Single Review: Gracie Day – “I Don’t Want Whiskey”

Gracie DaySingle Review of Gracie Day: “I Don’t Want Whiskey”

Hartford, CT-based Gracie Day has been popping up on my local radar a lot lately, so it’s a pleasure to review the first single (just released today, September 27th), “I Don’t Want Whiskey,” from her upcoming debut EP. Named 2017 New Act of the Year by the New England Music Awards, Gracie’s voice sounds pretty old-school country on this track. A quick examination of Gracie’s YouTube videos point to soul and folk influences playing prominent roles in her voice, as well, but if I were to name the genre at her vocal center, it would definitely be country.

Gracie Day - I Don't Want Whiskey

image courtesy of Nina Pickell on behalf of Gracie Day

On “I Don’t Want Whiskey,” a slight warble to Gracie’s voice and prominent slide guitar give off a good ol’ Opry-ready vibe. Though a full-band production with a rich, radio-friendly sound, the instrumentation is relatively sparse, focusing listeners more specifically on Gracie’s voice. Drums and strings drive a mid-to-late-song bridge that serves as a bit of a musical crescendo, but overall the voice-focused recording brings out the emotion of every voice-crack and lilt in Gracie’s voice. With “I Don’t Want Whiskey” serving as an advance introduction to Gracie’s forthcoming EP, it will be interesting to hear what else she has in store for us.

It also occurs to me that this is one of the few country songs I’ve ever heard about not wanting whiskey. Just saying.

Looking Ahead

Gracie is performing Friday, September 29th at Thunder Road in Somerville, MA. Her Facebook events page also lists a November 4th gig at starlite in Southbridge, MA. You can also check the “shows” page of Gracie’s website for additional information about upcoming shows as she adds them.

Single Review: Wilkes – “Stealing From Heaven”

Single Review of Wilkes: “Stealing From Heaven”

This spring, I reviewed Wilkes’ EP, No Filter Part 1. This single is Jason Wilkes‘ follow-up to that three-song collection.

Wilkes - Stealing From Heaven

image courtesy of Jason Wilkes

With a crisp, opening hook, “Stealing From Heaven” grabs the listener immediately. Then the lyrics join, with a Southern twang that screams “country hit.” But the rich, full music bed has rock ‘n roll roots. The tempo moves along energetically. And the stop-starts, vocal bridges, and mid-song guitar run bridge the rock-country gap. Combined with some soft, pop-rock isolated guitar work both mid-song and late-song, this is the sort of song that could be a huge crossover hit – Southern enough for country radio while pop-rock enough for hit radio.

Once again, Wilkes has delivered a fun, hit single-caliber song. Jason and his guitarist played all of the instruments, and the song was mixed by Jamie Tate at Rukkus Room in Nashville. (I’ll let you click to Rukkus Room’s website to see the studio’s pedigree and list of big-name clients.) Indeed, everyone involved deserves a tip of the cap for a job well done. And you deserve to hear the latest country-pop-rock earworm created by Wilkes.

Single Review: Wiens Lief – “Better Than Me”

Wiens Lief

photo courtesy of Wiens Lief

Single Review of Wiens Lief: “Better Than Me”

If you’re looking for a throwback to 1960s three-part harmony pop-folk, you’ve come to the right place.

Wiens Lief is a vocal trio with an international pedigree. Tiana Stuart (Austin, Texas), Joëtta Zoetelief (The Netherlands), and Fanni Walla (Hungary) formed Wiens Lief in the winter of 2016 and carved out their musical niche in Amsterdam, performing their self-described dark folk at cafés, house parties, and corporate events around their home base.

Wiens Lief - Better Than Me

image courtesy of Wiens Lief

“Better Than Me” is a sparsely-instrumented, soaring, sophisticated light-pop number with a flower-child-reminiscent harmonic blend of the trio’s voices. They’re not exactly a capella, but this group’s presentation clearly may benefit from the recent rise of such performers, at least to the extent listeners have grown accustomed to this sort of voice-driven, quirky, and not-quite-mainstream song style. How Tiana, Joëtta, and Fanni found each other, with their three voices forming such a pleasingly haunting blend is a fortunate happenstance. I’ve checked out some of the group’s cover songs online, and I can see why they’ve solidified a place within their local music scene. This original song plays even more directly to their vocal strengths and grows on me more with each listen, though I can’t be entirely sure it isn’t simply hypnotizing me into believing it’s one of my favorite new songs.

So if you’re in Amsterdam, keep an eye out for a live performance by these exceptionally talented vocalists. In fact, you can next hear them perform on Thursday, September 21st at De Jonge Admiraal. And if you’re farther afield, grab a name-your-price download of Wiens Lief’s debut single, “Better Than Me.”

Single Review: Analog Heart – “Not Good Enough”

Single Review of Analog Heart: “Not Good Enough”

Analog Heart frontwoman Liz Bills has an exceptional voice. Identifiable but familiar. And the male-female vocal blend on Analog Heart’s new summer release, “Not Good Enough,” is very Starship-esque. Think funky Starship, though. Replete with hooks, crunchy-funky guitar, and power vocals.

Analog Heart - Not Good Enough

image courtesy of Analog Heart

This single follows along the same path as Analog Heart’s last CD, Sun Here I Come, reviewed in the Blog a little more than a year ago. But “Not Good Enough” has a light, sunny sound not exactly like anything found on last year’s full-length release.

The vocal interplay is exceptional on this song, intricately woven, playing back and forth in spots. The powerful guitar crunch adds plenty of emphasis, yet the music pulls back on the bridges to showcase the vocals. And, of course, there’s a classic rock guitar solo that’s structurally well-placed to move the song forward.

In a perfect world, all of the local pop, rock, and hit radio stations would jump on this catchy song from one of Boston’s most complete melodic rock bands. Regardless of when and where Analog Heart finds airplay, though, its fans will welcome this as a stellar new addition to their collections. And if you don’t already count yourself among this group’s legion of fans, this is a perfect song to start with.

Looking Ahead

Analog Heart has a few upcoming dates listed on the tour page of its website. You can catch them Sunday, September 3rd at The Raven in Worcester, MA; Friday, September 8th at the 13th Floor Music Lounge in Florence, MA; Saturday, September 9th at Andover Day in Andover, MA; Saturday, September 23rd at The River Ruckus in Haverhill, MA; Friday, September 29th at The Chit Chat Lounge in Haverhill, MA; and Sunday, October 8th and the Rock & Lowell Fest at UnchARTed in Lowell, MA. Obviously, see the band’s website for additional details and new shows as they’re added.

Single Review: Cain Rising – “Social Man”

Geoff Wilbur’s Music Blog contributor James Morris has reviewed Cain Rising‘s first two singles – here are links to his takes on “Rear View Mirror” and “Glasgow City Spires” – and he’s penning a review of the group’s soon-to-be-released Rear View Mirror EP. I’ve heard (and enjoyed) the first two pre-released singles. I’ve not heard the rest of the EP, but I do have a copy of the third single, “Social Man,” and I thought it might be interesting to pen my own review of it. I had hoped to review it closer to the single’s June 5th release date, but as you may have noticed, my writing time has been a bit sparse this summer. I’ve been enjoying some great music this summer, and I can’t wait to tell you about more of it, but my writing time has been virtually nil. I hope I’ve now started to get back into a bit of a rhythm. In any case, let’s get to the review…

Single Review of Cain Rising: “Social Man”

Cain Rising - Social Man

image courtesy of Cain Rising

“Social Man” is a pleading, heartfelt, classic blues-based rock ‘n roll confession. It opens with frontman Southside Jimmy Price accompanied solely by a piano, with harmonica later joining the fray for emphasis. Throughout the song, Jimmy’s voice is raw, emotional, as if he’s baring his soul. The tempo never really picks up and the intensity never lessens, nor do either of these need to happen. It’s one of those honest songs that connects to the listener at a primal level. When performed live, I’d expect an arena full of fans swaying, holding lighters aloft. And there’s such an old-school feel to “Social Man,” it would have to be lighters; mobile phones simply wouldn’t feel right.

I’d hate to call this my favorite of the three songs I’ve heard so far; it’s different and isn’t really fair to compare directly, but it is a favorite.

I’m looking forward to reading James Morris’ review of Cain Rising’s full EP in the Blog soon; I hope you’ll look for it, too. In the mean time, check out Cain Rising’s third pre-released single and get to know this solid old-school rock band. Indeed, if you missed them, follow the links in the first paragraph and read James’ reviews of the first two singles; he digs a bit more into the band itself in those write-ups.

Looking Ahead

A glance at Cain Rising’s website currently lists two upcoming shows. First, on Saturday, September 2nd, at CatFest in Salford. Then, on Friday, October 21st, at The Wheatsheaf in Leighton Buzzard. And, of course, there’s an EP release in the band’s near future, too.

Single Review: Cain Rising – “Glasgow City Spires”

Cain Rising

photo by Matt Crawford; photo courtesy of Cain Rising

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Cain Rising: “Glasgow City Spires”

Time was when you would sit down and listen to a whole album, be taken on a journey through carefully sequenced tracks and enjoy the music as the artist intended. Things have changed, and if I’m anything to go by, then Spotify, playlists, and pressing shuffle may well be the way we are consuming our music these days.

It’s a great convenience to be able to choose the album tracks you like, skip the ones you don’t and have all your favourite music randomly coming at you as a soundtrack to your daily life. I’m not sure as an artist myself, brought up on flipping between two sides of an album it’s how I want my own music picked through, but I have to accept, we live in a more transient, song by song world and maybe there is less point in making albums anymore, just singles.

Cain Rising - Glasgow City Spires

image courtesy of Cain Rising

So that is why it is a very smart approach from Cain Rising to be releasing a series of five singles before putting them all together on a CD EP in July. It’s clever because it lengthens the shelf life for the band’s new release from reviewers like myself and from the radio stations that can have a new track every couple of weeks to keep them interested. There is so much musical competition when you release an album of music. A new release doesn’t stay new very long these days, and it seems that everyone moves on to the next new thing whilst the last song is still fading from the speakers. Dropping one track at a time as singles certainly keeps you in the public ear for a longer period of time.

Starting this series of releases on May 1st, Cain Rising put out “Rear View Mirror,” which I reviewed and loved. Now they have followed that with the single “Glasgow City Spires,” out on 15th May.

This song is inspired, according to writer and band frontman “Southside” Jimmy, “by a hazy hungover Sunday morning walk along Glasgow’s Great Western Road and down through Kelvingrove Park.” The song illustratively portrays the drive and passion Jimmy has for his hometown and poignantly marks his twenty-five years from moving away from it with lines like: “The streets below my soles, they’re home to me/My hometown’s now a foreign land.”

Cain Rising

photo by Annie Price; photo courtesy of Cain Rising

“Glasgow City Spires” is rockier than “Rear View Mirror,” and with this gear shift you begin to discover the range of songs to come. This is trademark Cain Rising and it is worth noting that the band have been described by others as strong, engaging, original, and accomplished. All of these most definitely apply with, for my part, a large serving of joy, to boot.

A big part of what makes listening to Cain Rising so enjoyable is the sound they have achieved on the recordings. Enough time has been taken to ensure attention to detail but without losing the passion of performance. The band spent about 12 days recording five tracks at Echo Studios in Buckingham, UK. This EP and last year’s album were both produced by Jamie Masters, who seems to be able to get right inside the band’s sound and bring out the very best of the songs, arrangements and performance. As “Southside” Jimmy Price says, “He doesn’t just record the songs, he contributes to the arrangements, and his skills with the tools of his trade are unbelievable. He tunes in with the band so much it’s as scary as it is creative.”

The single kicks off with a short Badlands-Springsteen style drum intro and then greets you with the warm guitar snaps and organ swirls so familiar in the band’s style. This leads you into the verse where, by hanging on one chord for the first few lines, a great sense of suspense is created before breaking into the bridge and bouncing you into the driving chorus. The chorus, whilst not such an “earworm” as in “Rear View Mirror” with it’s “looking at you” hook, does offer an alternative delight. It’s thrilling when a song grabs you straight out the box but equally rewarding when one grows on you with each listen, allowing access to the depths within. This is such feel good music, brilliantly made. I think I’m going to play the CD loud in the car all summer long.

So while we all wait for that CD release, I hope, for now, this has whetted your appetite, and I’m looking forward to bringing you a full EP review once the remaining three tracks, “Walk My Way,” “Soldier,” and “Social Man” are released.

Check out my recent review of Cain Rising’s “Rear View Mirror” for more info on the band and their live dates.

Single Review: Cain Rising – “Rear View Mirror”

Cain Rising

photo by Annie Price; photo courtesy of Cain Rising

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Cain Rising: “Rear View Mirror”

Cain Rising - Rear View Mirror

cover artwork by Julian O’Dell; image courtesy of Cain Rising

Let me start by saying that if you haven’t ever heard Cain Rising before, then you should first go explore their self-titled debut album from last year. Within its 11 tracks you will discover a familiar charm of classic-style American rock, delivered in a rootsy, down-to-earth way. You could easily mistake much of what you hear as coming from America’s heartlands with its mix of country, folk, and rock. Actually, what you have are a bunch of excellent musicians led by Southside Jimmy all from the UK but steeped in the influences of the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty or Bob Dylan.

Cain Rising

photo by Matt Crawford; photo courtesy of Cain Rising

The band was formed in 2014 by Jim Price with longtime collaborators and friends Jez and Jo Parry. The line-up on these new recordings includes guitarist Ian Hopper, Matt Crawford on Hammond and piano, and Mick Ivory on drums.

The new single, “Rear View Mirror,” follows seamlessly on from the last album but with even more swagger and confidence.

This is the first release of 5 songs all destined for an EP release in July. This first glimpse of what is to come introduces the new band line-up and the addition of some really infectious, bright and joyous brass. These musical elements couple perfectly with the great songwriting of Southside Jimmy, and the result is an excellent summery song following the theme of hitting the road and getting away from it all.

Cain Rising

photo by Matt Crawford; photo courtesy of Cain Rising

From the first strums of the uplifting intro, the introduction of the brass, and the full steam ahead approach, I was happily hooked. Seemingly effortlessly, the song led me quickly to the catchy chorus, which put me in mind of the driving type of thing Elvis Costello used to do on things like “I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down.” Three minutes and eight seconds pass in the blink of an eye, and when it was done I found myself wanting to press play on it, over and over again.

Cain Rising

photo by Annie Price; photo courtesy of Cain Rising

If this is the quality of what is to come later in the summer with the release of the EP, then I have to say that I really don’t want to have to wait. Luckily for me the band are going to digitally release all 5 songs one at a time in the coming weeks before the final EP is available.

The 5-track EP will also include all out rocker “Glasgow City Spires”; “Walk My Way” – rock meets swing – with horns from Rebecca Gibson Swift and Pablo Mendelssohn; “Soldier” – highlights the band’s love of strong vocal harmony bands such as The Eagles & CSNY; and Social Man – a tense, raw and intimate country song.

Patience will be hard to find, but at least this drip feed approach will go some way to slake my appetite for Cain Rising’s excellent new releases.

Cain Rising

photo by Annie Price; photo courtesy of Cain Rising

“Rear View Mirror” is out now to download or stream. Further releases are due out between now and final EP release in July.

If you are in the UK, you can catch Cain Rising play live on July 2nd at Ampthill Festival, September 2nd at Catfest in Salford, or on October 21st at the Wheatsheaf in Leighton Buzzard.

Follow them on Twitter at @CainRising or visit their website at http://www.cainrising.rocks/.