Growing Old With Rock and Roll

Growing Old With Rock and Roll

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot - Songs for Mixed Company (2017)

Written by Craig Bowles, posted by blog admin

We should always cherish albums like this. Albums like Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’s Songs for Mixed Company just aren’t that common anymore. Listening to the ten songs on this release reminds anyone with ears that there are still singer/songwriters slaving away at their craft for little money and exercising great care to make sure the songs they share with the world are honed to a fine edge. The songs have an obvious origin in folk music, but Barry, Fuerst, and their collaborators have carried that a step further by incorporating a light roots rock sound as well as utilizing much more unusual instrumentation like the Mellotron in order to further color their pieces. The lyrics are, uniformly, top notch. The songs never strain for effect and retain a natural poeticism that sets them apart from contemporaries who too frequently try just as hard with obviously overworked results.

“Let’s Be Friends” begins the album on a pensive, dark note. Lurking at the back of this song throughout its entirety is the bitter reality that these two one time lovers really have very little interest in being friends, but they feel hidebound to attempt something their hearts really do not support. This emotional position is reflected in the music as well; Barry’s acoustic guitar manifests the same pensive mood with its shadowy lyricism and the duo’s vocals pay proper tribute to the seriousness of the situation while still showing artful restraint. “Miss Mie” is another instance of the duo’s restraint informing and enriching their performance. This is an exquisite nod to the duo’s love for classic country music, circa the 1950’s or Sixties, and they pull it off flawlessly. The lyrics even revisit some familiar genre tropes, like the narrator who’s crying in his beer, and the music invokes a similar mood. “Can’t Be Trusted” is another meditative piece with focused, condensed guitar playing and an appropriately intense vocal from Barry and Fuerst alike.

“Goodbye is Not the End” brings accordion into the mix and it fits in quite well with Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’s typical instrumental blend. It gives the song an improbably jaunty bounce, somewhat incongruous when compared to earlier and later songs, but it makes for a nice shift in atmosphere. “Year of the Monkey” is another outstanding track especially for its ability to keep relatively straight forward guitar and a basic tempo interesting and some of the best lyrical content on the release. “Sweetest Baby” is the last “key” number on the album and its good natured grace, relaxed tempo, and immensely likeable vocals from Barry and Fuerst give the piece its distinctive flavor. They cover Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” to superb effect  and sans the heavy-handed theatrics of the original while the finale, “Dearly Beloved”, strikes a welcome note of humor on an otherwise serious set of songs. It’s good and wise that Thunderbolt and Lightfoot end on this note; it’s little twists like this and others mentioned before that make the duo special.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Rhett Repko - About Last Night (2017)

Written by Michael Saulman, posted by blog admin

Hailing from Annapolis, Maryland, guitar slinger Rhett Repko and his posse of groove outlaws have come to rescue pop radio.  One can describe the current state of pop music like an old western movie plot; pop music having been taken over by DJs, programmers and cheesy keyboards is the damsel in distress having been kidnapped by outsider rustlers, needing a sheriff Repko has brought real live instruments and his best men to take the genre back to its roots.  Do you remember when pop had guitars, bass and drums?  I do, but that memory is becoming a faint flicker in the dark. 

This 6-cut EP About Last Night is a lost article.  Bathed in acoustic brilliance, unafraid to kick up dust with hard-hitting guitar runs and punchy drums, smooth and hypnotic in the vocal department…there is a polish and professionalism to the way Repko and his gang rock.  They understand melody/harmony as clearly indicated by intro track, “Were You Ever Really Mine?”  Rhett’s captivating higher-timbre lead vocals are positively entrancing as they melt into subtle, catchy harmonies.  His soothing acoustic guitars are matched by lead guitarist Stefan Heuer’s explosive electric licks while the forward pushing drums of Tom Bryant and the limber bass lines of Dan Gallagher constantly keep the material moving.  This is pop when blessed with purpose and a destination. 

Repko also tackles the kind of folky, authentic, dirt road country that isn’t on the radio anymore with “She Loves Me.”  Dusty, western-themed acoustics smolder atop a bed of ashen, riff-y lead with plenty of licks undercutting the rhythm work.  Whereas modern country has been infiltrated by rap, “She Loves Me” applies rock to a country format for the return of another lost, commercial radio art.  “About Last Night” draws the blinds for an after dusk, acoustic-centered piece where symphonic swishes of violin/viola provide an elegant atmosphere for the memorable vocal patterns (Repko’s voice shows great rise/fall dynamics throughout).  “Inside of Me” conjures up some sea farin’, Beach Boys’ inspired surf/garage rock that makes equally effective use of boiling electric guitars and pop music’s simplicity (though the throwback production is slightly out of place when stacked up to the EP’s other numbers).  It flows into “On the Run” which brings back the savory, acoustic/electric divvy of Repko’s signature pop/rock grooves, leaving finale “Bye Bye Baby” to ride off into the sunset on the hooves of a folky, acoustic guitar gallop. 

Rhett Repko is poised to make weaves in the current shaky pop scene thanks to his unwillingness to commit to modern standards.  It’s obvious that he is a fan of many great musicians from the 60s/70s, which provides a much more vital era to draw from as opposed to today’s mainstream drivel.  This is a solid release that sets the stage for great things to come from this inspiring new artist. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Circus of the West - We'll See Ourselves Out (2017)

Written by William Elgin, posted by blog admin

The release of We’ll See Ourselves Out from the recently formed band Circus of the West marks the first recording appearance of an outfit sure to achieve great things. Few debuts are this cohesive or confident. The five piece gained a lot for this first album thanks to the production efforts of Adam Levy, singer/songwriter and front man of longtime indie darlings The Honeydogs. They are a guitar band, first and foremost, but that doesn’t mean other elements of their sound are neglected or that the band doesn’t experiment with alternate textures or seemingly enjoy occasionally upending listener’s musical expectations. The songwriting team of lead singer Edwin Caldie and guitarist Joel Leviton are clearly positioning themselves for possibly making albums that withstand posterity’s often withering glare. They manage that with ease thanks to, among other reasons, the rich musical arrangements and tweaking their nose at convention.

We’ll See Ourselves Our kicks off with the mildly raucous guitar rave up “Birdhand”. It’s one of the more rough hewn rockers on the album and vocalist Edwin Caldie delivers a forceful introduction to his talents as a front man. The band turns in an equally driven performance full of rock and roll muscle, but it remains surprisingly light-footed despite its aggressive attack. “Some Connections” sports a much leaner, focused musical slant not as reliant on massed banks of guitar chords and centered on drummer Alan Einsman’s dexterous and powerful playing. The band’s penchant for bringing backing vocals in at rousing points during their songs hits an early zenith on “Boxes” and the manner they adopt orchestrating this from a relatively low-fi acoustic beginning into electric guitar powered crescendos makes “Boxes” one of the album’s best tracks. “Nothing Special” features the first appearance of piano on We’ll See Ourselves Out and the marriage of Caldie’s plaintive emotion with melodic, slightly melancholy piano passages is an excellent pairing that sets the stage for the performance as a whole. Electric guitar makes its presence increasingly felt and, when the whole band comes in, Circus of the West has built an impressive and patiently dramatic momentum that carries the remainder of the tune.

“Resurrection” is one of the album’s more nakedly ambitious numbers and a drumming showcase for Alan Einsman. The circular, slightly hypnotic guitar riffing guiding the song matches up well with Einsman’s playing and they opt for placing the musical flourishes at points when they will prove most effective. It certainly boasts one of the album’s best choruses. “Finale” rides its performance metaphor throughout and it meshes well with another piano centered arrangement, but the real highlight here is an open-hearted and deeply emotion performance from Caldie. “Asma” takes a slightly idiosyncratic approach to its arrangement and it distinguishes the song from much of the other album while sounding very much a part of the band’s over-arching creative vision. We’ll See Ourselves Out is a punchy and charismatic first release with more intelligence in its eleven songs than many other bands muster over eleven full length albums. It is an entertaining and rollicking ride as well.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Jackson Howard - Just For the Mystery (2017)

Written by William Elgin, posted by blog admin

Jackson Howard’s upward trajectory towards mainstream stardom gets a little clearer with his sophomore album Just for the Mystery. It is a thirteen track outing devoted primarily to Howard’s original compositions while showing he isn’t averse to throwing in a cover on his albums. He also has no clear opposition to sharing the spotlight with other talented musicians and performers; their combined talents invariably elevate already fine material to an entirely new level. Like any great musician and live performer, Howard is wise to gather a talented crew of band mates and production staff to help realize the creative vision behind Just for the Mystery. His songwriting is the thing that sells this collection and the St. Louis based writer combines his genuine poetic/literary skills with a stylish presentation accentuating all the best qualities about his work. There are good reasons why Howard has proven so popular as a live act and Just for the Mystery provides listeners with thirteen of them.

The title song “Just for the Mystery” begins the release on a memorable note. The first performance presents listeners with a long check list of things Howard does exceptionally well as both a performer and writer, but also as the guiding artistic conscience behind the release. He’s obviously chosen well when it comes to collaborators as the drumming and other players complement his voice and lyrics extraordinarily well. He marries direct writing with memorable poetic flourishes, but there’s never any sense he’s straining for effect. It all comes out quite naturally. The affecting “A Place in this World” continues that trend with another evocative mix of great lyrics, artful turns on guitar, and drumming that plays to the song rather than attempting to dominate it in some ham fisted fashion. “The Battle of Evermore” is one of the album’s most unexpected moments. Howard bravely attempts covering this relatively obscure Led Zeppelin song from the iconic band’s fourth studio album and recruits vocalist Rachel Horter for the female part in the song. Howard dispenses with the folk music trappings, retains the fantasy lyrics, and throws some gritty bluesy influences over this track, forever transforming it.

The track “Surround You” undergoes a steady transformation from its opening onward, but Howard shows tremendous patience developing the tune. It begins life as another acoustic slanted tune cut from the same cloth as many of the other songs, but electric guitar work makes its presence known relatively quickly and, in the second half, percussion enters and the tempo picks up some before the song concludes on a higher note than it began. One of his most convincing vocals comes with the song “Dizzy”. The template still holds here – Howard opens the track in a nearly hushed acoustic mode, but he picks up the rousing qualities of the song earlier and brings a fuller band arrangement to bear than what we’ve heard on earlier songs. The album’s finale is its second cover track. Howard casts his eyes and ears back to the early 1990’s for a version of EMF’s “Unbelievable” that dispenses with any hints of electronica in favor of a stricter rock presentation. Jackson Howard serves up a variety of musical poses on Just For the Mystery and they all ring with a genuine musicality that never sounds like someone straining for effect.