Single Review: Simon Scardanelli – “The Glittering Prize”

Simon Scardanelli – The Glittering Prize

image courtesy of Simon Scardanelli

Single Review of Simon Scardanelli: “The Glittering Prize”

It’s no secret we widely appreciate Simon Scardanelli‘s songwriting and performance skills here at the Blog. Well, this single, “The Glittering Prize,” ranks among my favorites.

The song opens with a whimsical, carnival-style noodling, and this sort of offbeat flavor extends throughout, keeping the listener a little off-balance, a frequently used stylistic element on some of Simon’s songs.

Paul Walker’s clarinet playing is frequently used to advance the story forward and/or transition between song parts, often moving the song in and out of the chorus.

Seeming to be a story about pursuit of “the glittering prize,” it’s up to the listener to decide whether this fun song is insightful or not, but the song itself forewarns: “If you want it here’s a word to the wise, don’t believe a thing I say. I’m full of contradictions and contrapuntal points of view, and every clever song you thought that I wrote is just a load of words on play. Look at me now, still rhyming them with you.” So seek insight herein at your own risk.

Regardless of context, musically “The Glittering Prize” is a fun addition to any playlist, either to march along with and dance to in the summer sun – Simon’s website dubs the song his “new summer single,” – or to hold onto the summer as the weather turns cold. (It took me so long to write this review, that’s pretty much your only choice right now, anyway.)

Looking Ahead

Though there are no future performances listed at the moment, the “Shows” page of Simon’s website is where you’ll find upcoming gigs, as they’re scheduled.

Single Review: beauty is the end – “helplessly hoping”

beauty is the end

photo courtesy of beauty is the end

Single Review of beauty is the end: “helplessly hoping”

We’re reviewed the music of bandleader Clint Degan here before, in the role of Body English’s vocalist and guitarist, when I reviewed Stories of Earth. This, however, is a truly original, unique sound worth approaching with a fresh palate, featuring Cullen Corley on percussion and multi-instrumentalist Degan recording the remaining instruments and vocals. So grab some ginger and be prepared for a fresh musical dining experience on “helplessly hoping.”

beauty is the end – helplessly hoping

image courtesy of beauty is the end

This song is timeless. But beauty is the end delivers an updated version of this Crosby, Stills & Nash classic. The harmonies are replaced by instruments or perhaps just less volume, serving up a modernized sound, adding a hint of progressive instrumentation, softening the harsh harmonic edges of the original with a thinner, more sensitive vocal line and softened transitions. This version completely changes the feel of the song without touching the main melody, and in the process of modernizing, it actually recalls a completely different set of ’70s bands. Call it a two-way transportation through time, if you want, landing at a different destination.

Whatever it’s quite cool and really pleasant, enjoyable listen, gradually becoming a favorite on my playlist. To be honest, after acclimating myself to the beauty is the end version, I find it hard to listen to the original. I’ve come to expect this version’s softness to the extent that Crosby, Stills & Nash’s harmonies in the original startle me. Yeah, yeah, I know. I should show more reverence to the trailblazers, but I really dig this version. Check it out for yourself.

To keep up with beauty is the end, follow the band’s Facebook page.

Single Review: Troubleshooting Pandora’s Box – “Pyrrha’s Song”

Troubleshooting Pandora's Box – Pyrrha's Song

image courtesy of Potter’s Daughter

Single Review of Troubleshooting Pandora’s Box: “Pyrrha’s Song” (Melodic Revolution Records)

The first song from the Troubleshooting Pandora’s Box project, spearheaded by Melodic Revolution Records founder Nick Katona, is “Pyrrha’s Song.” It features Dyanne Potter Voegtlin (keyboard, vocals) and Jan-Christian Vögtlin (bass, guitar, keyboards) from Potter’s Daughter (whose recent album I reviewed) with Jimmy Keegan (drums).

An edgy, symphonic-leaning progressive rock number, “Pyrrha’s Song” is purposefully tense and uncomfortable. Or, rather, never quite comfortable. Stray notes pop up suddenly and harshly within the melody to keep the listener off-balance and paying attention, while the drums crash and vocals test the song’s upper sonic limits, all set interestingly to a laid-back bass line.

This is what progressive rock is all about, putting great musicians in a situation to pursue a concept – not always an unsettling concept, but sometimes and in this case – and try to tell its story through music, typically in unexpected ways. “Pyrrha’s Song” is a cool song and a fun, interesting listen, though by necessity it’s an active listen. If you dig this sort of music, this Troubleshooting Pandora’s Box release is a fine example of it and well worth your listen.

More info about the project (Troubleshooting Pandora’s Box) and the song (“Pyrrha’s Song”) can be found here on this page of the Melodic Revolution Records website.

Single Reviews: Houston Bernard – “People We Are,” “Small Town Way,” and “Without You Honey”

Houston Bernard – "People We Are"

image courtesy of Houston Bernard

Single Reviews of Houston Bernard: “People We Are,” “Small Town Way,” and “Without You Honey”

Houston Bernard is about the closest I’ve heard to a surefire-hit independent male country music vocalist in years. He’s doing a fine job building his fanbase on his own, but man, if I were a label looking for a fresh new voice within a well-worn, straightforward country music path, he’d be at the top of my list. He’s got just a little wriggle in his voice that makes it identifiable to get him attention, but his music fall smack dab in the middle of the eight-lane highway of male country vocalist.

Houston Bernard at Local CountryFest 2

photo by Geoff Wilbur

From Oklahoma but country-rockin’ from a home base in Massachusetts, Houston Bernard is the king of current-style male country music singers in the region, and I guarantee he’d be top-three in any country market. (Almost certainly still my personal fave because of his strong songwriting skills and his everyday, friendly vocal edge.) I’ve reviewed a couple of his performances at Local CountryFests. Last summer I wanted to review some of his music but was just beginning to dig out of my backlog, so I introduced Blog contributor Eric Harabadian to Houston’s music, and Eric enthusiastically reviewed the single “American Dream.” Eric has a more complete knowledge base in some areas, so I love reading his take on my favorite artists. But now that I have the time again, I’m reviewing Houston’s latest releases myself.

I enjoy reviewing multiple songs at a time because they allow me to talk about the breadth of an artist’s repertoire. In Houston’s case, he has been releasing singles lately, so I appreciate the opportunity to write about three of them in a single review. The first song, “People We Are,” dropped on January 15th and made some noise for Houston. The other two, “Small Town Way” and “Without You Honey,” were released on March 26th. Among the three, we have two uptempo, big-country anthems and a slower number, a ratio not too different from the mix of Houston’s recordings overall, showcasing his ability to shine across various tempos.

Houston Bernard – "Small Town Way"

image courtesy of Houston Bernard

“People We Are” is has a wideopen guitar hook that brings to mind sunny days and blue skies in this all-American anthem. “We’re a little bit of ‘hell, yeah,’ and a little bit of Amen. A whole lotta work hard, and throw in a little playin’.” It’s a big, enthusiastic song, and it’s easy to see why it garnered Houston some notice, the pedigree of its writing team notwithstanding. (“People We Are” was written by Kim Penz and Cole Taylor, whose credits include Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, and Cole Swindell, among others.) The song is a bit of a summer anthem, especially for a song released in January, but I’m sure anyone who heard it in the dead of winter appreciated its big, bright power… while doin’ a fair bit more workin’ hard and a lot less playin’ than even in a typical January when the short days cause that to usually be the case.

“Small Town Way,” cowritten by Houston Bernard and Brandon Ray, is a cool take on small-town life, another song that’ll almost certainly tug at the memories and pride of fans from the heartland (where Houston and I both originally come from), as well as small towns we’re aware of in areas most people don’t think of unless they live there, like here in Massachusetts, where our small towns aren’t much different from small towns everywhere. Anyway, Houston’s voice carries its usual power and emotion, very clean and strong but relatable, while the music itself includes an uplifting tempo and well-placed guitar hooks. The song is a little less all about the “boom” than “People We Are” and has a little more git-along in its rhythm, if you know what I mean. It’s still got the punch to be a big hit, but it also has the additional complexity to its rhythm and music bed to give it staying power. With the right placement, this could easily be the small town, American-as-apple-pie song of the summer.

Houston Bernard – "Without You Honey"

image courtesy of Houston Bernard

“Without You Honey,” penned by Houston Bernard, Mary Haller and Adam Steinberg, showcases Houston’s ability to take on a softer tempo. Oh, this is one of those rockin’ ballads, with a dancing guitar solo in the bridge, a sad tinge to the supporting axework and the rhythm, and lyrics like “I’m a fast train runnin’ with nowhere to go without you, honey.” A perfect country music club slow dance song, whether with a live band or from a jukebox. And, of course, Houston’s voice sells it, as it always does. These slow songs really take advantage of the subtle boom at the low end of Houston’s vocal range.

This three-song collection showcases Houston’s broad potential fanbase. And that’s great. But if you’re reading this as a fan, all you really need to know is that these songs are straight-down-the-middle, radio-friendly country music with Houston Bernard’s trademark stamp on them, with a sound that immediately tells you they’re his song. If you’re any kind of a country music fan – or just a good fan of talented artists regardless of genre – you’ll dig these tunes.

Looking Ahead

There aren’t any upcoming shows listed on the “Shows” page of Houston’s website, but that’s where you’ll find them whenever live music returns in earnest. You can keep up with Houston’s daily goings-on on at Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.

Single Review: Anne Harris – “Over”

Anne Harris – "Over"

image courtesy of Frank Roszak Promotions

Single Review of Anne Harris: “Over” (feat. Markus James)

Chicago-based singer-songwriter/fiddle player Anne Harris is joined by critically acclaimed singer-songwriter Markus James on this single, “Over.”

“Over” opens with music that paints a vivid picture of a slow canoe ride through a swamp, with some loose picking supporting a slowly rising, building-in-power vocal. The strings sound a bit like they’re crying, as the power of the music rises, barely perceptibly but quietly defiantly. The song would serve as an ideal scene-setter early in a movie, perhaps as a slow-moving camera scans the slightly unsettling countryside while the opening credits are running… or, obviously, a slow canoe ride through a swamp.

For me, this is a quietly engaging song, one that’s ideal for an at-work playlist because it has interesting elements to it, but it never has those consciousness-piercing moments that’ll interrupt my work. Very cool vibe; be sure to check it out.

Looking Ahead

There are several live dates listed on the “Tour” page of Anne Harris’ website, beginning with a Saturday, July 10th performance at the North Atlantic Blues Festival in Rockland, ME.

Markus James doesn’t have any shows listed on the “Events” tab of his Facebook page at the moment, but check back to see if shows are added.

Single Reviews: Divine Astronaut – “Undone” and “Whither”

Divine Astronaut

photo courtesy of Divine Astronaut

Single Reviews of Divine Astronaut: “Undone” and “Whither”

“Undone” was released as a single in late 2019, followed by “Whither” in the summer of 2020. These aren’t even Divine Astronaut‘s most recent singles, as “Voices” and “Ransom” dropped in the summer and fall of 2020, respectively, with a brand new video for the song “Only You”, showcasing perhaps DA’s softest side, joining them just a month ago. But “Undone” and “Whither” are the two MP3s that were sent my way last fall, and I’ve been enjoying in my playlist for several months now. So consider this an introduction to Divine Astronaut, and then go check out these two songs plus the group’s newer releases.

By “group”, I mean “duo.” Divine Astronaut consists of vocalist Livvy Holland and producer/multi-instrumentalist Moonhead. Livvy’s voice is that of a decade-spanning vocalist, while Moonhead’s music bed is a modern, buzzy, electronic wall of sound that simultaneously recalls ’80s New Wave and DJ-based modern electronic rock arena events. Indeed, the sound of Divine Astronaut is big enough, broad enough, and powerful enough to dub them an arena act, as it both fills the room and lends itself to the sort of light shows that would energize a stadium or a night sky.

Divine Astronaut – "Undone"

image courtesy of Divine Astronaut

It’s not surprising that Moonhead has cited as influences producers Trevor Horn and BT, as well as bands including Portishead, Bjork, Enigma, Peter Gabriel, Massive Attack, NIN, and Radiohead. The Bjork influence coincides just a touch with Livvy’s vocals, particularly in the sparser moments of “Whither,” though just a little, as her vocals are big, textured, and powerful, even when she sings softly. Livvy’s voice can slice through the mist, the fog, and a seriously dense music bed, as she displays more on “Undone,” between the two songs.

Turning specifically to these two songs, which are a bit yin and yang, showcase different sides of Divine Astronaut’s musical capabilities. The vocals on “Whither” advance timidly, tentatively, almost uncertainly, accompanying an understated music bed that relies on subtlety to convey strength and power, including a nice little bit of synthwork mimicking a ’70s classic rock guitar run during a late-song bridge.

“Undone,” meanwhile, will light up the arena and get a sea of fans moving, as it starts quietly, merely hinting at the power about to be unleashed. In my memory between listens, I imagine remembering Livvy launch into some serious power as she sings “when it all comes down,” but it’s illusion set up by the music and her voice gearing up and crescendoing specifically as she delivers those lyrics. Moonhead’s synthwork is louder and crunchier on “Undone,” though it’s again illusory, as the music never really builds to the power it conveys. Though I like both of these songs, this is perhaps my favored of the two, though for personal reasons rather than musical ones, as it recreates an energetic, packed concert arena abuzz with excitement and noise.

Divine Astronaut

photo courtesy of Divine Astronaut

Divine Astronaut has captured something special in the pairing of this duo’s talents, resulting in modern synth-driven pop-rock with broad-based appeal, music that’s cool, well-written, and performed exceptionally well, able to reach well beyond the band’s core set of listeners, offering the constant opportunity for breakout hits. On the Geoff Wilbur’s Music Blog spectrum, comparing Divine Astronaut to artists I’ve reviewed here at the Blog, I’d pair Divine Astronaut with ZagreuS and The Sweetest Condition, falling somewhere between the two but more likely to share a stage with ZagreuS.

An upcoming Divine Astronaut album, to be entitled Made Not in Berlin, is reported to be scheduled for a 2021 release, and I’m looking forward to hearing it. And catching a Divine Astronaut live performance. Whether in a large arena or a small listening room – hopefully with a great lighting system – I’d expect it to be an event.

Single Review: 3Mind Blight feat. Trysette – “Situations”

3MindBlight and Trysette

photo courtesy of Trysette

Single Review of 3Mind Blight feat. Trysette: “Situations”

This song is a pairing of two seemingly disparate musical talents whose commonality is as versatile songwriters and performers. 3Mind Blight is a longtime music producer and award-winning songwriter who launched his career as a solo recording artist in 2018, combining influences ranging from rap to metal, orchestral to pop, and beyond. Trysette (who we’ve reviewed at the Blog several times over the years) is an Australian singer, songwriter, and pianist whose solo performances have made her one of the Blog‘s favorite artists, though she may be best recognized by those who don’t subscribe to Geoff Wilbur’s Music Blog as a backup singer for Bob Malone and for John Fogerty; also, as a co-writer of “Under My Skin,” a current chart-climber released by Nashville recording artist Nate Smith.

3Mind Blight feat. Trysette - Situations

image courtesy of Trysette

On “Situations,” 3Mind Blight leans more heavily, though not exclusively into the rap end of his repertoire, musically and lyrically intersecting with Trysette’s soaring, high vocals to tell a tale of emotions.

The song kicks off with an alien, deep-sea-echoing music bed one might expect in dream pop, with 3Mind Blight delivering rhythmic rapping vocals that he extends into more tuneful, soaring spoken word, then giving way to Trysette’s higher, spoken-sung reply atop a lighter more airy musical backdrop.

As the song progresses, the vocals trend more toward traditional singing, while the floating synth extends a feeling of uneasiness, until Trysette’s vocals and 3Mind Blight’s late-song rap resolve the internal lyrical conflict that was reflected by the music.

3Mind Blight

3Mind Blight; photo courtesy of Trysette

The song’s sudden ending suggests perhaps a solid resolution to the lyrical message, though the uneasy music bed that lasts right up until the very final note hints that perhaps a clean resolution isn’t so easy.

It’s a well-crafted song with a radio-ready length, coming in easily under three minutes. The song was released a couple weeks ago, and it’s no surprise it has started garnering attention for this pair of talented artists. No foolin’.

Looking Ahead

You can keep up with 3Mind Blight’s music on Spotify, and you can see what he’s up to via his Twitter account.


Trysette; photo courtesy of Trysette

In addition to her songwriting collaborations during COVID-19, Trysette has recorded a series of cool “Shoot the Breeze” videos on YouTube, chatting with some of her “rock star friends,” and she generally shares any new goings-on with her fans via her Facebook page. Also, when she’s back on the road again, you may be able to catch her performance schedule on the “Tour Dates” page of her website.

Looking Back

To continue your new-music discovery tour, if you’re not already familiar with Trysette’s catalog, don’t forget to check out some of the Blog‘s other reviews of her music. Most recently, I reviewed her multi-artist collaboration TRX+J. A few years before that, I reviewed her album of covers, Shadowgirl. And back in 2015, I reviewed her full-length release of originals, Feel So Pretty.

Single Review: Urban Ladder Society – “Juke Joint Lover”


Urban Ladder Society – "Juke Joint Lover"

image courtesy of Frank Roszak Promotions

Single Review of Urban Ladder Society: “Juke Joint Lover”

Urban Ladder Society dubs itself as an all-star band, and you sure can tell by the tight musicianship, the musical twists and turns, and the experienced touch of knowing just when to turn on the heat and when to dial it back. The band is comprised of Victa Nooman, Henry Roosterman Stevens, Chris Gill, and Jante Mayon.

The song itself, “Juke Joint Lover,” is an instant classic. It is a steady, rhythmically-progressing classic blues tune, structured to easily fit solos and jams that I assume could stretch for several minutes when performed live. The beat is smooth, dripping with attitude befitting the lyrics, “I can be your juke joint lover. Let me love you like no other. I can be your juke joint lover. You can call me your big brother. If you’ sick ‘n tired of your man, darlin’ just give me your hand, and we can.” This five-minute, six second tune chugs along like any other smooth blues joint until the 3:07 mark, when… boom! If you hadn’t already known, you realize this song lives at the intersection of blues-meets-hip-hop, and ULS includes a top-shelf rapper onboard in Victa Nooman. Rhythmically varied, the word-heavy rap atop a classic blues musical backdrop with texture-adding guitar riffing dancing throughout, does most of the vocal heavy lifting the rest of the way, guiding this tune to its conclusion. It gives Urban Label Society a unique element not found in most blues bands, an original sound whose individual ingredients are blended deftly together to appeal to a broad audience. This song is my first introduction to Urban Ladder Society, but I’ll definitely be back for more.

Single Review: Victoria Bailey – “Skid Row (Acoustic)”

Victoria Bailey

photo by Stefanie Vinsel Johnson; photo courtesy of Skye Media & Rock Ridge Music

Single Review of Victoria Bailey: “Skid Row (Acoustic)” (Rock Ridge Music)

Last year, Victoria Bailey released her album Jesus, Red Wine & Patsy Cline. “Skid Row” was one of the songs on that album. This acoustic version of “Skid Row,” however, is a standalone single; it does not appear on the album.

Victoria Bailey - Skid Row (Acoustic)

image courtesy of Skye Media & Rock Ridge Music

The song is a terrific introduction for those of us who maybe haven’t heard Victoria before. A strong, steady strum provides a firm backdrop for Victoria’s voice. And what a voice! She has an old-fashioned warble but a modern firmness, perfect for bringing an old-fashioned dancehall number like “Skid Row” to modern fans.

Victoria showcases her storytelling skills in the mostly-sung but also-a-little-spoken verses, crooning amiably and memorably in the verses.

I decided to review this song with an uninitiated ear, so I haven’t gone back to check out Jesus, Red Wine & Patsy Cline, but after a couple dozen listens of this track… well, I’m a-gonna! Victoria is a rare memorable voice in a crowded Americana field. Give her a listen. And this acoustic version of “Skid Row” is a great place to start.

Upcoming Performances

Victoria Bailey

photo by Stefanie Vinsel Johnson; photo courtesy of Skye Media & Rock Ridge Music

You can find Victoria’s upcoming live performances at the “Live” page of her website. There is currently one show listed, OC Music Presents Music on the Runway at Hangar 24 in Irvine, CA, on Saturday, April 3rd. There’s additional detail on the Facebook event listing. Of course, I always suggest calling ahead when heading out during the pandemic because situations can change quickly.

Victoria has done some live-streamed events. The next one I’m aware of is Friday, April 2nd at 6:00 PM PDT (9:00 PM EDT) as part of the “Live and Socially Distanced” series on The Boot’s Facebook page. I’m a little concerned that I can’t find it mentioned anywhere online right now, but keep your eyes open for it.

Single Review: Joëtta – “Talk to Me”

Single artwork: Joëtta – "Talk to Me"

photo by Ayla Maagdenberg; photo courtesy of Joëtta Zoetelief

Single Review of Joëtta: “Talk to Me”

You first read about Joëtta at this blog when I reviewed “Better Than Me,” the single from Wiens Lief, the Netherlands-based trio of which Joëtta comprised one-third.

Joëtta’s sweet, wistful voice at the beginning of “Talk to Me” quickly shows a warmth and texture. The song itself is somewhat staccato, haltingly moving forward, dripping like water and like the lyric’s thoughts through most of the song, allowing even a small rush of tempo and addition of richer instrumentation to feel like a significant build in power. “Talk to Me” uses its expansive musical open space to create intimacy, and it’s over all too soon. A house concert, a coffeehouse (but hopefully a quiet one), even a larger performance space with great acoustics; these would all be ideal locations to hear this song performed live.

Looking Back: “Here”


photo by Ayla Maagdenberg; photo courtesy of Joëtta Zoetelief

“Talk to Me” is Joëtta’s second single; it’s a follow-up to “Here.” After a sparse 15 second intro, “Here” is a bit more uptempo and gets the blood flowing a little following “Talk to Me.” Joëtta uses a richer, fuller – yet still high and sweet – vocal on “Here.” The lyrics, as well, are interesting: “Hasn’t been easy feeling lonely. So many things I’ve been avoiding. So relieved when I am on the mend. Then you’re back again.” From a listening standpoint, the strength of “Here” is amplified by placing it after “Talk to Me,” so I quickly decided to order the two songs in this manner on my playlist.

Looking Ahead

From Joëtta’s website, these appear to be the first two songs en route to a debut solo EP. One reason did a two-in-one review above is because a vocalist like Joëtta is likely to emphasize different elements of her talent on different songs. For that reason, it can be difficult to capture an artist properly in a single review. For the very same reason, I’m looking forward to hearing her full collection.

Also, you’ll find upcoming performances listed on the “Shows” page of Joëtta’s website. Currently, due to COVID-19, there are none scheduled.