Single Review: Open Strum – “Wildfire”

photo by Krista Powers; photo courtesy of Michel Goguen/Open Strum

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Open Strum: “Wildfire”

This new track from Open Strum is a breezy, light and open-ended song. On this single, Open Strum comprise of Michel Goguen, Frank Goguen, and George Belliveau. When you listen to more of the Open Strum back catalogue, you appreciate just how diverse they can be. A range of styles from ambient acoustic through to funky electronic.

photo by Nancy Boudreau; photo courtesy of Michel Goguen/Open Strum

“Wildfire” is at the mature poppier end of the scale with a style that is engaging and warm. A drum beat ushers in rich harmony vocals and jangly Byrds-type electric guitars which lead you into a very easy going, bright and highly listenable track. There are some subtle and lovely touches on the mandolin, and the airy production allows the track to shine. It’s a refreshing and gripping 2:39 in length, and whilst the listen is short it absolutely soars, particularly into the uplifting choruses. When the song ends, it feels like it could just be a lull before crashing into some thunderous solo and carrying on for another couple of minutes. However, its simple brevity actually works really well, leaving you ready to go again, time after time.

For those who like a hook to hang it on, I would say that it immediately struck me as an Eagles groove with a Jackson Browne twist.

Check this one out, and then go explore more of Open Strum’s work. You can find them at www.openstrum.com

They will be heading back into the studio, so not much time to head out and play live. But if you plan ahead then you can see them play on June 8th 2019 in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada to kick off next year’s “Music for Critters” fundraiser to help out animal shelters and rescues.

Single Review: Laurel Marsh – “An Unchanged Reality”

Laurel Marsh

photo by Joel Booska; photo courtesy of Laurel Marsh

You may know Laurel Marsh from her rock ‘n roll world. She was bass player for Boston-based all-female rock band Jaded for six years. She’s currently singer/bass player for Connecticut melodic metal band Suicide Dream and half of Boston/Worcester electronic band (duo) ZagreuS. In addition, she records solo. “An Unchanged Reality” is Laurel’s latest piece of solo work, released in September 2017; it was preceded by “Heart Speak” earlier in the year.

Single Review of Laurel Marsh: “An Unchanged Reality”

Laurel Marsh - An Unchanged Reality

photo by Joel Booska; photo courtesy of Laurel Marsh

This song was designed to be experienced via sound and visual, via music video. But I tend to get a lot more time to listen to music than to watch videos, so I decided to review it from that perspective. As a soaring, atmospheric number, it takes a few listens to sink in without the video accompaniment. With musical tidal surges rising and falling and the ever-presence of Laurel’s simultaneously sweet and ominous vocals, “An Unchanged Reality” floats and soars not unlike a lot of alternative atmospheric pop music, but this song is infused with a primal rhythm, as well. And the vocals? Controlled power, the sort that’s essential for a hard rock or metal singer. Well, a good, versatile one, at least. The vocals are so musical in nature, I often find myself forgetting that this song isn’t purely instrumental, with the words themselves less important to the experience than the sounds they provide and their vocal delivery. After a few listens, I began to anticipate the weaving, enchanting, smoothly lurching rhythms, and “An Unchanged Reality” has become a playlist favorite. I find myself whistling or softly chanting along with its haunting melodies, looking ahead to their next subtle twist or turn.

Laurel Marsh

photo by Faith Emond; photo courtesy of Laurel Marsh

Again, though, the song is visual in nature, and it’s really worth watching it in video form via its YouTube video here. You won’t be surprised by the use of water or the integration with nature in the video; indeed, it is an exceptionally well-suited visual representation of the music. Or perhaps the music is an aural representation of the video. The two are so intertwined it’s difficult to separate them (even though I did and am impressed by the enjoyable audio experience).

As was the case with “Heart Speak,” “An Unchanged Reality” was a two person project. The descriptions on YouTube video pages show how the arrangements, performance, and visual presentation duties were split between Laurel and Joel Booska.

Looking Ahead

In addition to being a multi-talented, genre-crossing (and genre-bending) musician, your visit to Laurel’s website will introduce you to her yoga instructor work and her modeling pictures, as well, in addition to linking you to her various musical endeavors. But it is here, through the main page, where you’ll find information about upcoming performances. The most recent was a radio show appearance with ZagreuS on January 29th. Check back here and perhaps follow her to see what lies ahead.

Single Review: Paige Davis – “Carousel”

Paige Davis

photo courtesy of Paige Davis

Single Review of Paige Davis: “Carousel”

I first reviewed Paige Davis last spring, in this review of Off the Stage Music’s Behind the Songs event at the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston.

Paige’s new single “Carousel” was released on February 14th in advance of a planned spring 2018 EP release. A pop-country number that sports a G-rated movie, all-American, apple-pie freshness, the song moves through verse, chorus, and bridge progressively, with a well-written complexity that ties tempo and progression to the song’s lyrical ins and out.

Paige Davis

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Interestingly, I get a couple pop-rock connections from the very beginning of “Carousel,” with the opening beat reminiscent of Avril Lavigne’s “Happy Ending” leading into a guitar progression and rhythm that uncannily recalls the early strains of Semi Sonic’s “Closing Time.” As the song settles in, its entirety sounds sonically more like the sort of pop-friendy country I might find on Lauren Lizabeth’s To Be Young (recalling an album I previously reviewed), the sort of music you might have expected to share the stage with Taylor Swift as a teenager, though with a vocal texture very specific to only Paige herself.

I’ll let you listen to the lyrics yourselves. And you should listen. Containing clever turns of phrases, using “Carousel” as a life metaphor, they’re appropriate to a high school fan base but worthy of a budding young artist. “Carousel” is a fine introduction for potential new fans – and a long-awaited reward for her Paige’s existing followers – in advance of her debut long-form (EP) release.

Looking Ahead

Yes, the EP. Also, though it doesn’t list any dates now, keep an eye on the “Shows” page of Paige’s website for upcoming live performances as they’re added.

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.