Album Revew: Jimmy Ryan – Astral Café

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Jimmy Ryan: Astral Café (Ryanetics Music Ltd.)

Cut from the same cloth as those progressive rockers like Jeff Beck, Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Al Dimeola, Vinnie Moore, Steve Morse, et al., Jimmy Ryan has been crafting that hearty fusion guitar sound since the ’90s. He first gained notoriety with his guitarist brother Johnny as The Flyin’ Ryan Brothers. After a series of group and solo records he culminated all his axe-bending efforts into this 2021 release Astral Café. And if you are a fan of the aforementioned guitar gods, be prepared for a real treat in what Jimmy Ryan brings to the café table. He’s kind of bluesy, jazzy, certainly rocky, and all points in between. The leader handles all guitars, bass and vocals on the album, along with co-producer Dan Van Schindel on drums/percussion and Johnny Ryan on one track.

Jimmy Ryan – Astral Cafe

image courtesy of Rock Rose Music

Thematically, the mostly instrumental album features a number of spacey titles and sounds, but Jimmy will also knock you out with his incredibly facile and booming voice. Astral Café kicks off with the driving Satriani-influenced “Starlord.” There are some smooth harmonized leads supported by Van Schindel’s nimble and relentless drumming. “Shatterbrain” follows and spotlights Jimmy’s penchant for great melodies and rhythm work.

The first musical detour comes in the form of his totally unique and revamped cover of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads.” It’s a very muscular and visceral take on, arguably, one of the most famous tunes in the blues lexicon. His wah-wah guitar licks and clear guttural vocals transcend the genre in many ways.

Back to outer space, “Earthrise” has a slow and percolating feel that is ethereal and atmospheric. “Skydance” puts emphasis on melody and switches from a moderate to up tempo vibe in the mid-section. “Black Ice” is somewhat similar in tempo but more orchestrated, with changes in various portions of the song.

Jimmy Ryan

photo courtesy of Rock Rose Music

Jimmy delves back into his blues roots for a song popularized by Muddy Waters called “I’m Ready.” His throaty vocals and hard rock feel revitalize the song for modern ears. Back to back tracks “Dulcinea” and “Berserker” spotlight layered guitars and Black Sabbath-like riffage, respectively. And Jimmy further seals his classic rock roots with nods to Led Zeppelin on the bluesy “Plectrumelectrum.”

Another outstanding riff-fest can be found in the meticulously constructed instrumental “Dreadhulk.” It’s a relatively short piece that mixes angular melodies, with beefy bass lines for a succinct and memorable track.

“Celestial Voice” is dedicated to the late drummer Neil Peart and, indeed, makes musical references to that progressive Rush style. Here, Jimmy modulates his voice from a gritty façade to more of an airy and eloquent approach. The leader is joined by Johnny Ryan for the album closer “Quiet Flight.” This features their twin guitar attack, not unlike Wishbone Ash or Blue Oyster Cult. Johnny steps up to give his brother a run for his money and it really swings in spots too.

Jimmy Ryan is a consummate guitarist and composer that flawlessly unearths many musical styles. He covers a lot of fertile fusion-like territory, with ample grace, passion and tasteful finesse.

Album Review: Karen Shook – Moodswings Part 17

Karen Shook

photo courtesy of Karen Shook

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Karen Shook: Moodswings Part 17

Karen Shook hails from the south side of Chicago. Raised on the music of Sarah Vaughan, Indigo Girls, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Brandi Carlile, Cyndi Lauper and the like, she has shared her gift of rock, soul, blues and country vocalizing and guitar chops with eager music students and fans throughout the Midwest. Shook was also a finalist in the Sonoma County Singer-Songwriter Competition (2018) and Suburban Chicago’s Got Talent (2019).

Karen Shook – Moodswings Part 17

image courtesy of Karen Shook

On Moodswings Part 17, the singer-songwriter tells you what she’s all about from the get go. In “I’m Here I’m Awkward” Shook sings, “I’m here, I’m awkward I might say something weird… I won’t disappear, I’m out now, I’m owning the truth, I’m living the best life I choose.” It’s a call to arms for anyone that’s got something valid to say. And she does it with a big booming voice amid the rumbling of Jim Seidel’s upright bass and the slam of Paul Griffin’s drums. It’s Shook’s wake up call for all you wallflowers out there.

“Mama Needs Some Strange” is bluesy and acoustic, with a strident tone and smooth harmonica backing from Phil Bava.

Shook speaks her truth on all 12 self-penned tracks. “Broke and Hungry” is one of her best, with a timeless message that states, “When you’re broke and hungry, you see the things that you didn’t need.” She kicks those big ticket items like cars, expensive clothes, etc. to the curb and seems to put it all in perspective.

Karen Shook

photo courtesy of Karen Shook

“Growing Pain” veers off the blues and country path slightly for a poppy radio-ready type of track. The hook “It’s okay if it’s uncomfortable… it’s just a growing pain” is another grain of truth aimed at perseverance and staying on your path.

“Next Time” is a reflective and moody piece that has a chamber music quality to it. Bassist Siedel and guest violinist Zachary Stordahl converge with Shook’s plaintive vocals for an album highlight.

“Unstoppable” follows and is another testament to her resolve in this heartfelt ballad. A little further down list “Breathe” offers some more good advice. “I know the whole world feels crazy… all you gotta do is breathe,” sings Shook. She goes on to say, “You say you’ve got a broken heart… Be here in the moment, be the love you seek.” She seems to sing from personal experience. And that wisdom is certainly appreciated in these troubled times.

“What You Are” is a nice slice of bluesy songwriting, with rhythmic subtleties blended between Shook’s acoustic guitar, the bass and Griffin’s groovy conga work. It is kind of a jazzy piece which leads into the album’s final two songs, “You Were the One” and the title track. Both tunes spotlight Shook’s ukulele playing, with the former somewhat reminiscent of Melanie or Joni Mitchell and the latter a solitary and personally-revelatory ballad.

Karen Shook

photo courtesy of Karen Shook

Karen Shook is a singer-songwriter with a perspective and personal vision that is authentic and artistically sound. She’s got a full live schedule on her website so do yourself a favor and check her out.

Looking Ahead

Per the “Shows” page of Karen’s website, you’ll find her tonight, Saturday, May 20th at 8:00 PM at Choppers in Antioch and tomorrow, Sunday, May 21st at 11:00 AM at the Black Barrell Tavern–Old Town in Chicago. It looks like she has one or two shows booked each week through late August, and then a few more scattered through the rest of the year with, I’m sure, more being added all the time. If you’re in – or visiting – Chicagoland and the surrounding areas, be sure to peruse the concert calendar.

Also check out Karen’s website for copies of Moodswings Part 17 on vinyl or compact disc.

Album Review: Matt Hillyer – Glorieta

Matt Hillyer

photo by Shane Kislack; photo courtesy of RPR Media

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Matt Hillyer: Glorieta (State Fair Records)

Back in the mid-’60s The Lovin’ Spoonful had a hit called “Nashville Cats.” And in it, lead singer John Sebastian sang “Well there’s thirteen hundred and fifty two guitar pickers in Nashville. And they can pick more notes than the number of ants on a Tennessee ant hill.” No doubt one of those aspiring guitar pickers spawned by that monumental music town is none other than singer-songwriter Matt Hillyer. But, like they say, the cream always rises to the top and, with Hillyer, that is, indeed, the case.

Matt Hillyer – Glorieta album cover

image courtesy of RPR Media

For over 23 years, Hillyer honed his craft as a member of legendary honky-tonkers Eleven Hundred Springs. When the band called it quits at the end of 2021, the prodigious tunesmith parlayed his considerable acumen into a solo career. The result of that venture is evidenced here in his 2023 release Glorieta.

This is a diverse affair that packs a considerable traditional country wallop, but it also throws in a few interesting musical detours along the way. The title track kicks off the album and is an ode to a family retreat nestled deep in the hills of New Mexico. It contains a huge chorus with a nice mix of lyrical guitar and fiddle from Hillyer and Heather Stalling, respectively.

“Stolen Kisses” has a bit of a driving swing that’s equal parts Dwight Yoakam and Roy Orbison. The chord changes are tasty and reflect an upbeat mood. “Just Passing Through” continues that workman-like country feel, with a radio-ready ballad. And “You Gotta Keep Moving” is a catchy and endearing track, with an uplifting message of perseverance and overcoming heartbreak and defeat.

Matt Hillyer

photo by Shane Kislack; photo courtesy of RPR Media

“Ordinary Man” follows and is anything but ordinary. It is sort of an ode to Hillyer’s father, who “lived for his family, the most important thing in his life.” As his bio states, the song is “more Beatles than Bakersfield.” And this tale of an unrequited life does have a surreal, “Sgt. Pepper” vibe to it. It’s very reflective and atmospheric and somewhat atypical to what one might expect from a traditional or, even, modern country artist. But, again, Hillyer likes to color outside the lines and this song certainly nails that.

“Dirty Little Secrets” returns to a country format, with a catchy mid-tempo groove. “What Kind of Fool” ushers in a shuffle. It harkens back to a ’50s/’60s-flavored ballad. Hillyer finds a sweet niche here for some succinct and passionate guitar fills. “It’s All About the Ride” and “Holding Fast” are great slices of that pure honky tonk this songwriter made famous.

The record winds down with the eerie and noir-ish “Diablo Motel.” It’s got a decidedly Tex-Mex feel and some nice touches of accordion from Abel Casillas. Appropriately, Hillyer concludes with the clever and worldy-wise “That’s How You Know.” In it, the singer-songwriter depicts the goings-on at a house party that seems to be getting out of hand. But if you listen with a third ear, he makes excellent commentary on male-female relationships and human nature as a whole.

Matt Hillyer is a musician with a stellar reputation, particularly within the country music community. But, now as a solo artist, it’s obvious he’s got a ton of fuel left in the tank and is just getting started as far as what he creatively brings to the table. He’s a fully-formed singer-songwriter who respects the traditions of the past yet has a clear vision for how to blend that with a modern world perspective.

Matt Hillyer

photo by Weslie Delgado; photo courtesy of RPR Media

Looking Ahead

The “Tour” page of Matt’s website lists a few upcoming gigs around Texas. Matt opens, as a solo acoustic act, for Joshua Ray Walker on Friday, May 19 at the 11th Street Cowboy Bar in Bandera and on Saturday, May 20 at Gruene Hall in New Braunfels. You can also catch him on Friday June 2 at KHYI’s 27th Annual Texas Music Revolution in McKinney, on Friday, October 6 (solo acoustic) at The Great State Fair of Texas in Dallas, and on Saturday, October 7 opening for Dale Watson at The Truck Yard in Dallas.

Matt’s Instagram account is a good follow. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook.

Album Review: Laura Ainsworth – You Asked For It

Laura Ainsworth – You Asked for It album cover

image courtesy of Eclectus Records

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Laura Ainsworth: You Asked For It (Eclectus Records/Ratspack Records)

Texas-based vocalist and song stylist Laura Ainsworth has carved a unique niche for herself in the jazz and vintage pop worlds. Over the last 15 years or so, she has released four albums that spotlight her penchant for blending irony, humor, and legit chops with rare nuggets from the Great American Songbook. Her fifth and latest release emerged from her legion of fan requests for classic and more familiar fare. So, while the stunning ginger-haired musician complied with public demand, she still decided to put her own indelible imprint on the proceedings. “Whenever I perform live, fans always request the old, familiar favorites,” states Ainsworth from the album liner notes. “The band and I love performing them, but we felt there were already enough recorded versions. But fans keep asking me to record them, particularly ‘Cry Me a River’ and ‘Over the Rainbow.’ I do love to put a fresh, personal spin on even the most familiar songs. So I decided to do a requests album as a lark.”

Laura Ainsworth

photo by TGS Photography; photo courtesy of Eclectus Records

The album was produced by long-time keyboardist and music director Brian Piper and Ainsworth. And the combo that is on this disc brings a strong balance of orchestration and improvisation to their approach. Rodney Booth (trumpet, flugelhorn), Chris McGuire (tenor sax), Noel Johnston (guitar), Young Heo (bass), and Steve Barnes (drums) complete the ensemble.

The dozen songs Ainsworth has chosen reflect some of the finest and best loved works from stage and screen. And, on many of these cherished gems, she includes additional verses for the intros and reworks some of the arrangements. Singer Julie London had a hit with “Cry Me a River” in the ‘50s, Joe Cocker revamped the song for the late ‘60s, and Laura Ainsworth revitalizes this classic once again in the modern day. Few singers give this the gravitas and respect it deserves, as the fiery chanteuse delivers on all fronts. It’s an appropriately bluesy and slightly melancholic take, with a straight-ahead jazz feel.

Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are” follows and gets the first of many personal signatures where Ainsworth sets up the song with a musical recitation. By doing this, not only does she make it uniquely her own, but it further connects with the listener in a profound way. Her vocals flow above a tasty horn chart and Piper’s inspired piano solo.

Laura Ainsworth

photo by Alan Mercer; photo courtesy of Eclectus Records

James Bond and Sean Connery fans will surely get a kick out of the kitschy and samba-like “Goldfinger.” Written by Anthony Newley and popularized in the ‘60s by singer Shirley Bassey, Ainsworth gives it all the sexy charm and cool one would expect. Kudos are bestowed saxophonist McGuire who rallies a smooth combo feel.

“Someone to Watch Over Me” is a tender ballad that features just the right amount of nuance and phrasing to tug at your heartstrings. These kinds of songs are Ainsworth’s calling card.

Guitarist Johnston takes a Barney Kessell/Joe Pass-influenced solo on the relaxed and swinging “Scotch and Soda.” In it, the leader cleverly sells the parallel between the inebriation one gets from alcohol and falling in love. Here’s an example of the way Ainsworth blends humor and lyrical wit, “People don’t believe me, they think that I’m just braggin,’ but I could feel the way I do and still be on the wagon.”

Laura Ainsworth

photo by Alan Mercer; photo courtesy of Eclectus Records

Rodgers and Hart’s “Isn’t it Romantic” is a prime example of a standard that has been performed by countless artists. But, true to form, Ainsworth and Piper add a sweet horn chart, a cha-cha beat and engaging interplay on piano, muted trumpet and sax, respectively.

There are some other noteworthy moments on this album as well, but this reviewer would be remiss if we didn’t make mention of this collection’s finale. “Over the Rainbow” is, undoubtedly, one of Harold Arlen’s most famous compositions and has a timeless mix of fantasy and wonder that has touched generations. Ainsworth and Piper boil this essential piece down to its essence with just voice and piano. And with it, the classic songstress properly delivers a message of hope and dreams to all those that will hear. It’s a very endearing and sincere performance.


Here at the Blog in 2021, Eric Harabadian also reviewed Laura’s previous album, Top Shelf.

This past October, Laura recorded “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” a song she released on December 3rd. You can view a YouTube video of the song here.

Also note that you can purchase both the 11-song digital album and the12-song “mini-LP CD” – a Japanese import with the extra track “As Time Goes By” – at: (In other words, if you buy the compact disc, you get a bonus track!)

You can remain informed about new releases and developments in Laura’s career on her website, on her Facebook page, or by following her on Twitter or Instagram.

Album Review: Robert Lee Balderrama – The Great Hall of Smooth Jazz

Robert Lee Balderrama – The Great Hall of Smooth Jazz

image courtesy of Robert Lee Balderrama via Eric Harabadian

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Robert Lee Balderrama: The Great Hall of Smooth Jazz (Bullfrog Records)

Robert Lee “Bobby” Balderrama is a genuine rock ‘n roll legend. He was an original member of Saginaw/Bay City, Michigan band Question Mark and The Mysterians. They recorded one of the most pivotal and essential songs in the pop music lexicon, with the proto-punk classic “96 Tears.” Even to this day, tune into Sirius XM’s ‘60s channel or watch key vintage TV shows or movies and you could very well hear keyboardist Frankie Rodriguez’s signature organ figure that kicks off that tune.

Well, all that hoopla took place back in the mid-‘60s when Bobby and company were just teenagers. Fast forward to the present where Balderrama has spent the last 30 years or more reinventing himself as a blues and jazz player. In particular, the guitar styles of George Benson, Wes Montgomery, Carlos Santana, and others have informed his sweet and smooth musical approach. His new release The Great Hall of Smooth Jazz is the culmination of decades dedicated to his contemporary take on the improvisational art form.

The album opens with the breezy and samba-fueled sounds of “Santa Cruz.” Balderrama’s stinging guitar coupled with Rodriguez’s bright and billowy keyboards fill things out rather nicely. Structurally, the tune volleys between two distinct sections, with Tom Barsheff’s mellow tenor sax bringing it all together.

Robert Lee Balderrama

photo courtesy of Robert Lee Balderrama via Eric Harabadian

“Para Los Dos (For the Two of Us)” is a lovely ballad that sits comfortably as a romantic or meditative piece. Its drifting and languid feel inspires some beautiful and evocative solos from the leader.

“El Camino Rio” features dense percussion by wife Amy Lynn Balderrama and a moderate-to-uptempo groove. The cha-cha rhythms take a swinging detour as Jack Nash’s walking bass sparks things into overdrive.

“Sintiendo Tu Hechizo (Feeling Your Spell)” is a Latin track written by Liliana Rokita. Balderrama brings a flamenco flair to the instrumental tune, blending acoustic and electric guitars for dramatic effect.

“On Beat Street” finds Rodriguez’s ethereal sound design and textures being the star. His work provides a nice bed that gives Balderrama’s Wes Montgomery-meets-Pat Martino fluidity a place to flourish.

“Happy & Go Lucky” made a bit of a splash on national smooth jazz charts. Its buoyant, jubilant melody takes on an Asian persona. It’s also got a crisp and snappy feel.

“Jaz Dude” is another Balderrama composition that features a cool, west coast-type vibe. It is free and open, with some nice turnarounds and changes. It’s also very funky, the way certain textures and melodic elements float in and out.

“Estrella” has a solid pocket via Rudy Levario’s uplifting drums. This is also another example of Balderrama putting the emphasis on melody and atmosphere over gratuitous chops.

Conversely, “Ronnie’s Vibe” is a chops fest! This one swings ebulliently, with plenty of room for all to blow, guided by guest Pete Woodman’s stellar drumming.

“Out of This World” is kind of a digital about-face from some of the jazzier stuff here. It offers value in its heavy danceability and groove.

The 11th track on the album is a bonus tune by the group Le Sonic called “Any Moment.” Balderrama and Rodriguez are the principal co-writers, and it recently hit #1 on the Billboard Smooth Jazz Charts. The spacey and seductive two-chord vamp of keyboards and rhythms provides the backbeat for Balderrama’s signature guitar, along with moody vocals and trumpet. It’s a nice piece and a soothing way to conclude this stellar collection.

Album Review: Stormstress – Silver Lining


photo by Tim Johnson; photo courtesy of Stormstress

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Stormstress: Silver Lining

This is the debut album for Boston’s Stormstress, and it is a return to one of the classic ensembles in rock ‘n roll — the power trio! Identical sisters Tia Mayhem (bass and vocals), Tanya Venom (guitar and vocals), and long-time band mate and ally Maddie May Scott (drums and vocals) comprise this heavy metal brain trust. And the term “brain trust” is not used lightly, as each of their songs are well thought out and strategized for maximum emotional, intellectual and entertainment effect. Prepare to take a trip as this youthful veteran outfit gets inside your head and works its magic.

They open appropriately with a mighty rocker called “You Can’t Hurt Me Now.” The song addresses personal empowerment and standing up for one’s self. The message is a timely and direct hit as Venom puts her antagonist on notice, “never running out of reasons to cry, found out too late who you really were inside, now I’m shutting the door to lock you out… and you can’t hurt me now!” It’s a great mix of staccato guitars, pumping bass, and thunderous drums that grabs you from the get go!

Stormstress – Silver Lining

image courtesy of Stormstress

“Paint the Mask” is another strong song about being true to one’s self and not being a slave to hiding behind an inauthentic mask. In other words, quit trying to please others at the risk of sublimating yourself. Venom sings with a heart-wrenching tear in her voice that seems to speak from personal experience. Musically, the hooks and harmonies are pure pop, with screaming guitar that echoes Michael Schenker, Ritchie Blackmore and Neal Schon.

“Internal Divide” begins with a deep bass rumble that will shake the foundations of your psyche and soul. It’s got an infectious funk groove that supports Mayhem’s semi-rap cadence. There is so much to unpack here. With each line of the song the blue-haired bassist is approaching self-discovery and unpeeling all those layers of emotional bondage like an onion. It all comes together with this hook, “What’s in my heart, what’s on my mind, the static and the noise… There’s a voice that whispers in my ear at night, echoing between the walls in my mind, threatening my feelings held inside… creating this internal divide.”

“Fall With You” takes a slight detour and makes way for a beautiful ballad. Again, this is one from the heart, and Venom delivers a song that tackles aspects of love, trust, and the trepidation of taking a leap of faith with someone. The song is wonderfully augmented by a string quartet comprised of Jacquay Pearce (violin), Hannah Schzde (violin), Eden Rayz (cello) and Peter de Reyna (upright bass), with orchestration by the guitarist. It’s a radio-ready power tune for a modern generation, with elements of Scorpions, Lita Ford and Heart.


photo by Tim Johnson; photo courtesy of Stormstress

Stormstress shifts musical gears for the exotic “Gold.” Armenian musician Mher Mnatsakanyan plays a woodwind-like instrument called the duduk to open this piece. The atmosphere in the song is one of mystery and historical perspective. The hook “All that glitters… isn’t gold” seems to speak to the distractions in our present day society with watching the shiny object. The blend of Venom’s extreme metal vocals and the group’s more traditional harmonies are a gripping juxtaposition.

“I Wish I Could” is a slow and soulful number that speaks to the complex dynamics at play with the human condition. The lyrics say it all, “I wish I could give you my heart… but I know you’d wreck it. Wish I could give you my trust… no, not for a second. Wish I could give you my love… but I can’t let you in.” The band pours so much angst and pathos in this song. Anybody with a pulse has got to be moved. Included is a brief bass solo by Mayhem that really opens up the tune.

“Corpses Don’t Cry” is probably one of the heaviest and most personal empowering sentiments on the album. With the spirit of Ronnie James Dio in tow the band takes on evil spirits, with a full court press. They sing, “Come at me now I’ve got nothing to lose… I can’t be broken because I’ve already died!” It is cathartic, with some incredible rhythmic accents and breakdowns. They wrap things up with an “unveiled” reprise to “Fall with You.” This time it is done semi-a capella, with just the backing of strings. You really get to hear all the nuance and beauty in the trio’s voices as well as the message of the song.


photo by Tim Johnson; photo courtesy of Stormstress

One would be remiss not to mention the flawless and intricate production by Liz Borden and Sarah Fitzpatrick. From the richness of the instruments to the attention to bring out all the frequency response in the vocals, it’s a world class product! These songs will get inside your mind and soul, if you let it. Go ahead… take the ride!

Looking Ahead

Stormstress’ live gigs this year have extended from Boston and New York to Detroit and Chicago. At the moment, per the “Tour” section of the band’s website, the only upcoming shows currently booked are in Provincetown, MA – on May 28th, July 22nd, August 19th, September 23rd, and October 14th – but there’ll surely be more dates added soon, so be sure to check the website regularly and/or follow the band on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).

Album Review: Dean and The Singing Blue Jeanne’s – Crossing the Boundaries

Dean and the Singing Blue Jeanne's - from "Persuasive"

photo courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller (from “Persuasive”)

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Dean and the Singing Blue Jeanne’s: Crossing the Boundaries

This is the debut album for guitarist/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Dean Bailin and vocalist Jeanne Waller. But it is by no means their first rodeo. Both Bailin and Waller are NYC natives, with a hefty resume of production, side, and session credits in support of a laundry list of multi-genre musical artists. Perhaps Bailin’s biggest claim to fame was as a member of Rupert Holmes’ band in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. His signature guitar licks on Holmes’ mega-hit “The Pina Colada Song” registered with fans and audiences around the world. And Waller toured the country in several high society orchestras and show bands.

Dean and the Singing Blue Jeanne's – Crossing the Boundaries

image courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

After releasing a series of successful videos on various social media platforms for the majority of these songs over the last two or three years, Dean and The Singing Blue Jeanne’s emerge with a comprehensive audio document of said tracks that is nothing short of amazing.

The album opens with the vibrant and jovial “Fantasy House.” It’s a funky patchwork of kitschy social and celebrity references that will keep your mind and feet engaged. Bailin’s jazzy guitar filigree is exciting and Waller’s intricate vocal harmonies suggest the quirky sensibilities of the Tom Tom Club or B-52s. Bailin and Waller just have fun and let their imaginations run wild.

That’s followed by the Motown-influenced track “Enter This Night.” It’s a fresh and modern take on the classic “girl group” phenomenon, with Waller’s uncanny abilities to stack her vocals and take on the personas of three singers. (Hence, the multiple “Singing Blue Jeanne’s” reference.) Bailin’s sublime production (i.e., baritone sax, guitars and keyboards) gives the undeniable impression of a full ensemble. This track just makes you feel good, as a lot of classic pop songs used to do!

Dean and the Singing Blue Jeanne's - from "I Believe in You"

photo courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller (from “I Believe in You”)

The chameleonic duo shift musical gears once again for the piano-tinged “I Believe in You.” Bailin handles the lead vocals here and, with each line, seems to be giving himself a pep talk. Landlords, bill collectors – everyone has their hand out. But the song is all about believing in oneself, no matter the odds. The Wurlitzer-like piano and “everyman/everywoman sentiment” recalls some of Billy Joel and Roger Hodgson’s classic work.

“Samba de Loves Me” is a cleverly worded Latin-flavored number that sets a dreamy romantic tone. It’s a smooth and intoxicating blend of Brazilian rhythms, acoustic grooves and Bailin’s Larry Carlton-like lead guitar. Waller sings the surreal lines, “Tonight’s a carpet ride through the looking glass where nothing matters but which way the wind blows… and if I get swept away, that would be okay.” And, with that, you are transported to an island never never land! Smooth jazz, Philly soul and Steely Dan-like hooks converge on the swinging “Persuasive.” Waller hits notes that reach for the stratosphere and really sells it. Her voice is slightly overshadowed by the surprising mid-section bass solo bridge by the legendary Jeff Berlin. This is sophisticated pop for the big kids.

Dean and the Singing Blue Jeanne's - from "Samba de Loves Me"

photo courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller (from Samba de Loves Me)

The first of two live guitar-based performances by the duo can be found in Bailin’s “A Dose of My Affection.” It has a gospel/blues quality that recalls some of Jeff Beck and Jan Akkerman’s solo fusion work. “Three Coins in a Wishing Well” follows and seems to evoke the mystical and supernatural, with tales of gypsies, Satan’s daughter and the precipice of fate. Stevie Nicks or Adele might have a go with this one.

Funk and soul seem like comfortable havens for this duo and the tune “Rebind” seems to merge Motown, Philly and NYC-derived “doo wop” like no other. Waller delivers a lovely lead vocal, with superb and rich harmonies. Bailin’s underpinning of Wes Montgomery/George Benson-flavored guitar bits totally supports a light funky feel.

Dean and the Singing Blue Jeanne's - from "Rebind"

photo courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller (from Rebind)

The title track “Crossing the Boundaries” is, perhaps, one of the most ambitious songs on the album. It deals with elements of spirituality, déjà vu and the relationships between one another. The sound design is grand in scale and envelopes your senses, with the lyrical hook, “Crossing the boundaries of flesh and spirit… Our voices cry out, we both hear it… Talking ‘bout fate, talking ‘bout love and talking ‘bout you and me.” It summons up music similar to the Alan Parsons Project, Toto’s deeper cuts, and the like.

The album concludes with the second live track called “Blown Away in Awe.” Here, the diverse guitar stylings of Bailin seem to evoke the spirit of classic bluesman Roy Buchanan. His string bending and laid back approach sum things up on a perfect note.

Dean Bailin and Jeanne Waller have spent many years behind the scenes. Crossing the Boundaries finally puts them in the spotlight and it’s a beautiful thing to behold.

Single Review: Anissa Lea – “Be My Baby”

Anissa Leaby Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Anissa Lea: “Be My Baby” (E & A Music Productions)

Anissa Lea is a talented and versatile young vocalist from Detroit, Michigan. As the world knows, the city of Detroit has an esteemed reputation for producing some of the greatest rock, jazz, pop and soul music of all time. And Anissa Lea embodies all of that and then some. She possesses vocal skills and a sense of music history that extends way beyond her years. With a love for everyone from Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington to Peggy Lee and Billie Holiday, she has an uncanny knack for stylistically borrowing from these musical legends while simultaneously evoking an approach that is all her own.

One artist, in particular, that really made an enormous impression on Lea early on has been the recently dear and departed Veronica “Ronnie” Spector. Spector, of course, was one of the progenitors of the “girl group” concept as frontwoman for The Ronettes. The Ronettes had a string of early ‘60s hits, including “Baby I Love You,” “(The Best Part of) Breakin’ Up,” “Walking in the Rain” and, unquestionably, one of Spector and The Ronettes’ biggest smashes “Be My Baby.” And that is the song in question here.

Anissa Lea puts her own spin on “Be My Baby” that blends a contemporary jazz-pop sensibility, with a funky spirit and groove. She’s joined on the song by some of the best side men and session artists in the biz, including Kurt Krahnke (bass), Rob Emanuel (drums), Adam Allen (guitar), Stefan Kukurugya (piano), Keith Kaminski (saxophone) and Justin Garrett Walter (trumpet).

The track sizzles with sincerity and respect to Spector’s original version. But, then, the song elevates to a surprising smooth and jazzy feel, as Lea’s dulcet Billie Holiday-meets-Peggy Lee-type phrasing thoughtfully delivers the song’s urgent message, Kaminski and Walter’s rich wall of sound envelopes your senses. The addition of Allen’s mid-song acoustic guitar solo is icing on the cake. Lea cleverly sings just a tad behind the beat, thereby not only giving the song a thoroughly fresh perspective, but adding to the danceable syncopation of the rhythm section. It’s a sweet and reverent tribute that deftly walks the line between contemporary and nostalgia.

Anissa Lea’s version of Ronnie Spector’s “Be My Baby” is now available on all streaming platforms. For more information just go to


Single Review: Le Sonic feat. Robert Lee – “Any Moment”

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Le Sonic feat. Robert Lee: “Any Moment” (Generic Records/The Orchard)

Guitarist Robert Lee Balderrama hails from Saginaw/Bay City in the “thumb area” of Michigan. It was there that he was instrumental in the launch of the seminal proto-punk/garage band Question Mark and The Mysterians in the early ‘60s. The teenage Mexican-American quintet scored a #1 hit with the organ-driven classic “96 Tears.” The song has been a staple in popular culture and on oldies radio and Sirius XM in perpetuity. And Rolling Stone magazine deemed it one of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”!

Le Sonic Feat. Robert Lee – Any MomentOver the years, Balderrama went on to play with Tex-Mex rocker Joe “King” Carassco and also fronted his own blues band and smooth jazz ensemble. Over the last decade or so Balderrama has partnered with Mysterians’ keyboardist Frank Rodriguez and has concentrated on the jazzy side of things. Under the moniker “Robert Lee Revue” he’s released two albums: For the Love of Smooth Jazz and City of Smooth Jazz. One of his compositions “Happy and Go Lucky” reached Top 30 on the Billboard Smooth Jazz Chart.

Currently, Balderrama has formed an alliance with multi-faceted songwriters/producers Mike Rogers and Gary Lefkowith. The duo call themselves Le Sonic and have created a legitimate modern jazz hit with the video and audio single “Any Moment.” The tune is based on a fairly simple two chord vamp that is hypnotic and seductive. Balderrama is a student of Wes Montgomery, George Benson, and Carlos Santana, and he weaves the essential melodic elements of said mentors into his silky smooth guitar lines. Rodriguez lays down a billowy bed of velvety piano tones that are the foundation of the tune. Topping things off are vocalist Dennis Collins and trumpeter Jim Hynes. Collins, who sings the ethereal song title’s refrain, has worked with Roberta Flack, David Bowie, Billy Joel, Al Green, George Benson and Bob Dylan. And Hynes can be heard on themes for Masterpiece Theater, CBS This Morning, NBC Sunday Night Football, and CBS Evening News.

“Any Moment” is vying for #1 spot on the various music industry charts, including Billboard, Media Base Smooth Jazz and Smooth Jazz . For more information on Robert Lee Balderrama just go to

Single Review: Kristian Montgomery & The Winterkill Band – “Secret Watering Hole”

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Kristian Montgomery & The Winterkill Band: “Secret Watering Hole”

Boston-area singer-songwriter Kristian Montgomery is not one to let grass grow under his feet. When the pandemic hit in full swing last year he dove into his inner psyche and soul, coming up with enough fresh material for an album’s worthy triumvirate of creative output. The result of that labor resulted in 2020’s The Gravel Church, 2021’s Prince of Poverty, and the soon-to-be-released A Heaven for Heretics in January 2022.

Kristian Montgomery & the Winterkill Band – "Secret Watering Hole"

photo courtesy of Kristian Montgomery

Surely, Montgomery’s blend of reflective blues and country rock songs combined with his rich, slightly worn and emotive voice is starting to catch fire with fans and critics alike. Montgomery was recently nominated by the prestigious New England Music Awards on the strength of his Prince of Poverty release. “Secret Watering Hole” is a brand new single from the aforementioned upcoming A Heaven for Heretics and continues his blend of an Americana aesthetic, mixed with vivid imagery and detailed storytelling. The song is draped in southern gothic charm and Cajun-laced magic. References to New Orleans and Mardi Gras are supported by a soothing bed of layered guitars and a relaxed, swampy back beat. It’s kind of a meeting of classic styles that match the melodic poetry of The Band, with the groovy laid back sounds of The Allman Brothers Band.

“Another crawling out of the American gutter record” is a quote, found on Montgomery’s own bandcamp page, in response to his last full-length release. Other references to his current single and his previous catalog suggest the slightly outsider world view of like-minded compadres such as The Highwaymen, Sturgill Simpson, Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt, and Chris Stapleton.

The current single “Secret Watering Hole” was produced by Joe Clapp at Ultrasound Studios and captures a sound and mood that is contemporary, yet intimate and timeless.

Looking Ahead

Of course, the album A Heaven for Heretics, which contains “Secret Watering Hole,” is scheduled for a January release. [I’ll be writing that review on or after the album’s release date. -GW] Also keep an eye on the “Events” page of the band’s website for future performances and on the band’s Facebook page for the latest news about Kristian Montgomery & the Winterkill Band.