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: Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings – “Highways”

Bridget Davis & the Viking Kings – "Highways"

image courtesy of Bridget Davis

Single Review of Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings: “Highways”

We at the Blog are big fans of the unique, original, memorable style of Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings. They have an easily identifiable, pleasant, rolling, laid-back Americana style but with a constantly-present, persistent rhythm that varies from song to song yet makes even the most mellow song seem energized. Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings are the perpetual motion machine of Americana. And their songwriting and delivery style is such that, if you heard them on the radio, you’d say to yourself, “Self, it’s Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings.”

Well, it has been a while since BD and the VKs graced our headphones with something new, nearly five and a half years between I Wasn’t Planning on the End and the new single “Highways,” released earlier this year. In all that time, the band hasn’t missed a beat.

Bridget Davis & the Viking Kings

photo courtesy of Bridget Davis

Opening with a warm texture and bass-guitar interplay (cool to listen to on headphones, since they reside in different ears), “Highways” utilizes many of the ingenuities in the band’s familiar, favorite bag of tricks to support Bridget’s soft, sweet, yet surprisingly dynamic vocal style. Those familiar with the band’s previous work will find the tempo most similar to that of “Transient,” as “Highways” differs from much of the band’s song catalog in that it’s actually as slow-tempoed as its music makes it seem, though it’s sonically more kindred to the faster-paced “Elizabeth” or the slower-paced “I Wasn’t Planning on the End.”

In the end, “Highways” is a welcome reintroduction to Bridget Davis and the Vikings Kings’ easily recognizable, original, trademark sound. If you’re unfamiliar with the band, let this be your introduction. There’s a hint of folk styling and country-leaning Americana energy in Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings’ music, an energy built on and originality, tempo, detailed songwriting, and deliberate performance structure that will appeal to a broad swath of musical tastes. To the band: Welcome back to our playlists. We’ve missed you.

Looking Back

Those who have been with us here at the Blog from the beginning will remember our other two Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings reviews. First, I reviewed one of their live Rockwood Music Hall shows as item #8 in my 9-part “Road Back to Music Journalism” series, in which I chronicled events that led me back to writing – and starting this blog – after a dozen years away. A few weeks later, I reviewed their album I Wasn’t Planning on the End. So if my review of this song interests you, be sure to check out the other words I’ve written about this talented ensemble.

Looking Ahead

Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings hinted in this Facebook post this spring and confirmed with me just recently via e-mail that there is more music coming; “Highways” was just one of several songs recorded live at the Figure 8 Recording studio in Brooklyn. They’ll likely be released one at a time in advance of an eventual EP release. Whether the songs are released individually or all at once, we can’t wait to hear them!

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.

Single Review: Eliza Neals – “Sugar Daddy”

Eliza Neals w King Solomon Hicks

photo courtesy of E-H Records LLC

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Eliza Neals: “Sugar Daddy” feat. King Solomon Hicks (E-H Records)

They call her the “Detroit Diva.” And, indeed, blues rock singer-songwriter/keyboardist Eliza Neals proudly wears that title as a badge of honor. The opera-trained blonde bombshell has been on the international music scene for more than two decades. She is a true independent artist, with a series of critically-acclaimed R&B-flavored albums to her credit. Neals has shared the stage and collaborated with such luminaries as Buddy Guy, Kenny Olson, Joe Louis Walker, Popa Chubby, Howard Glazer, and a host of blues and rock greats.

No doubt, however, perhaps her biggest influence can be found in frequent co-writer and mentor Barrett Strong. Strong, of course, is a legendary singer-songwriter that made his mark, first at Berry Gordy’s Tamla Records. His iconic “Money (That’s What I Want)” was the company’s first big breakout hit. The prolific tunesmith went on to write a series of songs for Gordy’s subsequent landmark enterprise Motown Records. “ I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “War,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today)” are just some of the chart toppers he and fellow composer/producer Norman Whitfield conceived within those hallowed studio walls.

Eliza Neals – "Sugar Daddy" feat. King Solomon Hicks

image courtesy of E-H Records LLC

That little history lesson brings us to today’s single at hand; the feel good summer of 2021 smash entitled “Sugar Daddy.” The tune was originally written by Strong, but re-arranged, with additional lyrics by Neals herself. The song features young NYC jazz/blues guitar sensation King Solomon Hicks on backing vocals. Michael Puwal (tremolo guitar/additional drums), Chris Vega (bass), Michael Galante (drums), and Tyrone Smith (Hammond B3/saxophone) round out this first rate band. It’s a light-hearted kind of tale that focuses on a relationship from an, appropriately, female perspective. In it Neals sings: “Well, I’m just a girl, and you know that I look real fine. But I love that man, he drive me outta my mind. He puts his lips to my ear, said what I love to hear… I’ll be your sugar daddy, you’s my man!” It carries on with that pseudo-romantic track for a minute, but then, when Neals finds her man fooling around with someone else, the tables get turned quickly in the bridge. She exudes gritty comeuppance, with the lines, “I take his money and I go and I play the town, and he knows my love ain’t true. People all say he should put me down. He’s a fool, he’s a fool, he’s a doggone fool!”

“Sugar Daddy” has a lot of bite and bluesy bravado, thanks to Neals’ raw, soulful vocals and Hicks’ stinging Robert Cray-like riffs. He lays the groundwork for the song’s balance of good-natured free-spirited fun and serious house rockin’ street cred. The tune has been a staple on Sirius XM’s BB King’s Bluesville channel since this past July. But that’s nothing new for the “Detroit Diva.” She’s been in consistent rotation on that pivotal blues network since her seminal Breaking and Entering album hit the charts in 2015. “Sugar Daddy” simply continues that groovy path of excellence for the incomparable Eliza Neals!

Looking Ahead

Eliza has a few upcoming shows listed on the “Shows” page of her website. On Saturday, December 18th, she’ll be at the South Orange Performing Arts Center in South Orange, NJ. On Saturday, February 12th, she’ll be performing at the Cincinnati Winter Blues Experience II in Cincinnati, OH. On Tuesday, April 26th, she’s scheduled to perform at the iconic 100 Club in London [where I saw Bob Malone in 2015 – GW]. And on Saturday, April 30th, she’s be at Jamey’s House of Music in Lansdowne, PA. Be sure to check Eliza’s website for more details on those shows and others as they’re scheduled.

Single Review: Lina Cooper – “What I Gave to You”

Lina Cooper

photo by Joe Welkie; photo courtesy of Lina Cooper


Lina Cooper initially reached out to me back in the summer of 2020 during a period when I wasn’t writing many reviews (and had a years-long backlog) in advance of the release of her single “This Time,” and I was blown away by her vocals and songwriting. It was a catchy, poppy, memorable song structured much like you’d expect from Taylor Swift, well-suited to Lina’s sweet, high vocals. Of course, I didn’t review that song, but when I was on a bit of a writing spree and was churning through my review backlog this spring, I reached out to inquire about what she was working on now (at the time). The answer was, of course, “What I Gave to You.”

Single Review of Lina Cooper: “What I Gave to You”

Lina Cooper – What I Gave to You

image courtesy of Lina Cooper

Lina’s exceptional talent shines again on “What I Gave to You.” Softer than the song that initially hooked me, “What I Gave to You” leans into Lina’s high, emotionally expressive voice. Storytelling verses serve as a tempo-changing, volume-varying canvas, all leading to “What you gonna do when all you have is what I gave to you.”

Simple guitar-picking and thin vocals open the song, with additional orchestration and a fuller music bed joining as the vocals and lyrics intensify. For the vocal structure, well-placed, emotionally cracking lead vocals are paired with full background harmonies as the music soars. The song is a musical journey with a key, memorable line for listeners to sing along with during the chorus. That’s the formula for a sneaky earworm of a song, one that’ll grow on you more and more with each successive listen.

Lina Cooper

photo by Joe Welkie; photo courtesy of Lina Cooper

Other Singles

“What I Gave to You” was preceded by “Ethereal,” more stylistically similar to “This Time,” and the rather more disturbing, musically aggressive, almost noir-ish “If You Ever Leave Me” (which has an accompanying horror-style music video).

Other 2021 releases have been an acoustic version of Lina’s “Here to Stay” and the latest single, groovy, punkish, garage rockin’ “AFANASY.” You’ll find a long-form “short musical film” featuring/leading into “AFANASY” here on YouTube.

Lina’s a versatile talent. A good singer and songwriter whose range covers a lot of musical ground, tying it well to her very specific, mainstream radio-friendly voice. It’s time to climb aboard the Lina Cooper bandwagon now while there are still a few prime seats available.

Looking Ahead

There are currently no upcoming shows listed on the “Shows” page of Lina’s website, but check back periodically to find out when you can catch a live performance.

Single Review: Eliza & the Delusionals – “You”

Eliza & the Delusionals

photo by Kurt Skuse; photo courtesy of Reybee Inc.

Single Review of Eliza & the Delusionals: “You”

“You” is a terrific example of catchy, hooky, sunshine-drenched alt-pop well-suited to a summer day in the sun but versatile enough to serve the purpose of adding joy to a gloomy day.

From a songwriting perspective, it’s stylistically along the lines Taylor Swift, very much about the emotions of relatable romantic life issues. Sonically, it’s bright, shiny, cheerful, guitar-intstrumented vocal pop with an almost pop-punk vibe but more of a laid-back energy, kind of a mix of Paramore and Liz Phair’s more mainstream, crossover hits.

Eliza & the Delusionals - You

image courtesy of Reybee Inc.

Early this year, I wrote about the band’s fall 2020 single, “Sentimental.” Also this year, Eliza & the Delusionals released their current single, “Save Me,” and perhaps I should dig in and review that song, too, but “You” is the one in my review queue, and it’s a delicious bit of pop music, a pleasant addition to any playlist. (For the record, so is “Save Me,” with its slightly different, dreamier vibe and richer, more rock guitar-driven rhythm.)

Looking Ahead

Eliza & the Delusionals doesn’t have any remaining shows in 2021, but they have four January 2022 shows listed, all in Australia, in Sydney, Richmond, Brisbane, and Miami. You can find more information about those performances and others, as they’re added, on the “Tour” page of the band’s website.

Single Review: Lealiza – “We Americans”


photo courtesy of Dog Ranch Music PR

Single Review of Lealiza: “We Americans”

Lealiza is a Michigan-based singer-songwriter with a soft, rich, sweet vocal delivery. In the case of “We Americans,” it was a song she felt compelled to write, expressing her disapproval at seeing the U.S. military leaving Afghanistan in a frantic, disorganized hurry. The song went live today, November 11, on Spotify.

The key lyric to the song is “We don’t leave our people behind. We’re Americans, that’s not what we do.” The story in the song begins twenty years earlier, with the event that sparked the war, then contrasts it with the images from earlier this year. You can hear Lealiza’s emotions in the sweet yet powerful vocals, tied tightly to the song’s lyrics: “Some day I’ll come for you sure as the sky is blue. We don’t leave anyone behind.”

Lealiza – We Americans

image courtesy of Dog Ranch Music PR

Poignant and topical, this is a powerful song from Lealiza, ably expressing the emotions she shares with so many fellow citizens as this past September’s withdrawal from Kabul unfolded. She talks of the feelings she felt that compelled her to write “We Americans” in this Facebook post. Beyond this song, if it leads you to explore more of Lealiza’s music – at her YouTube channel or on her website, for example – you’ll find her connection to singing Ladino songs, as well, and discover a multi-faceted singer who’s a sought-after performer.

Whatever Lealiza sings – from traditional-styled music to more current pop-styled songs, and in whatever language – her voice has the versatility and texture to capture your ear and hold on tight. So, while it’s worth giving “We Americans” a listen, don’t let your Lealiza journey end there. And if you’re in the Detroit area, watch for her shows. There’s nothing recent or forthcoming listed, but watch the “Events” tab of her Facebook page for listings of future performances as they’re scheduled.

Single Review: Susan Gibson – “Compassionate Combat”

Susan Gibson – Compassionate Combat

image courtesy of Broken Jukebox Media

Single Review of Susan Gibson: “Compassionate Combat”

Susan Gibson released “Compassionate Combat” this past spring, in the middle of a spring surge of COVID-19. The single was released in conjunction with the Compassionate Combat website to help raise money and awareness to support nurses in thanks for their tremendous service during this pandemic.

I reviewed Susan’s last album, The Hard Stuff, here at the Blog last fall. As I discovered at the time, Susan is a celebrated songwriter with a deft touch at creating heartfelt, moving lyrics whose and a singer whose voice is exceptionally well-suited to delivering both the message and the emotion in her songs. “Compassionate Combat” is no exception. Musically, the song is softly instrumented, with soaring components supporting Susan’s heartfelt, emotional vocals.

Of course, Susan is an exceptional lyricist, and this ode to nurses during a time of crisis will warm hearts and jerk tears, from the verses to the chorus of “We ask so much of you. Leave your families and your homes for the work you gotta do. You are the miracle, the gift, pulling 18-hour shifts of compassionate combat. How do you thank someone for that?”

Whew! [sniff!] I’m not crying – you are.

“Compassionate Combat” was produced and engineered by Billy Crockett at his Blue Rock Studio in Wimberley, Texas. Billy is an exceptional singer/songwriter in his own right, widely revered for his talent as a musician, and his studio is a place where musicians and their talents are celebrated. Of course, regular Blog readers may recall a live Billy Crockett performance review and a review of Billy’s CD Rabbit Hole, both back in 2017.


I received this single back in March, and once I began to fall behind on reviews, I assumed the topic would no longer be timely by the time I got around to writing the review. Vaccine rollout was well underway, and appointments were hard to come by, as millions of vaccines were being administered each day. I anticipated that by this summer our hospitals would no longer be overrun. And, though vaccination rates are high and hospitals are not in a state of crisis here where I live, that is not true everywhere. I hope the next surge we see is that of vaccinations, so serious illness rates will decline and, in the vein of this song, our valiant nurses and other healthcare workers whose emergency rooms are still under siege will soon get some relief from their… compassionate combat.

Looking Ahead

Susan has a few performances scheduled in Texas this month – tonight, Friday, November 5th in LaGrange and nightly performances November 17th-20th in Austin, Fredericksburg, Santa Fe and New Braunfels – in addition to a women’s writing workshop on November 6th and 7th in New Braunfels. You can find additional details about these events and a January 14th show scheduled in Austin (and others, as they’re added) on the “tour” page of Susan’s website.

Single Review: Tia McGraff – “What If”

Tia McGraff – "What If"

image by Trespass Music; image courtesy of Tia McGraff

Single Review of Tia McGraff: “What If”

Tia McGraff is an accomplished singer and songwriter, and her single “What If” showcases some of those vocal and songwriting chops.

Tia McGraff

photo by Denise Grant; photo courtesy of Tia McGraff

Tia utilizes a slight rough edge on her otherwise smooth, rich, storytelling voice to amplify the emotional power of this heartfelt song. The music bed beneath is lush and flowing without being so full to overpower the vocals. And vocals and music combine to perfectly suit lyrics like: “There is a place where no one’s a stranger, and we can embrace each other like neighbors. I wanna go there, wanna take you there with me.”

“What If” is a flowing, enjoyable song that supports a powerful message of togetherness, love, and a better world. It’s a song that’ll wash over you if you let it. Give it a listen, and see how it makes you feel.