EP Review: Company One – Dissonance

Company One

photo by Sascha Deng; photo courtesy of Company One

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

EP Review of Company One: Dissonance (Five By Two Records)

Company One are a Boston area trio comprised of Marcello Costa on lead vocals and bass, Eoghan McCarthy on guitar and Steven Richardson on drums. Dissonance is their latest EP release and is a gripping and dynamic cross-section of heavy progressive and ambient styles. This talented young group draws from the well of classic artists like Pink Floyd and The Who coupled with more contemporary counterparts like The Mars Volta, Caspian and Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

Company One - Dissonance

image courtesy of Company One

Perhaps the initial factor that grabs the listener right away is the emotional range and depth of vocalist Costa. He seems to be a shape shifter in the way he is able to manipulate his voice. He can go from a low whisper to a caterwauling scream in an instant and remains fluid throughout. Guitarist McCarthy and drummer Richardson follow suit and provide a tapestry of sound that varies in an ebb and flow formation.

“Lay Me Down” kicks off this four-song release that follows the band’s previous album, In the Womb. The track begins with an ambient wash of sound; almost cello-like in a wavy ethereal pattern. That soon gives way to ultra heavy guitars and gut-wrenching vocals. There is a somewhat gothic/doom quality that is pervasive when things get amped up. But this track remains inventive and doesn’t slip into the typical clichés of said genres.

Company One

photo by Sascha Deng; photo courtesy of Company One

“One Hundred Years or Less” is similar to the previous track in that it is a slow burner that morphs into a dynamic and eruptive “B” section. The structure is somewhat minimalistic, with shifting tempos and time signatures. Everything kind of hangs on a droning tonal center for a time and then explodes. Once the mood and concept of the piece are established McCarthy steps out, with a striking guitar break.

“Look at the Boy” features odd arpeggios that frame a strange and cryptic vocal. The music shifts from darkness to light and seems to swing in ¾ time over a layered multi-dimensional platform.

Company One

photo by Sascha Deng; photo courtesy of Company One

Clocking in at a little over 12 minutes, the opus simply entitled “Drain” concludes the EP. The track sounds like something out of a dream where sonic images float and mesh into each other. The low end really hits you in the chest and the overlapping of harmonies and erroneous audio seems otherworldly.

Company One is a progressive band that successfully bridges the gap between experimental and adhering to somewhat traditional and relatable song structures. Their music also lends itself to film and TV soundtracks, with lush production and vivid imagination.

Company One

photo by Sascha Deng; photo courtesy of Company One

Looking Ahead

Company One has some live gigs booked in the coming weeks. You can catch them at the Bungalow Bar & Grill in Manchester, NH on Saturday, October 14th; at UnchARTed in Lowell, MA on Friday, November 3rd; at Out of the Blue Too Art Gallery in Cambridge, MA on Friday, November 17th; and at the Raven in Worcester, MA on Sunday, November 19th. Check the band’s website for more information about those performances and for additional shows as they’re added.

 

Album Review: Rick Barth – Hand Me Down Soul

Rick Barth

photo courtesy of Rick Barth

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Rick Barth: Hand Me Down Soul

New Jersey-based singer-songwriter Rick Barth didn’t start his career as a thoughtful and introspective acoustic-oriented artist. He cut his teeth on hard rock and metal like many other burgeoning star struck kids . But, over time, if one stays with it, one amasses many influences and styles. As a mature artist you not only are a product of those influences, but, if you continue to grow and are paying attention, begin to establish your own sound and voice. That is the case here.

Rick Barth - Hand Me Down Soul

image courtesy of Rick Barth

Upon first listening to Hand Me Down Soul what strikes this reviewer is how the album cover and title is immediately indicative of Barth’s vocal approach. There is a comfortable, yet world-weary gruffness to his delivery. The ragged emotional weight in his voice is totally in line with the aged and vintage concept of the album graphics. Barth has done some living, and he brings that well crafted experience and wisdom to the material here.

Hand Me Down Soul is a little Butch Walker, a little Steve Earle, a smidgen of Tom Petty, a dollop of Jason Isbell mixed with a generous helping of Neil Young. It’s a bit country, a bit rock & roll, and all soul! While every song on the album plays like a single and stands on its own, there is a flow to the track sequencing that provides a very satisfying and complete album-oriented experience.

Rick Barth

photo courtesy of Rick Barth

The album opens with “Wherever You Are.” It’s some fine mid-tempo rock, with solid guitar work that prepares you for this audio journey. “Please Don’t Go” follows and is some classic traditional sounding country. This is kind of a slow burner of a track that sounds like it could’ve been pulled from Young’s early ‘70s Harvest release. A little down the list, the title track “Hand Me Down Soul” reveals some of Barth’s best vocals and writing. He also has a biting wit on tunes like “I Love You (Now Go Away).” This one features ironic lyrics coupled with some cool harmonica work and a catchy chorus. “Good Old Days” seems to tap into somewhat of a nostalgic vibe, with some really strong harmonic accompaniment. And the album concludes in ¾ time on a dramatic upbeat note, with the opus “Invincible.”

According to his bio, Barth is currently working on follow up recordings that will take him well into 2018. And many thanks to Paul and Dave of the podcast the Homegrown Sunday Ramble Show who convinced the gifted singer-songwriter to venture out from strictly the cover band circuit in pursuit of his own destiny.

[Rick’s performing frequently throughout New Jersey in the coming months. Check out the schedule on his website to catch a live gig near you… if you’re in New Jersey (or Stroudsburg, PA, which appears to be the only non-Jersey gig currently on his calendar). -GW]

EP Review: Nate Jones – Testing the Waters

Nate Jones

photo by Jill Moninger; photo courtesy of Nate Jones

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

EP Review of Nate Jones: Testing the Waters

This EP represents a nice cross-section of what you would get at a live Nate Jones show. He is a Detroit area singer-songwriter cut from the same cloth as artists like Jason Mraz, early John Mayer, and, even, classic James Taylor. No doubt a take-off on the local indie brew pubs and taverns Jones plays on a regular basis, the disc sleeve bears the stamp: “100% Genuine Craft Music; Made in Michigan.”

Nate Jones - Testing the Waters

image courtesy of Nate Jones

The dream-like ballad “Autumn Road” opens the disc and sets a romantic scene, with a vivid aural portrait suitable for framing. He begins with solo acoustic guitar lightly arpeggiated as he softly sings of a fall stroll—crunching leaves under foot—where two lovers are lost in each other. This is a great place to start as Jones immediately grabs your attention, with his graceful and engaging vocal style.

“Blonde in the Ballroom” follows and has a lilting and entrancing waltz-like feel. Jones sings in a buoyant and wistful manner about dancing with the song’s dream girl. Bassist Barry Schigelone and drummer Dan Bourquin give it a light kick that recalls something Fairport Convention or Mumford & Sons might do.

“Smoke Filled Room” features a lyrical tale of a femme fatale, with a steady propulsive groove and Oscar Sosa’s flamenco-tinged lead guitar. The song is rooted in a minor key and is the perfect vehicle for Jones’ emotive and dramatic delivery.

Nate Jones

photo by Brandon Hawk; photo courtesy of Nate Jones

“Love is Not a Victimless Crime” explores the perspective of songsmith as the prey or victim in a relationship. In it he sings “I’m the victim, you’re the thief, you stole my heart right from beneath my feet.” With practically anyone else those words might come across somewhat forced or a cliché. But Jones has a knack for conveying sincerity and vulnerability that is convincing and totally for real. This also has a bubbly rhythmic hip-hop vibe that bops along in a catchy and free-spirited fashion.

Subtle social relevance enters into the mix here with the track “Good Morning Rome.” It is a sly and clever reference to the fall of ancient Rome at the hands of its own people. The song makes comparisons to American society and its common foibles and faults.  The tune has a very loose, yet steady beat where Jones spins his cautionary tale while Sosa turns up the heat via sizzling blues riffs.

The bonus track here ends the disc as it began, with a solo acoustic piece. “King of Hearts” has all the majesty and wordcraft of a Shakespearean tragedy blended with masterful and brilliantly executed guitar work. Again, Jones sells the song right up to the final plea where he cries to reclaim his queen.

Nate Jones is a diverse and personable musician that lays it on the line by wearing his musical heart on his sleeve. That sincerity comes through loud and clear, with production that is lean, open, and brings out the best in this refreshing and original young artist.

Album Review: Zucchero – Black Cat

Zucchero

photo by Ari Michelson; photo courtesy of Rock Paper Scissors

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Zucchero: Black Cat (Polydor/Universal)

Many folks may not know the name Zucchero in the United States, but he’s something of a musical phenomenon in his native Italy. Born Andelmo Fornaciari, Zucchero is kind of a cultural bon vivant, able to hang with opera greats like Luciano Pavarotti and filmmaker Tinto Brass, tour with Miles Davis, and rub shoulders with everyone from Nelson Mandela to Dan Aykroyd.

Zucchero - Black Cat

image courtesy of Rock Paper Scissors

This latest effort finds the Italian blues and soul-inspired pop star taking that same approach and applying the star-studded celebrity concept to this powerful and charismatic collection of tunes. You know you’re on the right track and have set a good course when you’ve got Don Was, T-Bone Burnett, and Brendan O’Brien producing, and everyone from Bono, Mark Knopfler and Elvis Costello helping out in the composition and playing departments.

This is a very interesting album in that many of the songs have a very rough-and-ready American raw blues and rock edge to them. But, contrary to a lot of other cultural crossover projects of this nature, the leader chooses to sing much of the album in his native Italian. This, of course, gives things a very cosmopolitan flavor and a very unique and somewhat provincial perspective. Zucchero has a powerful, almost operatic, voice and he really sells these songs in the process.

Zucchero

photo by Ari Michelson; photo courtesy of Rock Paper Scissors

“Partigiano  Reggiano” opens the album, with the phrase “Black cat, my bone.” Forgive the fact that you may not speak Italian, but the feel and intent is one of a bluesy romp, with a New Orleans groove and kickin’ horn chart. One doesn’t have to be fluent in the language to get the gist and energy of the tune that Zucchero conveys.

Another strong showing is “Ti Voglio Sposare.” It features more of a hard rock format, with a memorable chorus and a nice mix of Dobro and acoustic guitar elements.

The song “Streets of Surrender (S.O.S.)” is significant for its blend of Zucchero’s music with lyrics by U2’s Bono. The Italian crooner sings in English with a cadence and tone not unlike Joe Cocker or Gary Brooker of Procul Harum. The addition of strings makes this a real highlight.

Zucchero

photo by Ari Michelson; photo courtesy of Rock Paper Scissors

“Hey Lord” blends Italian and English in a seamless, yet, unusual mix of blues and gospel.

“Turn the World Down” is a tune penned by Elvis Costello that finds Zucchero delivering a hearty ballad with a strong message of hope, pause and reflection. In it he sings, “Get the word out, let the globe spin. Save everyone and everything. Turn the world down.”

There are over a dozen songs here, and each one features contributions from some of the top session musicians on the planet such as drummer Jim Keltner, bassist Nathan East and select National and Dobro guitar spotlights from Knopfler. Zucchero’s organ and pianowork on many of the tracks adds a choral and light classical feel to much of the album as well.

Zucchero

photo by Meeno; photo courtesy of Rock Paper Scissors

This is, perhaps, Zucchero’s most Americana-sounding release to date. The Italian pop star was inspired by America’s Afro-diasporic musics. Apparently he discovered in a lot of African American communities that the “black cat” was a symbol of good luck. “I decided to give this name to the album because, more than the others, it is a black album, with its roots in Afro-American music,” explains Zucchero. “The sounds are rough and rotten and anarchistic—cats are not as domesticated as dogs. I loved the sound of the words ‘black cat,’ and I felt it was in tune with the album.”

Looking Ahead

Zucchero is concluded the American portion of the tour earlier this spring, but he has dates throughout Europe steadily through September, with a South American tour scheduled for October. Check the “Black Cat World Tour” page of his website for details.

Album Review: Sheila Landis & Rick Matle – Beautiful Things

Sheila Landis & Rick Matle

photo courtesy of Sheila Landis & Rick Matle

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Sheila Landis & Rick Matle: Beautiful Things (SheLan Records)

The Detroit-based duo of vocalist Sheila Landis and guitarist Rick Matle are two of the finest purveyors of the improvisational art form. They have decades of performance, individually and collectively, between them. Of all the music-oriented activities they are involved in, the appropriately titled Beautiful Things finds them working in their favorite habitat: playing live for appreciate crowds. All 15 of the selected tracks here were recorded at various venues around the Motor City, including the restaurant Beans and Cornbread, The Jewish Community Center of Metro Detroit, and The Village Theater at Cherry Hill in Canton, Michigan. Several of the tunes on this album were hand-picked favorites of Landis from the Ella Fitzgerald songbook. Essentially, the concept behind this project recalls the classic recordings and arrangements between Fitzgerald and guitarist Joe Pass.

Sheila Landis & Rick Matle - Beautiful Things

image courtesy of Sheila Landis & Rick Matle

They begin this superb collection of primarily traditional American standards, show tunes, and cover songs with “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.” This one really swings out of the chute, with a light and airy feel. Matle’s 7-string guitar allows him to accompany himself on bass lines that parallel the chords and melody. Landis’ elastic vocalizing on top gives this song a very full and multi-dimensional quality.

Louis Jourdan’s “Knock Me a Kiss” follows, with lyrics that playfully laud cake, pie, and sugary confections in the same breath as love. Landis uses her voice in a lot of non-traditional ways on this recording and her “trumpet” solo here is convincingly quite good.

The duo slows things down a tad for Dinah Washington’s “Fine Fat Daddy.” It’s a languid walking blues tune where Landis takes a lot of liberties with her time and phrasing. Matle adds some nice inflections throughout, with some thoughtful delicate playing.

Sheila Landis

photo courtesy of Sheila Landis & Rick Matle

Next in the set is a piece by Antonio Carlos Jobim called “Vivo Sonhando.” This is a breezy and relaxing samba that fully spotlights their collective talents. Landis’ command of vocalese and melody is unique and self-assured while Matle’s subtle use of chord inversions and melodic choices moves this piece like a full band.

As aforementioned, Landis is a big fan of Ella Fitzgerald as evidenced by her uncanny and effervescent style. She pays tribute to her specifically here, with her original composition dedicated to the legendary singer entitled “When in Doubt, Make Coffee.” It’s a clever take off on “I Won’t Dance, Don’t Ask Me” and she sings in an appropriately caffeinated-fueled alliterated style.

Other highlights include another bluesy Landis original called “Taller in the Morning,” Matle’s flamenco vibe on “Besame Mucho,” the classic “Girl from Ipanema” and a stunning and sweet take on “Tenderly.”

Kudos go to Matle for the stellar production on this live recording. The performances are so pristine and delicately rich that you can hear a pin drop. Highly recommended!

EP Review: Jimmy Lee Morris – Campervan

Jimmy Lee Morris

photo courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

EP Review of Jimmy Lee Morris: Campervan (Automix Records)

Jimmy Lee Morris - Campervan

image courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

UK-based singer-songwriter Jimmy Lee Morris is a talented artist with no pretense. He writes songs that define the term “folk.” In other words, they are down to earth, and about people and relationships, with resonant melodies and memorable hooks. This four song EP Campervan is Morris’ latest and follows the 2016 album Wilderness Wood.

Jimmy Lee Morris has been crafting songs since the ‘80s, fronting bands such as Mojo Filter and The Collaborators. He’s worked with Pink Floyd producer Ron Geesin and has toured extensively throughout the UK and Denmark.

Jimmy Lee Morris

photo courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

With this current effort, Morris provides a lean and economical window into his creativity. “Campervan Song” opens the EP in a pleasant and forthright manner. This bears a well-thought-out melody with lyrics that address escape and the open road. It’s all about being self-reliant and throwing caution to the wind. Simply, the song states: “And here’s to the camper that never breaks down, and here’s to the journey it takes us upon, and wave to the others as we go along, it’s just you and me on the road.” And you get this traveling troubadour kind of feel too via Javier Forero’s driving percussion and Clare Lees’ light and billowy flute.

Bethan Lees

Bethan Lees; photo courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

Although Morris wrote all the material here no one could accuse him of being dictatorial or autocratic. Bethan Lees is a young and very special vocal chanteuse, and Morris is more than happy to place her in the spotlight on his beautiful tune “Amor Compartido (A Love We Share).” Bethan has an angelic and lilting soprano that sends this lovely song into stratospheric trajectory. It’s entirely sung in Spanish, and the rhythm section of Morris on acoustic guitar, along with Richard Leney’s lithe bass, Javier Forero’s percolating drums and producer Simon Scardanelli’s tasty lead guitar give this a brilliant salsa feel.

Jimmy Lee Morris

photo courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

“When I’m Gone” is a bluesy-flavored number with a classic Beatles-meets-Jim Croce kind of vibe. It’s a song about love and longing. Anyone that has ever been separated from their significant other or main squeeze for any length of time will certainly appreciate this. Phillipe Guyard chimes in with a wailing sax solo that really kicks.

The final selection in this brief, but fine, collection is another rootsy kind of tune called “Temptation.” As is Morris’ style, he is direct and to the point in the communication department. In this he sings: “I’m holding you, you’re holding me, I’m loving you and you’re loving me. We don’t need no complication, just give in to your temptation, stay with me.” This has a real down home feel courtesy of Morris’ mandolin and Duncan Campbell’s countrified Dobro.

 

Album Review: Matt Jaffe & The Distractions – California’s Burning

Matt Jaffe

photo by Edward Saenz; photo courtesy of Shore Fire Media

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Matt Jaffe & The Distractions: California’s Burning

Hot off the heels of his Blast Off EP, San Francisco-based Matt Jaffe returns with a full-length collection of molten-tinged rock and roll. On his debut release, Jaffe was barely out of his teens yet brought a rich and studied new-wave energy to the table that reached way beyond his years. With California’s Burning, the 22-year-old Fender axeslinger/singer-songwriter returns with a brand new autobiographically-inspired concept and vision. As the story goes, Jaffe attended college on the East Coast, and, after being away for an extended period and then returning home, he took notice of the differences between the two coasts. There is obviously a rich and storied history of California—from its depictions in movies to topography and colorful characters—that all play a part in the narrative of his latest project.

Matt Jaffe & the Distractions - California's Burning

image courtesy of Shore Fire Media

Right out of the gate, your ears are under pleasant assault from the heavily syncopated “Love is Just a Drug.” Its catchy riffs, hooks and harmonies envelop your senses and may even get you up on the dance floor as well. “Wander No More” continues in an up-tempo manner, with a barnburner of a tune. This has an urgent Robert Gordon-meets-Blasters feel that features great guitarwork between Jaffe and fellow Distraction Adam Nash. “Fire on the Freeway” is kind of a country/blues mesh where you can feel the scorching heat from the leader’s Telecaster attack. Jaffe sings of “burning across the western plain” rife with rockabilly passion and paranoid imagery. “Hellhounds of Alcatraz” displays a lot of fancy lead playing augmented by very vivid and cinematic lyrics and propulsive grooves. Each track seems to play like a mini-novella in a way, and this tune seems to dabble in mystery, intrigue and Hitchcock-like suspense.

Matt Jaffe

photo by Edward Saenz; photo courtesy of Shore Fire Media

“I Wanna Be Cruel” offers a breather in the form of a ‘50s/’60s type ballad. Here Jaffe shows his more sensitive side that appears an homage to both Elvii—Presley and Costello. “Write a Song About Me” picks up the pace again and has all the earnestness and punk rock bravado of southern California rockers John Doe and X. Once that stick of dynamite is lit, there is no turning back, with the runaway freight train that is “Locomotive Lightning.” This is a song that observes a look beyond Los Angeles and takes in the whole western coastline. This is controlled chaos, with enough crazy rhythms and shifting tempos to challenge the most accomplished mosh pit aficionado. Other highlights include the aforementioned Costello-like pop and sizzle of “Baby’s On a Bender,” the acoustic pairing with backing vocalist Christina Alvarado on “Red Snow,” and his impressive and faithful take on Johnny Cash, with “Folsom Prison Blues.”

In Jaffe’s own words, “ We wanted to make a record that sounds like the records we like; one that sounds like the music that turns us on, with buzzsaw guitars and whiplash drums. Dials at eleven. Forget the polish and forget the shine. Nothing between us and your ears. California’s Burning, so come and join us right here in the hot seat.” Kind of sums it up, doesn’t it!?