Raul Malo (from the album Quarantunes Vol. 1 available on Mono Mundo Recordings)
Way, way, way better than streaming home movies of a family vacation, Raul Malo displays the music he collected over the course of 2020. The Mavericks frontman is a performer, so when he thought about how he could manage his mental state and what he could do to provide help during the pandemic the answer came easy…..sing out! The first collection of cuts comes as Quarantunes Vol. 1. As a description of intention and the songs gathered for Quarantunes Vol. 1, Raul shared that ‘as the pictures came in of empty streets across the globe, it was apparent this pandemic was going to last a while. This project stemmed from the idea that we were all in this together — everyone at home, doing what they can. It started in my home studio one rainy day, just me and the Mellotron, recording songs I’d never done before. As time went on, I brought in other talented players to contribute: Hector Tellez Jr, my sons Dino and Max, my friends The Band of Heathens, and of course The Mavericks. Although this quarantine chapter will be behind us one day, I hope this record can serve as a reminder that even in the darkest of times, there’s always room for a song’.
As The Mavericks, Quarantunes Vol. 1 balances between original and covers, the group launching into a eerily prescient “(Waiting for) The World to End” and “Back in Your Arms Again” as they present the cinemagraphic “Sinners and Saints” in wide-screen glory. The band offer cover versions of tracks from Neil Diamond (“Sweet Caroline”), America (“Ventura Highway”), and The Beatles (“Here Comes the Sun”). Joining with buddies The Band of Heathens, Raul Malo delivers George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”, the album offering renditions of music from Bruce Springsteen with “Jersey Girl” and Nat King Cole in “Ramblin’ Rose”. Full orchestration comes through the keyboards when Raul Malo croons 50’s and 60’s Pop with “Moonglow” and “All of Me”, Quarantunes Vol.1 bringing Lisset Diaz for “Santa Lucia”. A reverbed-drenched cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s reverberate’s long past the last note while Raul Malo closes Quarantunes Vol. 1 with a tender wish for a better tomorrow in Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”.
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Brigitte DeMeyer (from the album Seeker, available from BDM Music) (by Brian Rock)
Brigitte DeMeyer searches for answers on her eighth album, Seeker. One thing is certain though, the talented singer/songwriter with the sultry songbird vocals is definitely not searching to find her voice. She’s already got that down pat. Her Sheryl Crow meets Norah Jones voice is perfectly suited for her style of Jazzy Folk Americana. At turns intimate and whispery like a coffeehouse singer, then bold and bombastic like a concert hall diva; DeMeyer conveys dramatic mood and motion with her vocal phrasing.
The title song, “Seeker”, was written in response to a sudden and unexpected relocation from her home in Nashville to San Francisco to deal with a family crisis. Starting off, ‘Oh my mother, oh sweet Jesus, tell me what you know’, the song plays like a musical prayer. A single acoustic guitar and a light, metronome drumbeat help her sing her prayer with occasional dramatic piano chords thrown in to convey heightened emotion. Her voice is intimate and pleading as she confesses, ‘my seeking days have just begun’. Sometimes admitting you don’t have all the answers and learning to trust a higher power is the first step to finding answers. The timbre of Brigitte DeMeyer’s voice perfectly balances that moment of apprehension and hope as we step tentatively into the unknown.
She continues to showcase her intimate and vulnerable side on “Roots and Wings and Bones”, “All the Blue”, “Already In”, and the Gospel-tinged “Louisiana”; the latter of which is a master class on pitch and breath control. Brigitte DeMeyer unleashes her Bluesy, torch singer side in this sultry, slow-burn tribute to the Crescent City. DeMeyer manages to combine her sultry and playful sides in the Piedmont Blues of “Cat Man Do” singing ‘when he get on the strip, he so tragically hip. Nobody know how he do’ she moans the story of a hep cat on the prowl for love. The funky dobro and piano make the song slink and sloop like an alley cat at midnight. “Salt of the Earth” finds DeMeyer channeling a little Dusty Springfield Memphis Soul. “Calamity Gone” adds a funky Jazz backbeat to that Soul sound. “Ain’t No Mister” finds her layering smooth, Norah Jones vocals over Vince Guaraldi piano syncopations. “Wishbone” is a spritely Folk anthem about achieving balance and perspective in life. Singing ‘you don’t know the right till you’ve been wronged. You don’t know alone till you belong’ she reminds us that you can’t appreciate the highs of life until you’ve experienced the lows. Understanding this helps make the lows a little more bearable.
Being a seeker means admitting that you don’t have the answers - but believing that the answers are out there somewhere. Brigitte DeMeyer reminds us to enjoy the little moments in life as we seek a greater understanding of the big issues. Wherever you are on your journey, take the time to enjoy the simple pleasure of these songs of comfort sung with impeccable style. (by Brian Rock)
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Israel Nash (from the album Topaz, Desert Folklore Music) (by Chris Wheatley)
‘I grew up in little churches that were in the middle of nowhere in Missouri’, says singer-songwriter Israel Nash, whose latest work, Topaz sees the light of day this month (March 2021). Israel Nash is something of a musician's musician, a thoughtful, cerebral artist who earned himself a degree in political science whilst moonlighting as Rock band leader at night. Six years spent in New York saw him gain plaudits from broadminded music publications such as MOJO, and a growing number of appreciative fans. Nash is a person whose roots never really left the country. Following the Big Apple adventure, he and his wife invested in their ‘forever home’; a small acreage in Dripping Springs, Texas.
Topaz was recorded over the space of a year, in a hut-studio hand-built on Nash's property. It's largely a solo effort, though musician friends from Austin contributed. Israel Nash clearly relished the freedom to record, any time, day or night. ‘It's allowed me to capture sounds and ideas, to really get stuff out of my head and into the world’ he says. “Dividing Lines” opens the album with haunting guitars and slowly-unfurling beats, reminiscent of the eerie, universe-echoing sounds of Pink Floyd. Subtle horns, whirling guitars, and stirring percussion rise and fall adorned by choral vocals. Nash's voice is charming, full of character and pathos, strong enough to carry any song. The arrangement spreads out organically into a delightful concoction of 60s-sounding brass, wide expanses of lush harmonies and striking melodies. It is at once both epic and personal. The only record this reviewer can think comes close would be Dennis Wilson's remarkable Pacific Ocean Blue.
From there on, Topaz continues to surprise and impress. On “Down in the Country”, Israel Nash sings with great conviction and passion over a wondrous haze of psychedelic-tinged beauty. Brass punctuates and embellishes; bright flashes of light through the multi-coloured dream fog. This is a track constructed from shade-your-eyes sunlight, limitless open spaces, and pure joy. Nash's knack for crafting compelling song structures is admirable. There's so much going on here yet it never feels overwhelming. Listening to Topaz is akin to diving into a shimmering lake in a high mountain pass.
“Stay” bobs and weaves gently, a dense-yet-supple affair with a deep, soulful feel. Strings and keys lift and drop, wind and turn. You'll hear shades of classic 70s Soul here, and Nash certainly has the voice to match. If The Beatles had recorded at Stax or late-period Motown, if you can forgive the journalistic short-cut, they may well have sounded something like this. The slightly harder-edged “Indiana” thumps and bustles, buoyed by those lovely horns and Nash's ever-relatable delivery… I think Gram Parsons would have loved this. “Pressure” takes us out with subtle Latin rhythms and strummed guitar. As ever, it's the small details Nash scatters like stardust which make the magic.
‘I hope Topaz can be a space for people to just feel’ Israel Nash says. ‘Feelings are what move us to act’. Feelings are also what makes this set so captivating. This is a record birthed by sincere and heartfelt pleasure in the creative act. Both lyrically and musically, there's plenty to absorb here. You won't regret taking the trip.
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Rob Leines (from the album Blood, Sweat & Beers available as a self-release) (by Bryant Liggett)
Rob Leines has left the polish on the back burner. Hell, polish isn’t anywhere near the stove nor the kitchen, his latest Blood, Sweat & Beers, has Leines showing grit on tunes that dance from Classic Country to dirty Folk, badass boogie to Southern Rock. The first cuts provide a one-two punch, singular guitar riffs that play alone before the band piles in; track one “Bailing Hay” a shout-out for the working stiff working class, “Saturday Night” a blast of Country Punk. Rob Leines can also lay down the barroom ballads. “Patty Lynn” is a heartbreaker about a gal whose ‘the worst damn thing since the poison in my vein’ while “Hold On” is gutsy Folk number as Rob Leines sings ‘I’m gonna love you like a drunkard loves rye’.
A flat-picking intro kicks off “Rock & Roll Honky Tonk Life” before ripping into an autobiographical tune about a dude who ;works my frets to the bone, have a hard time sleeping alone’. It’s a tune loaded with all the road woes of a touring band playing roadhouses, a highway song inside a Country Rock tune. “Good Time” is one big New Orleans flavored hook and the album closer, “Curse the Sun”, is driven by a huge riff. Blood, Sweat & Beers is an album with a large band driving a hefty charge, a Rocker dipped in the blasting Blues of ZZ Top and the rowdy of Jason and the Scorchers all delivered with roaring, barroom fervor.
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Son of the Velvet Rat (from the album “Solitary Company” on Fluff & Gravy Records) (by Joe Burcaw)
There seems to be a trend of European couples opting to venture west to the California dunes in search of musical nirvana. The majestic Mojave desert is also a focal point of reference oddly enough. This is my third review within the past few months concentrating on duos (who are romantically linked) packing their bags for highway adventures across the vast American landscape. Son of the Velvet Rat is comprised of husband/wife Georg Altziebler and Heike Binder. Recent release Solitary Companyalbum opener entitled “Alicia” had me initialing thinking it was an odd choice for song sequencing, but in hindsight I see it as a brilliant attempt at building the listener up into this group’s cacophony of Euro-gypsy Folk leanings. The looseness and open feel lends itself to harmonic improvisation, at least in my mind it does. I would love to hear this live and see how the violin weaves in and out of the instrumental breakdowns between verses, subtle yet imperative.
The Solitary Company title track brought me back to Sting’s masterpiece, The Soul Cages, from a musical standpoint, highlighting the dark tonality of the melodica and dark undertones of moral codes being violated. Altzieber’s protagonist seems to be in search of human connection (or is he just a perverted voyeur?) watching a man and woman make love at The Carlton Arms Hotel and feeling like a honeybee retiring to its hive. I got the sense Neil Young was kept in mind for the vocal inflections, Georg’s gravelly voice delivered in a top-notch performance. “Beautiful Disarray” has an interesting 1920’s inspired video to coincide with the single. Bits and pieces of this montage reminded me of something Fritz Lang would have produced back in his day. Again, the video didn’t fit to the music but it somehow works artistically. The hard-hitting backbeat drives this tune, and the chords don’t deviate from verse to chorus which can get songwriters into trouble without a strong melody to balance the monotonous repetition. Son of the Velvet Rat succeed by adding a gorgeous choral hook that stays imbedded in your head hours after listening to the track. Think Shawn Mullins with spoken word blending into catchy hooks the kids will be singing and humming years to come. It cannot be denied “The Only Child” shares the same chord progression as Hendrix’s “Hey Joe”, but what the heck we have a
limited twelve note music system to choose from here in the west, so we’re bound to write music that sounds similar to each other. What can I say, Altzieber once again adds his staple vocal gravel pivoting this beautiful work of art into a mature zone of eclectic bliss. I would love to see this duo live within their own element, surrounded by desert dwellers under the stars amongst the sand........
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Sunday Wilde (from the album Peace in Trouble available as a self-release) (by Bryant Liggett)
Sunday Wilde has managed to bring a bit of the Big Easy to the wilderness of Northern Ontario. The Canadian vocalist, hailing from somewhere close to the Artic Circle in the vastness that is that aforementioned part of Canada, has as much New Orleans swing and southern Blues bravado as anyone from hailing from The Crescent City. Sunday Wilde’s latest, Peace in Trouble, is a piano driven earthy Blues, hearty and strong amidst stripped down instrumentation. Sunday Wilde brings you into a gritty nightclub on her sultry album opener “Trouble”, her growl matched by the harmonica of Harpdog Brown, who adds dirty harp throughout the album.
A clarinet bounces with her New Orleans boogie piano on “Never Get to Win” and “All Alone”. “Too Damn Cute”, once again with Harpdog Brown, is loaded with a Bluesy chug and “Will Never Stop” is a heartbreaker of a ballad. “Wondering If He Might” has Wilde pondering the locale and actions of her man in a rousing Blues number, Sunday’s vocals gritty and aggressive as she rolls into “He Does It”, this time Wilde praising her man’s more seductive and satisfactory nature. “Peace for Everyone” is a somber closer, a gospel blues ballad that wraps up a good-vibe record on a serious note. The horns and Brown’s harp give Peace in Trouble a tight, sharp and punchy nudge into boogie territory. But Sunday Wilde provides all the heavy lifting, she and her keyboards laying down a timeless sound that is as much 1950 as it is 2021.
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David Olney & Anana Kaye (from the album Whispers and Sighs on Schoolkids Records) (by Joe Burcaw)
Folk songwriter David Olney may not be a household name but his songs have been recorded and performed by well-known names such as Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, and Steve Earle, just to name a few. The music industry lost another good one on January 18, 2020 when David Olney passed away suddenly while on stage, from a heart attack, immediately after performing a tune at the 30A Songwriter Festival in Florida. His latest release, Whispers and Sighs, became his swan song recording with collaborations by the up-and-coming eastern European musical couple, Anana Kaye and Irakli Gabriel.
These songs, in an eerie way, seem to foreshadow David Olney’s flight to the afterlife, or whatever system you happen to follow from here to there. That brings me to the off-the-review topic of premonitions and self-fulfilling prophecies. Some of the subject matter on Whispers and Sighsdeals with saying goodbye, or sending messages to a loved one from another realm. Johnny Cash recorded an album of covers, one of which was Trent Reznor’s “Hurt”. The video was very dark and focused on Cash’s frail physical state. It was, in a way, showing us this vulnerable state of being moments before making a forever exit. Every time I see that video I get choked up by the haunting imagery. Reznor has gone on record stating Johnny’s version is better than the original, and I agree. David Olney has certainly taped into a source greater than all of us when writing this material, but was he, on some level, making peace with his impending fate? I digress, back to the review.
‘My Favorite Goodbye’ hints at being a somber love song that eschews happy go lucky, lovey-dovey lyrics, delving right into the shadowy territory of inevitable departure. Was this meant for a loved one to hear after the fact? ‘Time takes everything but love’…. it sure seems like a message to me. Olney’s somewhat pitchy vocals give us a sense of imperfection that I appreciate so much in this age of auto-tuned, sterile mechanics. He wasn’t afraid to show this side in order to get the right performance to cut through. I highly recommend listening to this track with the lights off and candles lit. ‘My Last Dream of You’ highlights the strength and power of Anana Kaye’s vocal style, very reminiscent of early Kate Bush (pre-Running Up That Hill) that creates a sort of interpretive dance movement sensation throughout your body. I was literally taken on a mystical journey when listening to this beautiful song. Music is so incredibly powerful, and Anana Kaye’s talent of holding the listener steady for the complete 3:52 shows how mesmerizing and trance- inducing her voice is. I hit repeat many times for this beauty. Finally, ‘Lie to Me, Angel” is a great up-tempo Rocker featuring a classically influenced 16-bar piano solo which hits you out of the blue. I was waiting for the guitar solo to kick in at this point but it never happened, and that’s hip. Put aside the lyrics and pay close attention to the ebb and flow of the instrumentation, fuzz bass, crunchy guitars, and a Charles Dickens’ influenced voice ramblings all the way to the finish line in ‘A Christmas Carol’ sort of way. It saddens me that David will not be able to reap the benefits of his labors but hopefully Anana and company will do the music justice and do their best assisting in the promotion of this special album. It would have been nice to see this project performed live, but then again, some things were meant to be left untouched. Here’s to you David Olney as we raise a toast in your memory and in the wonderful body of work you’ve amassed in this lifetime as we whisper and sigh. (by Joe Burcaw)
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Valerie June (from the album The Moon and the Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers available on Fantasy Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
It’s a record that’s ambient, earthy and grounded. The Moon and the Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers, the latest from Valerie June, finds the Memphis, Tennessee Soul singer digging into R&B and Folk Gospel while drifting amid sonic bursts of dreamy exploration. Rolling piano kicks off The Moon and the Stars with a don’t-go ballad in “Stay”, the album drifting over the :55 second New Age “Stay Meditation”. Dig deep into “You and I” to discover a World Beat vibe while “Colors” is Folk simplicity, Valerie June’s voice joined by a plucked guitar and a stripped down, finger-snap rhythm section.
Valerie June is joined by Memphis music royalty, Carla Thomas, on “African Proverb” and “Call Me A Fool”, a musical meeting of Memphis’s soulful past and Soul heavy present. “Fallin’” is Valerie June with a guitar, strumming a campfire singalong. “Within You” has subtle breakbeats, a dreamy dose of trip-hop with a dash of old-school Soul. Her most accessible and ear friendly cut comes toward the end in “Why the Bright Stars Glow”. The track finds Valerie June drifting into modern R&B and groove-heavy Pop as she keeps the New Age undertones rolling through to the end with a :90-second blast of flute and environmental soundscapes with “Starlight Ethereal Silence”. Electro-blips and rhythms are all served up by Valerie June in a comfortable blend, delivered gentle and soulful-soft in a New Age atmosphere via a record that’s easy on the ears.
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Melissa Carper (from the album Daddy’s Country Gold available on Mae Music Records) (by Brian Rock)
Melissa Carper looks to the past in her debut solo release, Daddy’s Country Gold. The vocalist, and bassist, for The Carper Family and Buffalo Gals steps into the spotlight with her distinctive Sarah Carter meets Ella Fitzgerald voice. But to compare her voice to anyone really doesn’t do justice to this one-of-a-kind vocal talent. Melissa Carper’s voice is decidedly Country but not twangy. It has a Jazz-tinged elegance but with a sense of playfulness. However you describe it, her voice definitely evokes a distant musical era. Alternating between Country ballads and Western Swing, Melissa Carper delivers a dozen anachronistic originals that capture universal themes of hurt and hope through the black and white lens of Depression and WWII era musical styles.
“I Almost Forgot About You” is an upright bass and piano, Country-Jazz fusion ballad. Singing about a lost love that never quite leaves her mind, she sings ‘I don’t remember when we met. There’s a lot of things that I forget. If I could only forget to remember you, I could almost forget about you’. With a melancholy tone, Carper sings that not even nights out with friends, spring’s first blossoms, or the prospect of new loves are enough to drive her lost lover from memory. “Back When” incorporates fiddle and steel guitar to mourn a relationship whose once fiery flame has begun to dim. “You’re Still My Love” and “It’s Better If You Never Know” combine the same musical elements to sing about loneliness and love gone wrong. Carper adds a more orchestral feel to “The Stars Are Aligned”; with piano, violin, and whisk drum brushes, she evokes a Vera Lynn sentimentality while creating an elegant scene of romantic bliss. It is an instant classic for slow dancing with the one you love.
Melissa Carper unveils her playful side on “Would You Like To Get Some Goats”. Daddy’s Country Gold increases the tempo a bit and adding Western Swing rhythms, Melissa invites her lover to bake pies, make hot sauce, and do all the things that make for a happy home in the country. “Old Fashioned Gal, “Arkansas Hills,” “I’m Musing You,” and “Many Moons Ago” all pay homage to the days of Bob Wills and The Light Crust Doughboys, and feature irresistible two-step dance rhythms. To call this album Daddy’s Country Gold misses the mark by a generation or two but the album certainly is a golden tribute to the early days of Country music. Melissa Carper’s voice and wit reinvigorate these historic musical styles and give them new life in this digital age. (by Brian Rock)
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Olivia Ellen Lloyd (from the album Loose Cannon available as a self-release) (by Joe Burcaw)
One of the most gratifying parts of this writing gig is discovering new up and coming artists like Olivia Ellen Lloyd, who deserves a grandiose shout out for her debut release Loose Cannon on Brooklyn Basement Records. I know I sound bias, but anyone hitting the pavement full force in the hipster nation of Brooklyn, New York will always get my full attention. I spent close to fifteen years of my life there and know all too well how colorful, vibrant, and diverse the music scene is. Olivia Ellen Lloyd is, ‘like most New Yorkers’, a transplant from the Appalachian Mountains of Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Her music and lyrics are an open book to the grief and personal growth she has undergone as a young woman yet there are hints of optimism swirling around subliminally throughout this album’s literary exchange. Her unadulterated use of raw emotion allows us into her struggles with depression and coping with the aftermath of suicide, a marital breakup, and multiple deaths of best friends and romantic partners. Heavy stuff, but this old soul seems fit for flight into a new musical chapter of her interesting yet challenging life. ‘I’m still sitting at the bar, and I know damn well I should just go home’ states her resume in the song ‘Shepherdstown’. This video is a true testament to Llyod’s clever directorial position of juxtaposing herself into three different camera angles, but only using two at a time. I loved her character development as the song progresses, and as the protagonist gets more inebriated with each shot taken! A classic situation of small town shenanigans when there is nothing else to do but frequenting the local watering hole to splash down your sorrows, definitely a fun tune to drink along to.
The Loose Cannon title track immediately took me by the boot straps yearning for more by the end of 4 minutes. The soft vocals against the finger- picking acoustic guitar is so lush and sultry, almost like a Norah Jones ballad from early on in her career. Olivia has this Dido-like quality to her vocal inflections that calms one’s nerves and soothes one’s soul. This is a prime example of how subtle vocal inflections can really make a song soar and let me tell you, Ms. Llyod rose to the occasion on this one soaring high above the heavens gracefully. “Emily” has a very powerful anthemic message behind its super hooky chorus. I know this sounds so cliche, but if you were to close your eyes, this incredibly special piece of music (which centers around her best friend’s sudden death) takes you back to 1974 when Dylan and The Band toured together. It sounded as though Oliva Ellen Lloyd hired these specific musicians to back her on this one. The music flows ever so elegantly, and creates aural cohesion from start to finish, a gargantuan two thumbs up from Siskel and Ebert!. Olivia Ellen Lloyd’s music encapsulates what it means to be human, and how to rise out of the ashes of hardship. Go buy her album, you will not be disappointed! (by Joe Burcaw)
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