Bon Bon Vivant (from the album Dancing in the Darkness available on Heroic Doses Records)
There is a sound in the air of New Orleans. It carries life energies five hundred years of diverse citizens. Air, of course, being impossible to see and even tougher to hear unless it is screaming, has trouble having its song heard. Luckily, the musicians of The Big Easy have a fairly seamless connection between the past and present, hearing every note and beat, intuitively translating it into their own words and music. The sound, feel, and abandon of New Orleans is alive and well in hometown band Bon Bon Vivant, and can be clearly heard on the band’s recent release, Dancing in the Darkness.
Back alley Jazz soundtracks the modern Dixieland songs of Bon Bon Vivant, the melodies hanging on tight around the curves and putting the pedal to the metal on straightaways. Dancing in the Darknessspins dizzily in the title track, the promises of the band finding air in the rising rumble of “Hell or High Water” while island rhythms show the steps to dance into oblivion with “Ship is Sinking”. A raucous take on the Grateful Dead’s “Casey Jones”, Bon Bon Vivant rolling out a pirate sea shanty in “The Bones”, turning somber with “Another Broken Heart”, and shouting out for “Lost Soul” on hot breath beats as all share sonic space on Dancing in the Darkness. “Die Young” accepts its fate that ‘we missed our chance to die young” while noir beats shimmy across “Little Evil” and Bon Bon Vivant find a enemy in the past twelve months, and a place to lay blame with “This Year”.
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The Spyrals (from the album Same Old Line available on Fuzz Club Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
The latest from The Spyrals in Los Angeles, California covers some diverse ground. A listen into their own personal record collection, and thus personal influences, hears Same Old Line nodding to Crazy Horse while with closer listens the revealing sounds are reminiscent of The Sonics or The Stooges. Soon you’ll be connecting the dots to early Rock’n’Roll rumbles with Rhythm & Blues along with the Bluesy grit of the Mississippi Hill Country, that aforementioned diverse ground providing hearty acreage for their Spyrals branded Rock’n’Roll.
The Same Old Line title track album opener lays out a mid-tempo Rock chug, the guitar and harmonica fighting for the lead, followed by the power chord intro for “Don’t Turn Me Down” while “Goodbye” is a see you around Rock ballad, the band talking up Rock Royalty credentials from seeing ‘the Rolling Stones, still playing the Blues’. With “There’s A Feeling” clocking in over six minutes, “Bleed” right at the six mark, the sound shows the band can seamlessly stretch into Psychedelic Rock territory, while an old school Doo-Wop cut lives somewhere in “Just Won’t Break”. Jeff Lewis’s slacker drawl is perfect for their fuzzed-out (the label called Fuzz Club) sound, created via recording from a Tascam tape deck. No frills, all fuzz, The Spyrals lay out straight head Rock’n’Roll in a simplistic package. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Danielle Miraglia (from the album Bright Shining Stars available on VizzTone Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Danielle Miraglia isn’t afraid to take ownership. As wonderful as it is to throw out a straight homage to the originator when you record a cover, there’s also something in tossing your own spin into the mix. On her latest in Bright Shining Stars, Danielle Miraglia hops on the Dylan train not once but twice, turning “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome” and “Meet Me in the Morning” into soulful Gospel/Blues cuts. Still recognizable as a Bob Dylan tune while heavy on her gutsy vocals. Dylan covers aside chalk the rest of the record up as a win in the Americana Blues realm; the record kicking off with the short, ambient instrumental “Sounds Like Home” that stands as the guitar intro for the stripped down “C.C. Rider” that follows.
“Pick Up the Gun” is a gutsy, gun control Blues number written from the perspective of an aggressor, a ‘god fearing man’ who would ‘do what a copper would do’. Janice Joplin’s “Turtle Blues” is instrumentally sparse and vocal heavy, “You Can Love Yourself” has an animated bounce, and the standard “When Things Go Wrong (It Hurts me Too)” is played as straight-ahead Blues, beautiful and sad. Danielle Miraglia closes with the Bright Shining Stars title track, again heavy on the vocals, the Blues left behind favoring straight ahead Folk. The nod goes to her acoustic picking ability; matched with big vocals it is a grand pairing for a traditional Blues package. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar (from the album The Reckless One available on Gypsy Soul Records) (by Chris Wheatley)
Canada has never been in short supply of talented musicians, many of whom are understandably influenced by their sonically powerful neighbour. Ontario-born Samantha Martin, who, in her late thirties, might be seen as something of a veteran in the youth-obsessed music business, cites Blues, Rock, Funk and, above all, Soul as her major influences. That her backing group are called Delta Sugar tells us much. Over the past few years Martin has garnered much praise and attention for her vocal skills. The Reckless One is her sixth full-length album, a follow-on from 2018s Run to Me, which achieved the notable accolade of a Juno-Award nomination.
We get twelve original tracks on this album, eleven of which are written or co-written by Martin herself. The sole exception is the interesting choice of Bob Dylan's modern Country Blues classic “Meet Me In The Morning” from Blood on the Tracks. “Love Is All Around” opens the show here. Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar stir up an instantly likeable Stax vibe of deep, funky bass, shuffling drums, swooping brass, swirling organ, and subtle but cutting guitar. There are some lovely backing harmonies, but it's Samantha Martin's vocal, front and centre, which anchor the track. It is a voice which is certainly up the task, strong and clear, powerful enough to forego histrionics, honey-cored with a sandpaper edge. “Meet Me in the Morning” packs an awful lot of swagger, here transformed into a swooping swaying Funk-Rock belter. Delta Sugar whip up an impressive storm, through which the lighthouse-beam of Martin's strident voice shines clear. If Dylan had lent the song to Isaac Hayes, the result may have been something akin to this. Martin & Delta Sugar make it their own, which is no easy achievement. “One Heartbreak” sways with a start-stop beat. ‘Three hail Mary's in a cheap hotel’ sings Martin ‘I know you're not happy, you're looking for a sign’. It's a striking composition.
“Sacrifice” is, for me, the stand-out track. Driven by frenetic acoustic guitar and keening strings, it is a curious and highly appealing mix of The Electric Light Orchestra, 10CC, and classic Motown. I would go so far as to say that this track is quite stunning. There's a Beatle-esque daring to the way that it slips and slides and commits all. “So I'll Always Know” is a beautiful soul-ballad, which ringing chimes, vamping brass and gorgeous clouds of backing-vocals. “All That I Am” bounces gracefully through Supremes territory. ‘There's no telling where I'm going, I can't remember where I've been’ sings Martin, through a light arrangement of keys, percussion and spiky, echoing guitar-chords. “Who Do You” closes the album, a strutting funk-blues which further showcases the strong interplay between brass and guitar, drums, bass and voices.
If I were going to be critical (and that is, after all, my job), I would have to say that, lyrically, The Reckless One lacks a little in range and depth. At times, the wall-of-sound production obscures Samantha Martin's voice a tad too much. Both these points, however, are highly subjective. What can't be denied is the efficacy of Martin's extraordinary vocals and the power and skill of her band. From first to last, there's no let-up in the quality. The compositions and arrangements are ear-catching and affecting. It would be fair to say that, while they sometimes stick a little too close to the conventional, Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar do their thing very well indeed. While I would love to hear them tackle more adventurous material more often, such as the astonishing “Sacrifice,” The Reckless One remains a solid effort, which should do much to further cement the band's reputation. (by Chris Wheatley)
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Dan Mangan (from the album Thief on Arts & Crafts Productions) (by Chris Wheatley)
Another day, another talented Canadian musician, this time the eclectic singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Dan Mangan. Titled, with splendid wryness, Thief, the latest offering from this notable artist is a collection of nine covers, and a very interesting selection it is too. Dan Mangan clearly has a cerebral approach, he has written for both The Guardian and The Huffington Post and the title of his 2009 album Nice, Nice, Nice was inspired by the work of maverick author Kurt Vonnegut. He is also no stranger to hard work and dedication. Mangan recorded his first EP in 2003 at the age of twenty, funded by a bank loan and the good will of musician friends. Fast-forward to 2012 and he picked up a double-helping of Juno Awards, including New Artist of the Year, the epitome of the cliched ten-year overnight success. Dan Mangan is a musician who is always worth listening to, exploring as he does, new ideas and virgin territory, which makes Thief an especially intriguing proposition.
Cover songs are an art-form, or rather they should be. Plenty of cash-in's have been made over the decades with straight-forward re-recordings of hits. It is this writer's often-asserted view that, if you're going to cover a song, you should aim to wrest something new from it. REM's “Losing My Religion” might seem a hard mountain to climb, in that respect, but this is exactly where Mangan starts. I'm happy to say that he is far too good a musician to simply re-hash. The song here, while retaining its compelling pathos and honesty, is transformed into a beguiling whirl of acoustic finger-picked guitar, ghostly echoes of strings and keys, gently pulsing synth multi-tracked vocals and a chorus which is even more catchy than the original version. Throughout it all, Mangan manages to capture a surprisingly light feel, never detracting from simple song-structure and the efficacy of his delicate vocals.
The fabulous Neutral Milk Hotel's “In the Aeroplane Over The Sea” is presented as a moving Folk ballad, complete with whistled melody line. In other hands this could be over-whimsical nonsense, but Dan Mangan injects a worthy amount of genuine emotion. John Hiatt's “Have A Little Faith in Me” is reflected, and a little twisted, through Mangan's lens into a semi-ambient, deeply affecting statement. Dan Mangan's voice calls out like a siren through slightly off-kilter keys and a wash of sound akin to (one imagines) galactic radiation. As with every track here, Mangan, though utilizing some impressive studio wizardry, manages to pull out the essential 'humanity' of each song. Fans of latter-day Peter Gabriel will find much to admire, and rightly so.
The cool neo-Soul of Lauryn Hill's “Ex-Factor” sounds light years away from the original, yet paradoxically is immediately familiar. Mangan's delicate fuzzy beats and soft, burbling keys decorate rather than obfuscate. The lightest touch of piano and drawn-out chords lifts Mangan's floating vocals up to a nuanced stratosphere. These heights provide a beautiful view. At the other end of the scale, so far as choice of material is concerned, and a good indicator of Mangan's width of vision, we have Yukon Blonde's bouncing Pop Rock “Stairway.” Dan Mangan's version is a deep and sparkling, slowed-down display, with thudding, mechanical drums juxtaposed against dancing synth bursts.
Bob Marley's “Chances Are” closes Thief. Arguably, this is a lesser-known track from the great Reggae star. The original is a beautiful, Soul-drenched slow number, with unusual doo-wop backing vocals. In Dan Mangan's hands, glacial, humming chords and flashes of sharp synth circle around his heart-felt delivery, harmonised by a second female voice. In its own, quite different, manner, this is as lovely as Marley's take. (by Chris Wheatley)
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Nora Jean Wallace (from the album BluesWoman available on Severn Records) (by Dave Steinfeld)
It’s ironic that the centerpiece of the new Nora Jean Wallace album Blueswoman is called “Victim” — because she comes across as a survivor more than anything else. Wallace — who was formerly known as Nora Jean Bruso — is a longtime Chicago native but was actually born in Greenwood, Mississippi. She came from a musical family and has been singing since the ‘70s. But Blueswoman is her first album in ages — 16 years to be exact! Her previous effort, Going Back to Mississippi, was well received and even nominated for a BMA. Nora Jean Wallace left music not long after that to care for her ailing mother (who has since passed away). Like a lot of Blues singers, her life experience has informed her work.
Blueswoman was produced by David Earl, and released on his label, Severn Records. It finds Wallace in fine form, not just vocally but also as a songwriter (she penned four of the disc’s 10 tracks, including “Victim”). She’s backed by a stellar group of musicians including Earl himself on guitar, Stanley Banks on keyboards and, on one song, Fabulous Thunderbirds leader Kim Wilson on harmonica. Beyond “Victim,” highlights include the title track, “Martell” and “I’ve Been Watching You.” Nora Jean Wallace opens the latter song by telling a wayward lover, ‘Hey! Where you been? You said you was goin’ to get some cigarettes and that was 10 hours ago!… Where you been? Nope! Don’t give me that. You wasn’t over to your sister house. Your sister ain’t GOT no house!’ Throughout the album, she often plays the role of the jilted woman. But rather than being self-pitying, Wallace usually comes off as resilient and witty. A little more variation in tempo would have been nice, but that’s a minor quibble. Blueswomanmarks the return of a talented artist and proves that being a victim and a survivor are not mutually exclusive. (by Dave Steinfeld)
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