “When You’re Mad.” In total, 19 tracks.

Ne-Yo – In My Own Words

image courtesy of Reybee

Giving this a full listen after 15 years – for me, my first full listen beginning-to-end and my first exposure to many of the songs that weren’t hits – you can see why this album broke Ne-Yo so big. Seriously, though, I don’t need to explain why this massive pop/R&B star is so huge. You know his voice, his hooks, his clever turns of phrases, his catchy musical dances around the rhythm. So I guess I’ll just mention which songs are my favorites, and you can agree, disagree, or perhaps listen to some of those favorites you might have missed if you just cherry-picked the hits.

First, though, let’s start with the hits.

“So Sick” was my own personal favorite the first few times through this disc, though that could be because I already knew the song so well. It was the one number one hit on In My Own Words. If this were a horserace, that’d be the equivalent of betting on the favorite.

After several listens, though, I came to appreciate the clever lyrics and mildly unpredictable rhythms of “When You’re Mad,” which only reached #15 on the charts back in 2006. (Yeah, I heard it. “Only”?)

Meanwhile, “Sexy Love,” which reached #7 in 2006, with its almost Michael Jackson-ish opening and Ne-Yo’s crisp vocals lines and “oh baby” interjections, riding a smooth music bed and hypnotic underlying rhythm. (Yes, I sing along with the background rhythm.)

Ne-Yo

photo by Lourdes Suakari; photo courtesy of Reybee

Beyond the hits, “Stay” was the first single, a minor R&B hit at the time of its initial release, and its musical turns, while they keep the song interesting from a music critic standpoint, rather than going down a more direct musical path, may have kept some casual listeners from latching on quickly enough to make the song a mega-hit, especially since it was Ne-Yo’s very first single. Still, “I just can’t help myself…”

Personal favorites among the non-hits include “Let Me Get This Right,” where an relatively unstoppable steamrolling rhythm merges well with Ne-Yo’s bursts of vocal power. And “It Just Ain’t Right,” for similar rhythmic reasons, though the music bed helps me picture myself perhaps on a beach this time, and the impressive but restrained vocal gymnastics on a particular “ohhh” toward the end are fun, too. Then there’s the jazzy opening of “I Ain’t Gotta Tell You,” on which Ne-Yo sings all around the pocket, speeding and slowing his vocals; when done well, it’s unavoidably entrancing. And there are the rich wall-of-vocals that powers “Get Down Like That.” Of course, as is the case with album cuts, you’ll likely have your own favorites.

Among the bonus tracks, I’m kind of partial to the acoustic versions of “So Sick” and “Sexy Love.” The instrumentals, on the other hand, primarily just highlight for me how much this album relies on Ne-Yo’s killer vocals and lyrics. They seem surprisingly pedestrian – they really are just the music beds, not instrumentally souped-up reimaginings – though they’re perhaps quite fun if you want to use them to sing “So Sick” or “When You’re Mad” on your own.

Even before reading this review, I’m sure most of you already know whether or not you dig Ne-Yo’s music. If you’re a fan, this reissue may be worth it for access to the bonus tracks. And if you’re like me, and you somehow missed snagging this hit album when it was initially released, here’s your chance. In My Own Words is worth your attention. The very best crystal clear, top-shelf R&B vocalists’ records always are.

Looking Ahead

Ne-Yo doesn’t currently have any live performances scheduled, but when they are, you will be able to find that listed on the “Tour” page of his website.

Album Review: Danielle Miraglia – Bright Shining Stars

Danielle Miraglia

photo by Joshua Pickering; photo courtesy of Danielle Miraglia

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Danielle Miraglia: Bright Shining Stars (Vizztone Records)

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Danielle Miraglia has been wowing fans and critics on the Boston music scene for several years now. With a series of successful recordings and performances, as both a solo act and as a member of The Glory Junkies, Miraglia consistently delivers a sound that is soulful and authentically earnest. With her latest effort for Vizztone, she presents a collection of originals and classic blues songs that put the spotlight squarely on her acoustic guitar and vocal prowess. She is joined on select tracks by fellow Glory Junky Laurence Scudder on viola, along with guitarist Peter Parcek and harmonica man Richard “Rosy” Rosenblatt.

Danielle Miraglia – Bright Shining Stars

image courtesy of Danielle Miraglia

Miraglia possesses a number of innate gifts. With her voice, she’s able to modulate it in several ways to suit the material she’s singing. Her ability to go from a whisper to a wail is impressive. But she utilizes it as a trained actor would to convey the heart of the message in each song. Equally, her skills on guitar are unparalleled. She’s a one woman show in the way she implements traditional finger style patterns and chord work.

“Feels Like Home” is a brief instrumental piece that sets the stage for the album. The pairing of Miraglia’s strong thumb-driven bass and chordal rhythms and Scudder’s warm viola is most welcoming. “C.C. Rider” is a Ma Rainey tune covered by everyone from Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels to the Animals. Most people might be familiar with the high octane treatments some of the rock community have given it. But, in this format, Miraglia opts for a slower, pensive and more reflective version of the blues classic. You hear every word and absorb every nuance. Her delivery is very literate and self-assured.

“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” is, perhaps, one of Bob Dylan’s more lighthearted songs. It’s got a country blues-like lilt, and Miraglia sings the love song with a grit and playful irony that definitely gets to the heart of the matter. Parcek is a nice electric foil to Miraglia’s flowing acoustic passages, giving the tune additional weight.

Danielle Miraglia

photo by Briana Atkins; photo courtesy of Danielle Miraglia

“Pick Up the Gun” follows and is an original that seems to address gun violence and the motives and thought processes behind using a weapon in the first place. She seems to take both an antagonist and protagonist side in portraying different perspectives on the issue. Musically, Miraglia digs in, with a driving rhythmic figure as Scudder offers some tasteful solo breaks.

Janis Joplin’s “Turtle Blues” is a song that sounds like a piece that has been in Miraglia’s performance wheelhouse for some time. She really has fleshed this out nicely and invests deep into the soul of the song. There is a cool and aloof gruffness to her vocals that seems to embody the spirit of Janis herself. Parcek’s jazzy accompaniment adds some flair and really makes this a highlight.

For all those folks burned out on Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Teen Mom, does this artist have a song for you! “Famous for Nothin’” kind of says it all in the title. And that’s exactly what it’s about. It’s a song about the illusion of fame and the attainment of it for the mere sake of fame alone. The chorus “Have you heard… have you heard? Everybody’s in” kind of summarizes the current state of television and society at the moment.

Danielle Miraglia

photo by Caroline Alden; photo courtesy of Danielle Miraglia

“Love Yourself” is a tune by Keb Mo that’s gets a bold and exuberant take here. It’s got a slow vintage boogie feel where Miraglia depicts the personal journeys one may go through in life. There may be some bumps along the way, but when all else fails, you can always “love yourself.”

Bob Dylan’s “Meet Me in the Morning” has a down and dirty rustic vibe to it. It’s all acoustic slide and honking harmonica. Miraglia does some testifying with a vocal that will stop you in your tracks. The same can be said for the follow up classic by Big Bill Broonzy, “It Hurts Me Too.” It’s just the artist and her guitar, and it is marvelous.

“Walkin’ Blues” by Robert Johnson gets a respectful turn, and the album’s finale and title track puts a beautiful bow on the whole experience. “Bright Shining Stars,” written by Miraglia’s husband Tom Bianchi, is a hopeful and positive song for these current times. In it, she sings “Tragedy and dark times, they’ll chase you around. Sometimes this world is beautiful, sometimes it lets you down. How many hearts must be broken? No one said that it would be easy to fight the good fight.” And then the chorus offers hope with, “This world needs bright shining stars, and this world needs superheroes to lead us all. And this world needs goodness to be grown. Let’s give a shining star a new home.” What a great sentiment to summarize this fine collection of songs.

Danielle Miraglia

photo by Joshua Pickering; photo courtesy of Danielle Miraglia

Looking Ahead

When live shows are back, you’ll find Danielle’s listed on the “Shows” page of her website. Danielle has also been streaming occasionally during the pandemic, either solo or as part of multi-artist events. These are generally announced via posts on Danielle’s Facebook page.

Album Review: 3 Pairs of Boots – Long Rider

3 Pairs of Boots

photo by Eric Wolfinger; photo courtesy of Hello Wendy

Album Review of 3 Pairs of Boots: Long Rider

Fans of old-school, Patsy Cline-flavor country music are likely to dig 3 Pairs of Boots. Long Rider is a varied, versatile collection of swinging, swooping, Americana mixed with old-school country. It took me a while to place who Laura Arias’ pouty-smooth crooning reminded me of. This one will be “inside baseball” for Geoff Wilbur’s Music Blog readers, a mix of a pair of great vocalists I wish you all knew about. Primarily, Laura’s vocals sound like a less edgy version of Angie and the Deserters’ Angie Bruyere but with occasional ventures into the sweet super-highness I associate with Blog favorite Trysette. I realize I’m trying a little too hard there – the band’s bio suggests she’s a blend of Cyndi Lauper and Shania Twain, and that probably paints a better picture for a broader swath of potential listeners.

“Boots” bandmate, the other half of the duo, Laura’s husband Andrew Stern helps provide a great musical backdrop to Arias’ vocals, at times nearly rockabilly, sometimes with a hint of psychedelic rock (just a hint), often with some good ol’ Opry-style twanging. It’s a testament to the duo’s versatility that they’re able to serve up such a variety of tunes in a cohesive package on Long Rider.

3 Pairs of Boots – Long Rider

image courtesy of Hello Wendy

I have several favorites in this collection. Disc-opener “Quittin’ Time,” in fact, is the relatively old-fashioned, smooth, soft-paced crooner that inspired my Patsy Cline comparison. “Devil Road” somehow comes off as a rollicking number, before closer examination reveals a much more leisurely pace than it seems. Some extra inserted beats add to the energy and rhythm of the song without actually speeding the pace.

Now, there is a bit more pace on the next song, a quick-stepping country dancehall number with some lively picking, “Take a Step,” which actually reveals the secret of the band’s name: “Take a step into the unknown, and never look back. I’ve got my 3 pairs of boots. That’s all I need.”

The lively cheerfulness continues on “Everywhere I Go,” before “I Am the Map” slows things down with lyrics like “I am the map, but I am not the road”.

Laura’s voice is at her most Trysette-ish on “Summer of Love,” a very Age of Aquarius-vibed tune, especially considering its steady, firm, relatively traditionally country music beat.

“My Best Friend” is essentially a love song about a friendship that stands the test of time… a guitar. Yeah, it’s a fun song with clever lyrics.

Finally, “Roller Coaster” opens with and repeats a hook uncannily similar to “Here Comes the Sun.” (I keep expecting to hear, at some point, “do do do…”) The energy on “Roller Coaster” is cheerful with a vocal edge that keeps teetering on poignant and pulling back. It’s a cool vibe with which to end this collection of songs that explores the broad range of dependably strong Americana (and Americana-adjacent) duo 3 Pairs of Boots.

In the end, Long Rider is a fun, moderately-paced romp with enough performing flourishes and songwriting surprises sprinkled throughout to make the album a sneaky favorite.

Looking Ahead

Scroll down the main page of the 3 Pairs of Boots website to the “Tour Dates” section to see upcoming performances.

EP Review: Double Experience – Alignments: Neutral

Double Experience

photo by Laura Collins; photo courtesy of BJF Media

EP Review of Double Experience: Alignments: Neutral (Drakkar Entertainment)

Regular readers know I’ve been clearing a massive backlog of reviews over the last several months. I’m almost caught up, but this late 2019 release from Double Experience slipped through the cracks. Still, as was the case with all of the older albums I reviewed late last year, this is an EP you simply need to know about, if you don’t already. So, with that said…

Self-described “nerd rockers,” Double Experience exhibits a variety of rock ‘n roll influences – all in just three songs – with a sound that centers on moderately hard rock on this EP.

Double Experience – Alignments: Neutral

image courtesy of BJF Media

“New Me” is a straight-up rocker, with an ’80s guitar-driven, heavy-melodic hard rock style defined by, among other things, its crunchy guitar riffs, attitude-laden, high, limits-pushing vocals, and hooky tempo-breaks. Of the three songs, I’d have to say “New Me” is my favorite, but it’s close, and that’s mostly just a personal stylistic preference.

Song number two, “The Imp,” reveals a funkier guitar-rocker style, one far less smooth, with a beat that never settles in, hints of both punk and progressive influence, and – in the end – a song that’s interesting and fun, but in a headache-inducing way. And I’m not talking volume; rather, “The Imp” whipsaws its rhythm so relentlessly you’ll end up somewhat concussed.

“Ghost in the Machine” follows as what could very likely be one of the slower tempo songs on a typical pop-punk album – and I don’t, by any means, mean that it’s slow. But the melody is back, and there’s a more feel-good energy driving the song’s hooks.

If you told me these three songs came from three different bands, I’d almost believe you. Stylistically speaking, at least. Yet they all have a Double Experience-specific sound. And they’re all three styles I dig when done well. Double Experience is a talented rock outfit, and this is a mesmerizing EP. Leave it to “nerds” to produce a recording like Alignments: Neutral. Seriously, check it out, Poindexter!

Looking Ahead

You can keep up with the band’s live performances via the “Shows” page of their website. It seems Double Experiences has stayed visible during the pandemic. Their website currently lists six appearances per week on Twitch: A songwriting-based one on Wednesdays, acoustic live performances on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and less structured “side quests” on Sundays and Thursdays. Click on that “Shows” tab for times and deets.

EP Review: Ben Lang – Modern Man EP

Ben Lang – Modern Man EP

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

EP Review of Ben Lang: Modern Man EP (Moo Moo Records)

Ben Lang‘s debut EP, Modern Man, showcases his original style. It’s off-balance, country-tinged, singer-songwriter fare. Slightly Americana with a hint of folk but firmly, most definitively focused in Ben’s solidly written songs and delivery.

One of my favorite pieces of biographical information about Ben Lang is that he was a founding member of Biv and the Mnemonics (or, more fully, Roy G Biv & The Mnemonic Devices), a San Francisco-based band that released a couple of albums in 2009 and 2013. Honestly, I haven’t yet checked out the music (even though I just shared the link), but I’m sure, at the time, I would have because I love the band name.

But I disgress. Let’s get back to talking about Modern Man. EP-opener “Houston-New Orleans” is driven by a repeated, thump-along rhythm, propelling Ben’s strumming and storytelling-style sung (not spoken) vocals. It’s the sort of tempo and energy that’d be likely to draw you into a live music venue if you heard it while passing by. I enjoy the whole disc, but this is probably my favorite song on Modern Man, though it’s a close call.

The title song, “Modern Man” plods along a bit more obviously, in the stylistic sense, inasmuch as the rhythm really smacks you in the head. Within the context of the song, though, it moves the tune along pleasantly, as if “Modern Man” is a directed conversation with rhythm.

The mellowly energetic “Nailin’ It” sports a guitar-pickin’ style and a song structure that builds on itself throughout, increasing interest and engagement over the course of the song.

“Hollow Spaces” is more sparsely instrumented than the rest of the disc, an open – hollow – space in an already light-touch collection of music. This lightness is followed by the much more energetic, quick-tempoed “Tee Off With Your Head” – as a listener, you’ll think, “Well, I should have expected that contrast.”

Ben closes the EP with “Mr. Moon,” an old-fashioned, near-crooner that even includes the lyrics “ba doom, ba doom,” fittingly, Vaudevillishly shuffling this EP to its final note.

If not for the hint of country, I’d compare Ben’s sound to Brett Newski, and, in fact, listening to Ben’s music makes me wonder if Brett’s catchy alt-singer-songwriter fare didn’t veer a bit more country, if ever so slightly, than I had realized. Regardless, I found Modern Man to be an EP that’s a pleasant introduction to Ben Lang’s hip, comfortable style, a style and a set of songs that start out nice enough, then grow more enjoyable with each listen. I’m not sure if I should credit Ben’s songwriting or performance style more, but Modern Man is a fine disc, and I’ll gladly look forward to Ben’s follow-up, whenever he creates one.

Looking Ahead

Technically, I’m looking back, but on November 27, 2020, Ben hosted a virtual album release concert for Modern Man.

Looking ahead for real, whenever Ben’s next live performance happens, you might find it on the “Events” tab of his Facebook page. I’d have to guess they’re pleasant, light-hearted, good-time affairs.

Album Review: Tomás Doncker – Wherever You Go

Tomas Doncker - Wherever You Go

image courtesy of Frank Roszak Promotions

Album Review of Tomás Doncker: Wherever You Go (True Groove)

Tomás Doncker is a true bluesman, with his collection Wherever You Go covering all the bases with aplomb.

Album-opener “I’m Gonna Run to the City of Refuge” is the loosest, noisiest entry on the disc. It infuses the sloppy, fun energy of a raucous live performance into the album, giving a taste of what a live performance might sound like when Tomás wants to get the crowd jacked up, and though it’s not even close to one of my personal favorite tracks on the album, it’s a perfectly fitting way to get things started.

The very next track – the title track – is one of my favorites. Tomás’ delivery of “Wherever You Go” reminds me of some of the grittier, more heartfelt versions of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” occupying a similar emotional zone. The song will put a lump in your throat as you listen to it. Sonically, its melancholy vocals and tearfully soaring guitars would be a perfect movie soundtrack backdrop for a starcrossed couple holding each other tightly as they know their futures lie separately. If you don’t have to swallow hard just to get through listening to this masterpiece, you’re stone-cold heartless.

Up next, the funky rhythm of “Have Mercy Baby Please” is the perfect antidote to get you groovin’ again. Oozy, bluesy soul with a very cool energy. Then “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” mutes the funky groove and replaces it with an ominous vibe.

“Change” has more of a dance-styled underlying rhythm and herky-jerky blues riff supporting Tomás’ gruff vocals, leading into “Come Sunday” which, true to its name, derives its momentum from a big, slow, bluesy Gospel sway. The song just keeps getting bigger, lending itself to some intricate, straight-from-the-heart blues guitar runs to the point that, after it ends, you’ll need to take a deep breath to recover.

But take that breath quickly, since “Drown in Blue” brings a mid-tempo insistence – and a rhythm whose intensity makes it seem faster than it really is – almost immediately. This song is sneaky-good, as you’ll catch yourself unwittingly grooving to its rhythm hours later.

The last track on this eight-song release showcases yet another side to Tomás’ musical repertoire. There’s a space-rock music bed driving the mellow, almost Pink Floyd-ish “Door to the Dome,” with distorted, soft guitar runs punctuating this black light and lava lamp-worthy album-ender.

Aside from Blind Willie Johnson’s “I’m Gonna Run to the City of Refuge” and Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,” the rest of the songs are at least co-written by Doncker, so this album – replete with its variety, tied together by Tomás ever-present guitarwork and deep vocals – really is Tomás Doncker’s trademark sound. If you like the blues, especially gritty blues, and especially if you like it sprinkled with a variety of musical influences, you need to hear Wherever You Go. It covers every aspect of the blues you’d expect (and then some) from an artist you’d catch at the high-end blues room, and it even features a transcendent potential hit song, the title track. So settle in, turn down the lights, and listen. Then check the listing as soon as live music returns to see if you can catch Tomás Doncker live somewhere.

Looking Ahead

If you scroll down the main page of Tomás’ website, you’ll find live show listings. At the moment, everything shows as “cancelled” until you reach August. Obviously, as things change, keep an eye out for updates here.

Album Review: Jon Anderson – Song of Seven

Jon Anderson – Song of Seven

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

Album Review of Jon Anderson: Song of Seven, Remastered & Expanded Edition (Esoteric Recordings)

I could make this review simple: Jon Anderson‘s second solo album, 1980’s Song of Seven – the first album released after his first formal split with Yes – has been remastered and re-released, “expanded” with additional songs.

We all know about Jon’s amazing vocals, and whether or not you’re familiar with this disc already, you already know what the songs sound like. I will, though list my favorites: Catchy disc-opener “For You, For Me,” which is the sort of progressive rocker that was typical of prog’s crossover hits of the ’70s and ’80s; the energetic “Some Are Born,” with its sunny disposition and cool horn parts; “Don’t Forget (Nostalgia)” and “Heart of the Matter,” which have a very ’50s sock-hop influenced style and stands out as unique on this record; and “Take Your Time,” a sweetly swaying slow song that has a twangy-Americana-meets-the-carnival musical undercurrent.

One thing I might add, as well, is that if it’s been a long times since you last played some of these old progressive rock albums from the late ’70s and early ’80s – if, for example, like me, you’re a lifelong rocker but not a progressive rock superfan/historian – you may have forgotten just how varied the influences can be from song to song. Though I knew to expect greatness from Jon Anderson, Song of Seven was a much more diverse, interesting listen, beginning to end, than I had remembered or expected. Indeed, I listed my favorite individual songs above, but the entire disc was a great, nostalgic listening experience.

By the way, the “expanded” part of this addition is the inclusion of additional, “U.S. promotional” versions of “Some Are Born” and “Heart of the Matter,” expanding the album’s song count from its original nine to eleven.

Hardcore Jon Anderson fans might also enjoy this 13-minute YouTube video in which Esoteric Recordings’ Mark Powell interviews Jon Anderson about Song of Seven, coinciding with the timing of the album’s re-release. (Actually, even if you’re just a rock ‘n roll fan in general, it’s a pretty good interview you may enjoy.)

Looking Ahead

The remastered edition of Song of Seven was released on November 27, 2020. Next, on March 26, 2021, Esoteric Recordings will release a remastered and expanded edition of Jon’s very first solo album, Olias of Sunhillow. The remastered Olias of Sunhillow is already available for pre-order.

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.