Album Review: Fuzztones – NYC

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Fuzztones: NYC (Cleopatra Records)

Since 1980, lead vocalist-guitarist Rudi Protrudi has been at the helm of New York garage rockers Fuzztones. They have been named revivalists by some, but they actually are one of the architects of that classic proto-punk/alternative rock sound. However, in celebration of their 40 year anniversary, Protrudi and company decided to pay homage to those fellow New York City bands and songwriters that have influenced what they do. And it’s an impressive list of songs that could be ripped right from the playlist of Little Steven’s Underground Garage on Sirius Radio.

Fuzztones - NYC album cover

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

Joining founder Protrudi on this collection of eclectic musical nuggets are Lana Loveland on keyboards and vocals, Eric Geevers on bass and vocals and Marco Rivagli on drums and vocals. This is a tight and efficient unit that really knows how to effectively interpret their heroes, yet still retain a semblance of their own sound. Much in the spirit of the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious and his infamous take on Sinatra’s “My Way,” Fuzztones cover another classic by Ol’ Blue Eyes, appropriately, “New York, New York.” The band gives it a rocking spin that walks that line between irreverence and respect. Gender bending Jayne/Wayne County is represented here with a psychedelic take on their track “Flip Your Wig.” It’s very Seeds meets Question Mark and the Mysterians, with cool organ comps from Loveland and Protrudi’s buzz saw fuzz guitar work. The Cramps’ “New Kind of Kick” features a primal beat and screaming guitars. Greta harmonies frame a hazy, aural drug-like trip. The very lyrical and ‘60s-sounding “53rd & 3rd” is a Ramones cover. It’s reflective of life on the streets, with strong backup vocals and a catchy pop sensibility. Other highlights on this 15 track album are the urgency of the Dead Boys’ “High Tension Wire,” Blue Oyster Cult’s ultra-hip “Transmaniacom MC,” the lush production of Richard Hell’s “You Gotta Lose” and the fantasy feel of Patti Smith’s “Dancing Barefoot.”

The Fuzztones relocated to Los Angeles shortly after the release of their first album Lysergic Emanations in the early ‘80s, but have always remained close to their musical roots. “New York has always been at the core of the Fuzztones entity,” says Protrudi. “So, what better way to celebrate 40 years of fuzz than a tribute to the music that drew us there?”

Album Review: James Williamson & Deniz Tek – Two to One

James Williamson & Deniz Tek

photo by Anne Tek; photo courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of James Williamson & Deniz Tek: Two to One (Cleopatra Records)

With the pairing of guitarist James Williamson and guitarist-vocalist Deniz Tek you’ve got some proto-punk/alternative rock royalty right here. Williamson, of course, played on Iggy and the StoogesRaw Power and Kill City records. And Tek carved his legacy in the alternative rock world decades previous in the Australian-based band Radio Birdman. But, interestingly, they both have ties to Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan, and that Motor City rock ‘n roll sound jumps out of the speakers loud and clear. As Williamson puts it, “This is a no-frills, good old-fashioned guitar album.”

This 11 track album kicks off energetically, with “Jet Pack Nightmare.” The guitars are full and really mix melodically well. Tek sings in a low register monotone that grabs you from the get-go.

“Progress” follows and further solidifies that blend of Detroit-fueled power pop and Southern California panache. “Take a Look Around” features an earnest Tek vocal laced, with a socially-conscious sentiment. Williamson’s taut and focused solos really support the overall mood. The backup vocalists Petra Haden and Andrea Wasse further perpetuate a cool pop vibe.

James Williamson & Deniz Tek - Two to One album cover

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

“Good as Gone” mimics latter day Iggy Pop in a loving way. There is an immediate and urgent groove as Tek unceremoniously sings “We had a few good times, the rest was just a crime.” In addition, Williamson throws in some tasty minor-ish Spanish-type motifs ala Dick Dale.

“Stable” is a strong single that borrows slightly from the feel of The Stooges’ “No Fun.” Tek sings a pretty tough and honest lyric, with “Can’t you see that I’m less stable, trying everything to see what works. You say you got me, but I’m falling. What makes you think it doesn’t hurt.”

“Climate Change” is about as topical and current as they come. Tek bellows “Sun beats down on the city streets. They got nothing to believe in but the heat. It’s dry as dust and the old folks calling for rain. All the kids talking about climate change.” The mid-section features a Beach Boys-like vocal backing that gives the song an ironic surf’s up kind of twist.

“Birthday Present” is a break-neck rocker. The rhythm section of bassist Michael Scanland and drummer Michael Urbano offer a really smooth and brisk tempo. The solo parts recall early Amboy Dukes mixed with classic Beck-era Yardbirds.

“Small Change” is a song about the power of personal evolution. Tek sings “It only takes a little bit of change and a great big heart.” Truer words were never spoken. The song has a somewhat blues and folky-type veneer and Tek plays some appropriate harmonica to top it off.

“Liar” is a driving power pop masterpiece. Tek suffers no fools and takes no prisoners as he belts “I’m standing in the rain but looking for the sun. She’s a liar, can’t survive her.”

“No Dreams” is poetic and somewhat dark, with tasteful and dense solos and rhythms. Tek talks and sings his way through this one. The bonus track is a song about a coquettish femme fatale known as “Melissa Blue.” It’s a smooth mix of acoustic and electric textures. It’s also a nice way to conclude this diverse, yet thoroughly rocking album.

Two to One is a powerful statement, with great songs and brilliant guitar work. Overall, it’s a mix of lyrical honesty and technical prowess that is sure to connect with fans and six-string aficionados alike.

 

Album Review: Patsy Thompson – Fabulous Day

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Patsy Thompson: Fabulous Day

Released in 2020, this album from singer-songwriter Patsy Thompson was 12 years in the making. Essentially, that’s because family obligations came calling as the Canadian-born artist took care of her ailing mother. With not much support from family, she felt broken and burned out. But in the nick of time her long-time friend and co-writer/producer/guitarist Chris Rolin stepped in to offer her a chance to complete this album and get her back on a career track.

Fabulous Day is a record that is very personal for Thompson. She co-wrote 9 of the 10 songs here, and they all are taken from various aspects of her life and experience.

Patsy Thompson - Fabulous Day album cover

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

The title track opens the album with a tale of hope and new beginnings. The mood is ebullient as she sings with incredible range and conviction. It features a strong chorus and lyrical hook. That sets the stage for an enticing musical ride.

“Neon Lights” is a classic song of love and longing. It spotlights Thompson’s stellar vocals and her knack for storytelling. “Picking You Up” is an obvious single that should register mighty strong at country radio. It’s an uptempo honky-tonkin’ party tune. This focuses on throwing all your cares to the wind and stepping out with that significant other for a night on the town. Thompson sings with an aggressive growl that grabs your attention.

“Dreamin’” sounds like a cross between k.d. lang and Patsy Cline. It has a very ethereal vibe and a timeless country feel. Again, this shows another side to this stellar female crooner. “I Can’t Be in Love With You Tonight” contains a sentiment many folks can relate to. It’s a song for anyone that’s ever had any conflict over giving their heart to someone. Thompson talks about love feeling so wrong, yet feeling so right. Yeah, you’ve probably heard that used as a narrative many times before, but this is genuine and from her soul.

Patsy Thompson

photo courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

“Misery and Gin” is the sole cover here, and it’s a good choice. Again, this contains familiar ground that really mines the human condition. She sings “Looking at my life through the bottom of a glass, all I see is a gal who’s fading fast.” There is a strong sense of melancholy here performed in the style of Tanya Tucker or Tammy Wynette. There’s a nice guitar break that supports a subtle jazzy/blues tavern-like atmosphere.

“Passion” is another Thompson original that is a bit different from some of the other fare here. This would be an appropriate song to dance the tango by. She sings a sweet romantic lyric atop accordion, acoustic bass and a pervasive gypsy feel.

“Someone to Blame” addresses the chaos an old flame can create when the former lover can’t leave well enough alone. Select fiddle work from Mike Sanyshyn and a rocking blues feel push Thompson as she sings “Bad news is coming down like rain as you’re looking for someone to blame.”

“Joy Ride” is a straight forward and simply stated country barn burner. It’s got a spry up tempo kick similar to “Picking You Up.”

Thompson closes the album with a Grand Ole Opry-influenced Christmas tune called “I Think About You.” It’s the kind of song that makes you feel good all over. Here she sings about all the things that remind her of the one she loves, like standing under the Mistletoe, the smell of pumpkin pie wafting from the kitchen, and all that sort of thing. This has all the makings of a modern perennial classic. There’s some nice guitar and fiddle work too.

Patsy Thompson is a terrific songwriter, as well as vocalist, that has opened for some of the biggest names in country music like Willie Nelson, Clint Black and Rusty Weir. She’s also appeared at SXSW and has recorded at Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Studios. This is a momentous release that’s sure to please, and filled with a treasure trove of memorable hits.

Single Review: Home Cookin’ Band – “Working for a Good Tip”

Home Cookin' Band

photo courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Home Cookin’ Band: “Working for a Good Tip”

Home Cookin’ Band is a talented blues-rock troupe from Chicago. The band consists of Anastasiya Protasevych on lead vocals and guitar, Kevin Lahvic on bass, Michael Costelloe on lead guitar and Jeff Gilbert on drums. Protasevych, originally from Western Ukraine, relocated to the Chicago area in 2017. Her unique vocal style reflects notes of such disparate artists as Chrissie Hynde, Nico and Annette Peacock. It’s a sexy, come hither approach that is hauntingly memorable and smooth as silk. Costelloe simply smokes on leads and delivers a real meat and potatoes rock ‘n roll tone. Lahvic and Gilbert spent many years in the popular Chicago act Matthew Morgan and The Lost Brigade.

Home Cookin' Band - Working for a Good Tip album cover

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

The single “Working for a Good Tip” makes for a strong debut. Protasevych and Costelloe penned the tune and it’s a straight up depiction of life as a waitress. They certainly know of where they speak, having both plied their trade amongst wait staff in the many clubs they have played. The band lays down a classic mid-tempo Stones-like groove that should really connect with folks on the dance floor. Home Cookin’ are air-tight and really know how to succinctly present a hit. They seamlessly walk that line between blues and pop. This track has a lot of personality and soul. It’s also got some great hooks and clever turnarounds that prompt this reviewer to want to hear more.

Looking Ahead

Obviously there aren’t any live gigs at the moment, but when there are, you will be able to find them on the “Upcoming Shows” page of the band’s website or on the “Events” tab of the band’s Facebook page.

Album Review: Annie Brobst – My First Rodeo

Annie Brobst Band

photo by Matthew Allen Photography; photo courtesy of Annie Brobst

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Annie Brobst: My First Rodeo

Annie Brobst is a master storyteller and singer-songwriter based in the Boston area. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, she made the move to the North Shore in Massachusetts and has become a musical fixture on the traditional and modern country circuit. Brobst has performed at numerous festivals, community events and media-related functions throughout New England. And the list of contemporary country artists she has opened for is stunning, including everyone from Big & Rich, Frankie Ballard and Gretchen Wilson to Don McLean, Wynona Judd, Uncle Kracker, Darius Rucker, etc.

Annie Brobst - My First Rodeo album cover

image courtesy of Annie Brobst

Annie Brobst’s first full-length release is called My First Rodeo. And it’s the follow up to 2016’s EP Ghost. On it she mines personal influences such as Miranda Lambert, Ashley McBryde and Jason Isbell, with tales of human interaction; love and loss, with a focus on herself and the observation of others. Brobst partnered with top co-writers on this album, including Rodger Hagopian, Ryan Dupont, Brian Alex and Drew Smith.

My First Rodeo features a dozen original tunes that cover a wide swath of melodic invention, passion and emotional investment. Even though Brobst draws from a variety of sources she really dives into the material and owns it.

Annie Brobst

photo by Lisa Czech; photo courtesy of Annie Brobst

It’s an album that is experiential, with an arc that begins with “Before I Leave,” which is upbeat and melodically earnest, with a message of connection and staying in touch with the ones you love. “Still Water” has a traditional country lilt powered by a steady snare beat and the combo of banjo and fiddle.

“Love You More” changes things a bit, with a subtle funky pop undertone. Atop a great groove Brobst sings “Maybe I love you more than I could ever love myself.”

That’s followed by the 2018 New England Music Awards Song of the Year, “Change of Heart.” It’s an insightful tune about how love can erode over time, with tight harmonies and framed by some beautiful acoustic guitar.

In her bio Brobst, refers to “bro-country” as part of what she does. I guess “We Were Breakin’” would fall into that category. It’s got that playful Gretchen Wilson/Tanya Tucker kind of romp to it, with the hook “Breakin’ it down while we were breakin’ up.” Definitely a crowdpleaser to be sure!

Annie Brobst

photo by Lisa Czech; photo courtesy of Annie Brobst

“Ghost” is a strong song about changes in a relationship and picking up the pieces of one’s life. It has a very autobiographical feel to it as she sings “I’m moving out from the city I need the most. I’m movin’ out from the man I love the most. I’m movin’ out so raise your glass and make a toast, and that’ll leave me here as nothin’ but a ghost.”

Other highlights include “You Either Love Me,” with its old-time honkytonk vibe and hot groove. Tasty pedal steel, piano, fiddle, and lead guitars really make this a knockout. “The Teacher” also is a showstopper, with a fine melody and great hooks. Brobst really draws you in with the illustrative lyrics: “Some things teach you how to fall in love, some things teach you how to hold a grudge, from all the bridges I’ve burned, I still know I’ve got a whole world to learn. Thank God life’s one hell of a teacher.”

Annie Brobst’s newest releases, since My First Rodeo, include the singles “Little Girl Dreams,” which came out earlier this year, and “Red Wine on My Mind.”

Annie Brobst Live

Annie is a memorable live performer, and while shows are infrequent these days, for obvious reasons, hers have been much less infrequent. Annie has been staging “house tours,” performing from a trailer/stage around the region. Check out the “Tour” page of Annie’s website for upcoming live performances, both now and as more are added. She has upcoming performances on Thursday, August 20th in Danvers, MA; Friday, August 21st in Hampton, NH (with a livestream available); Friday, August 28th in Danvers, MA (also featuring a livestream); and Saturday, September 19th in Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA.

Single Review: Houston Bernard – “American Dream”

Houston Bernard - American Dream single cover

image courtesy of Houston Bernard

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Houston Bernard: “American Dream”

Singer-songwriter Houston Bernard has graced the Boston and Northeast U.S. music scene for years now. He has delighted audiences, with his emotive vocal style and rootsy Oklahoma charm. He has shared bills with some of country music’s finest such as Luke Bryan, Old Dominion, Marshall Tucker Band, and Clint Black. And now he is poised to join those esteemed ranks, with his latest single “American Dream.”

Houston Bernard

photo by Geoff Wilbur

“American Dream” tells a story that is simple in delivery, yet complex in content. Bernard spins a tale about two American kids from the heartland of the USA. In fact, they could be the grown “Jack and Diane” of ‘80s John Mellencamp-penned fame. But, in this case, the couple in question is Johnny and Annie. A lone banjo and electric guitar set the tone for the story followed by a strong, incessant beat. Johnny is a kid that grew up on a farm and continues to work the fields because it’s the family business, and he doesn’t wanna let his father down. Johnny marries Annie the homecoming queen, and they raise a family together. But after a while, reality sets in, as Bernard sings “A month lasts longer than money and Johnny’s coming apart at the seams.” As the couple tries to accomplish their goals in life, the “American Dream” seems tangible, yet murkily elusive.

“American Dream” is a song that seems to praise the hopes, aspirations, and values of the traditional United States while questioning them at the same time. It shines a light on that struggle. Bernard delivers a strong narrative and has a distinctive, dramatic voice. The guitar work on here is lively and wonderfully succinct. It really helps to drive the song home. It’s a tuneful single that is just starting to make some waves at radio and CMT.

Houston Bernard is a star, and it’s intelligent, well-crafted material like this that will pave the way. “American Dream”’s thoughtful lyrics and honesty will surely resonate with audiences for some time to come.

Looking Ahead

You can see the video for “American Dreams” on YouTube, but also be sure to watch for the video’s debut on CMT on Friday, August 14th.

If you’d like to catch Houston Bernard live, you have a couple chances coming up this month, per the Events tab on Houston’s Facebook page: On Thursday, August 13th at Breakaway in Danvers, MA, and on Thursday, August 20th at the Sea Shell Stage in Hampton Beach, NH.

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.

Interview with Noel Herbert

Noel Herbert

photo by Zane Johnson; photo courtesy of Noel Herbert

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Noel Herbert is a singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist and composer located in Los Angeles. He is one of those rare artists that have the ability to deftly bridge the gap between personal introspective pieces and singles-savvy Top 40 fare. The prodigious songwriter and composer recently sat down with us to discuss his family, educational background, making it as a working musician in Hollywood, and the power of music as a vehicle for healing.

Eric Harabadian: Can you talk a bit about your background growing up?

Noel Herbert: I grew up in Farmington, Michigan. The very first groups that I listened to on my own were The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel. The only music that was heard in my parents’ house was classical music and Irish Celtic music from my father’s side.

When I was seven years old, my father had a stroke and was severely disabled. It was definitely rough on me and my mother. I went from Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel into darker music like Marilyn Manson, System of a Down, Lamb of God, and stuff like that. But I always thought of myself as a folk singer, though. The first instrument I played was the glockenspiel. I always liked to sing and made up melodies. I started guitar lessons at 10 years old. Within the first three months of lessons I wrote my first song. At first, this was an outlet for me being a caregiver, with me and my mother taking care of my father.

EH: When did you get into performing music?

NH: Right before I turned 18 I had a group of friends who were all musicians. And we all sat around and thought we’d try and put some kind of thing together just for fun. I was the only folk singer out of a group of hip hop artists and rappers. So, that was particularly interesting and I started writing lyrics for them. I was also playing acoustic shows at this time. But, at that age, I was interested in becoming a rock star. I never thought about getting into electronic music whatsoever.

Around 19 or 20 I put together my first band which was me and a friend who played guitar and drums. He would alternate between the two for live sets. That band was called Illumination. And that lasted mid-way through my attending the Detroit Institute of Music Education (D.I.M.E.). Actually, I went to Boston for a while and attended the Berklee School of Music before I went to D.I.M.E. I released a single while I was there. At this time I stopped playing live because I was going to college to hone my skills as a songwriter. I started looking at what kind of songwriter did I see myself as. Did I see myself as writing commercial pop music or more on the artistic side? And I really struggled with this until I figured why couldn’t I do both?

EH: Is that a question you posed to yourself or was that something your college instructors would ask?

NH: It was a question one of my instructors asked me. I was supposed to come back with an answer the following week. But I really didn’t have a good answer to that until two months later. And at that point I had already written my first single with my project called Grass Bat. The song was called “Cigarette Showers.” So, I could do pop songwriting and do Grass Bat which was an artistic outlet where I could express how I felt. Grass Bat was very much like MGMT, Animal Collective, with sounds drifting into ‘80s rock like Depeche Mode, The Cure, and New Order.

EH: You graduated from D.I.M.E. in 2018. Was your plan to move to L.A. right away? Did you have work out there?

NH: I live in East Hollywood and I was considering coming out here a year before I did. I was dating somebody in Detroit at the time but really wanted to move to California. I decided to move shortly after graduating. I had this plan to come out here prior to dating this person so I wanted to stick to my plan. I was also contacted by a filmmaker that wanted me to work on a score for his film out here. That ended up falling through but was a little more of a push for me coming out here.

Noel Herbert - Favorite Worst Enemy

image courtesy of Noel Herbert

EH: So, tell me about your group and your latest single.

NH: It’s not even a group, it’s just me. Sometimes I’ll work with other songwriters, but mostly I’m doing all the lyrics, production, engineering, and instrumentation. This latest single “Favorite Worst Enemy” was a different song for me to release. I actually finished the song about six months to a year before I decided to release it. I was thinking about releasing it on an EP with other songs. But there was the challenge of what the song meant to me. At the time I was writing it I didn’t know what it was about. It was kind of stream of consciousness. It wasn’t until later that I figured out what was going on in my head at the time. I had fallen into a pretty depressive state that had been creeping along for some time. And that’s what that song is about. Having a favorite worst enemy is really just my own struggles within myself. It’s more of a dance-y type song compared to my previous releases. That has to do with really coming back to the Detroit techno scene. But also the only time I felt free from myself was going out and having a good time dancing; pretty much anything to get my mind off the fact that I wasn’t feeling very good. So, it’s a song about escapism, but holding onto those feelings very close to me.

EH: Without getting too personal, did you find this was coming from a certain place, perhaps an incident from the past?

NH: As far as something particularly from the past, not really. It’s very much a song dealing with me in the present.

EH: Well, mental health is certainly a relevant and timeless issue that manifests itself in different ways.

NH: Yeah, many people do deal with mental illness and depression. I started opening up to family and friends about what I was dealing with. It had only been a month and a half since I released the song that I started opening up to people about what I was dealing with. And once I started opening up to people, I realized they had their own stories. And they had similar issues and not feeling comfortable talking about it with people. I guess the campaign of this song, if you will, is to be open about your mental illness because it really de-stigmatizes the way people view it. People deal with anxiety, depression and all sorts of things. It’s much more common than anyone would think. So, I’m hoping by putting myself out there it will help at least one person to open up to others. And maybe it will make their life easier because I know it has for me.

EH: That’s excellent, man! Good advice. Being located in L.A. and Hollywood, are you currently playing live shows?

NH: Currently, not right now. At this point I’m strictly a recording artist and songwriter. I’m writing songs for Grass Bat but also synch licensing songs for corporate videos, television, and movies and submitting them to music house catalogs. I am also working on an independent film score that’s coming up fairly soon. And I should start working on that in a couple months. I also do side gigs and record other artists in my studio and host songwriting sessions to help people with their songwriting. All these little things you do to be able to live in Los Angeles.

EH: Well, you’re making it happen, man! A lot of people talk about quote, unquote “making it.” But, you know what, you are making it! You’re doing everything in your artistic and musical realm to make a living. And you’re following your passion. Not everything is always built around a hit single, if you know what I mean.

NH: No, not necessarily. Going back to what I said earlier, do I see myself as an artist or a Top 40 songwriter? I see myself as doing both. But I appreciate you saying that. There are different levels of making it. I’m 25 years old and I’m living in L.A. and getting by. That’s more than a lot of people can do out here.

EH: And you being from the Detroit area and involved in electronic music, there is a rich history of that coming out of Detroit.

NH: Yeah, Detroit and Berlin were where techno really took place. And I think there are arguments on both sides which one actually started electronic music. But I’m not gonna get into that. People know where I stand considering where I’m from.

EH: Tell me about your songwriting and composing process. You said you were gonna be working on a independent short film. Are you working with the director on that?

NH: You definitely work very closely with the director. In this case he is also the writer of the film. I’m gonna be on set with him later this month seeing how the film is being put together. I’ve seen some scenes and already know the storyline so I can start to wrap my head around what sounds would work best for the different sections of the film.

EH: And with songwriting you like to write for other artists, correct?

NH: When I write indie electronic stuff I usually know that will be for me. But if I’m writing more of a top line where melodies, lyrics, and chords are written on piano or guitar, it generally is inclined to be a song for somebody else. Generally co-writes are either for the other person or to pitch to another artist or A&R person.

EH: What kind of keyboard and audio gear are you using in your studio?

NH: I work a lot with my Roland 88. I take a lot of sounds that are on there and add different sorts of effects. My primary DAW that I used on “Favorite Worst Enemy” is Ableton Live and Push. I also use a multitude of in-computer synthesizers. While I mostly record with digital gear I do have experience with analog synthesizers too.

EH: Well, that’s something I’ve noticed about your Grass Bat music. You are a well rounded musician, and I hear that in what you do. Your stuff doesn’t sound synthetic or antiseptic like some electronica can be.

NH: Yeah, and also knowing how analog synths sound compared to digital synths. Digital synthesizers can sound really really pure. That sounds more synthetic to me. I’ve been trying to create more of a lo-fi tone to my synthesizers where it tends to be a little more distorted live.

EH: So, is there anything you have going beyond what we talked about?

NH: I’m working on a largely collaborative project, with multiple producers, songwriters and instrumentalists. I’m not sure if this will be an EP or an album. There will be a number of different people I know on it, but I still will be doing a lot of my own writing and production.

EH: When are you looking to release this new recording?

NH: Probably sometime within the next six months. There’s a lot of funding, marketing, and branding that has to happen first.

EH: Finally, what’s your take on the state of popular music today?

NH: Well, being an independent musician today, it is easier than ever to get your music out to anyone. It’s all about if you have the knowledge to reach the right people. It’s about finding your fan base and who wants to listen to your music. But there is such an influx of music on the internet that, in some ways, it’s never been easier and also never been harder to reach people.

Contacts: Instagram: @no_lmusic Facebook: www.facebook.com/noel.herbert.7902 Soundcloud: www.soundcloud.com/noelherbertmusic . You can also find his music through all the usual online sources: Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Prime.

Single Review: Debbie Hennessey – “True Me”

Debbie Hennessey

photo by Matt Gendal; photo courtesy of Debbie Hennessey

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Debbie Hennessey: “True Me”

Debbie Hennessey - True Me Single Cover

photo by Matt Gendal; image courtesy of Debbie Hennessey

Debbie Hennessey is an award-winning singer-songwriter, with many television and film credits. She has also released three full-length albums and seven singles. Her latest single is called “True Me.” It’s a heartfelt ballad that seems to draw from personal experience. Trying to put thoughts and feelings into words is, perhaps, quite challenging for most, but Hennessey does it in a plaintive yet uplifting manner. She sings with seemingly effortless phrasing that hits you where you live. The singer-songwriter’s vocals are full, rich, and dynamic, supported by Jonathan Haynes’ ethereal and somewhat bluesy guitar. “True Me” is a stellar tune in the vein of Bonnie Raitt or Sheryl Crow but remains totally unique in style and substance.

Live Performances

Debbie has a performance scheduled for February 20th Petie’s Place in Tarzana, CA. Check the calendar page of her website periodically for additional dates as they’re added.

Album Review: Dan Israel – Social Media Anxiety Disorder

Dan Israel

photo by Steven Cohen; photo courtesy of Dan Israel

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Dan Israel: Social Media Anxiety Disorder

Believe it or not, Social Media Anxiety Disorder is the 15th release for this Minneapolis-based singer-songwriter. Heck, there are many major label artists that can’t claim that accomplishment! So, what’s the prodigious Minnesota troubadour been up to? Well, hot on the heels of his 2018 record You’re Free, Dan Israel climbs out of his songwriting comfort zone a little bit in favor of some clever production manipulation and playful arranging. He worked with two different producers in Jon Herchert and Steve Price, resulting in a cross-pollination of inventive ideas.

Dan Israel - Social Media Anxiety Disorder album cover

image courtesy of Dan Israel

Israel kicks things off with the horn-driven pop/rock of “Be My Girl.” It’s a strong single, with terrific airplay potential. The uptempo spark of the rhythms are complemented by Israel’s emotive Elvis Costello-like twang and a good time feel.

“125” shifts gears entirely placing the listener in a pseudo-psychedelic state. The dreamy flowing lead vocals and fuzzed out lead guitar are stellar. “Just Can’t Take It” features little quirky production ear candy bolstered by a catchy chorus and lush bridge. “Still I’m Lost” returns to that semi-psychedelic spacey kind of vibe. It’s a nice blend of thoughtful experimentation and melodic pop. It sounds like something Bowie would do.

“Might As Well Be Me” features a country-folk element. It is the closest to pure Americana you’ll probably find here. There is some tasty acoustic guitar soloing, and Israel’s vocals kind of remind me of something by John Sebastian.

Dan Israel - Social Media Anxiety Disorder album back cover

back cover; image courtesy of Dan Israel

“Another Day” is more catchy upbeat pop that this artist is known for. The slide guitar breaks here are very nice as well.

“Just Can’t Take It (Revisited)” is kind of a vocal reprise montage. Through musical snippets from the original track and spoken word, Israel slyly comments on the impinging stresses of modern society and the expectations of those involved in social media. It’s a mind-bender, for sure.

“Tired” prominently features organ and has an overall gloss similar to The Wallflowers and Crowded House. “Alright” follows and ushers in a kind of rockabilly swing. Its upbeat and bouncy groove is infectious. “Here for Today” has a simple and pragmatic message toward life of “trying to take a little and leave a little behind.” The dense guitar work here really rocks and provides a wall of sound.

Dan Israel

photo by Steven Cohen; photo courtesy of Dan Israel

The concluding two tracks “Out of My Hands” and “Out of My Hands” (Reprise)” sort of combines the spirit of the Rolling Stones album Exile on Main Street with a gospel touch. It’s a fitting way to wrap up the festivities and sends a poignant and pensive message of acceptance and soldiering on.

They say music is a healer and Dan Israel brings to light songs that can address serious topics of personal challenges and societal anxiety and present them in an entertaining and uplifting fashion.

Looking Ahead

Per the “Shows” tab on Dan’s website, he has a packed schedule of performances ahead. Currently lots of gigs in and around Minneapolis, some shows in northern Minnesota, and a January 31/February 1 house concert in Wilmington, North Carolina. So keep an eye on his website for performances in your area.

[Publisher’s Note: Geoff Wilbur’s Music Blog has reviewed each of Dan’s last three releases. I reviewed Dan’s album Dan. James Morris reviewed You’re Free. And now Eric Harabadian has reviewed Social Media Anxiety Disorder. – GW]