Growing Old With Rock and Roll

Growing Old With Rock and Roll

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Grace Freeman - Shadow (2017)

Written by Jason Hillenburg, posted by blog admin

Grace Freeman is an artist who immediately impresses as a talent with confidence and a skill set far beyond her nineteen years. One shouldn’t lightly throw terms like “prodigy” around, but it’s apparent upon encountering Grace Freeman’s music that you’re contending and being entertained by a truly special voice – both as a singer and songwriter. She exercises command and care over the material on her solo debut Shadow that outstrips what we’ve heard from her peers and touches on avowed influences like Joni Mitchell, Regina Spektor, The Cure, and The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, among others, while retaining an instantly identifiable musical, lyrical, and vocal identity. The eleven songs included on the release are reflective, as well, of the exponential growth in her talent since she first began writing songs at age ten and performing at open mics by age thirteen. She’s learned her artistic lessons so far and the future seems boundless based on this offering.

“Oliver” is a muted and deeply meditative opener. The production multi-tracks Freeman’s voice at select points and it accentuates the natural ethereal lilt in her voice without ever risking self-indulgence. The guitar work is understated and weaves throughout its duration with eloquent fluency. Freeman’s title song is built around piano instead of acoustic guitar and the arrangement is nearly as spartan. Bringing drumming into the song imbues it with a much more dramatic quality and it’s further testimony to the depths of her talent that, at even such a young age, she’s able to bring this sort of feel off without succumbing to the purple, overwrought hand of youth. The near shuffle jaunt of “Trying to Say Goodbye” tempers its melancholy sentiments in a significant and artful way and there’s a lightly playful quality in her vocal that never undercuts the seriousness of the song. She comes across with such cool confidence, wearing each song like a loose garment, and the emotive connection she establishes with each track makes it a more memorable listening experience.

Her voice has a smokier feel on the song “Another Long Night” and the bluesy jangle of acoustic guitar amps it up at key points. This is more rugged than many other tracks on Shadow, but it doesn’t sound at all out of place juxtaposed against the other songs. “Autumn” has the browning elegance of fall coloring its sparse musical texture and makes some important embellishments along the way that set it apart from other tracks on Shadow. It’s certainly one of the album’s best songs. There’s some unusual instrumentation on the delightfully underhanded and snide “God Forbid”, including woodwind, and Freeman sinks her interpretative teeth deep into the song and owns it with on point phrasing. There’s a refreshing amount of variety on Shadow that suggests Grace Freeman is a songwriter with rarely any shortage of ideas. It’s equally clear that she has the facility for expressing them and the top notch collaborators who aid her in that pursuit are obviously sympathetic to the quality of her voice and material. Grace Freeman’s emergence as a major new talent continues; you are advised to stay tuned from this point forward.

Friday, September 15, 2017

KALO - Wild Change (2017)

Written by Jason Hillenburg, posted by blog admin

The band KALO, their moniker adopted from lead singer/songwriter and guitarist Bat-Or Kalo, are a three piece with the skills to revitalize a genre. More often than not, these days, the most successful blues acts are those revolving around a singular personality, ala Joe Bonamassa, rather than a true band. KALO combines the best of both worlds – it provides a forum for Bat-Or Kalo to reveal the full and thrilling breadth of her talents while placing her in the context of an electrifying power trio who have obvious chemistry to burn. KALO’s third album, Wild Change, is an eleven song collection that clearly illustrates why this Israeli born guitarist and singer has virtually revitalized the form on the back of her considerable talents. There hasn’t been a female vocalist in many years who has so overtly embraced traditional blues with such stunning results.

The hard-charging romp “One Mississippi” has some pared back, white-knuckled guitar and relentless percussion that keeps the tune hopping from the first. The hand claps added to the song are a nice retro touch that you don’t often hear anymore. Kalo’s singing has a lot of variation – she isn’t one of these heavy handed modern blues interpreters who thinks everything has to be delivered as a full on wail. We get out first dose of rock ‘n’ blooze on the track “Isabel” and Kalo unleashes a focused, impassioned vocal that complements the grinding musical arrangement. It really hits a combustible point with the chorus and the raucous spirit informing the tune from the first never backs off from the first. Mike Alexander’s drumming is particularly effective on the song “Fix” and he helps Kalo and bassist Mack McKinney make the most of the song’s natural peaks. The chorus on this one is hard hitting and ranks among the album’s best.

The title cut brings us back to the rock ‘n’ blooze churn of the earlier “Isabel”, but it’s less cluttered and more reliant on clear melodic ideas. The high points in the song practically drips with passion and Kalo, risking cliché, sings like someone with her back against the wall and dependant on getting this song over with listeners. KALO veers off into an utterly different direction on the funk and R&B influence “Pay to Play”, but she sounds just as home with this sort of brass infused and bass heavy material. This is a deliciously commercial tune that doesn’t sacrifice any of its credibility to establish its mainstream appeal. Wild Change concludes with “Calling All Dreamers” forsakes the bluesy pyrotechnics and funk influences in favor of straight forward acoustic singer/songwriter sort of material. Kalo shows herself quite adept at modulating her voice accordingly and delivers, arguably, her most soulful performance on the release. Wild Change is a mightily impressive addition to Kalo’s growing discography and likely rates as her greatest moment yet.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Dust of Days - Analog Mind Bender (2017)

Written by Robert Michaels, posted by blog admin

This is a refreshing turn. Dust of Days, a New Jersey based four piece band, is labeled as alternative rock and it isn’t entirely wrong to deem them as such. They are so much more, however. There are a number of cuts on their second full length release, Analog Mind Bender, that readily defy easy categorization or else extend their stylistic reach across multiple borders. Their ability to maintain a core sound while expanding on it in a coherent way is something miraculous in a rock world full of one trick ponies and flavors of the moment. The band, via songwriter Frank Lettieri Jr., are recording the sort of songs that are built to last rather than sonic confections designed to capture the Zeitgeist of a particular moment. The production employed on this collection is designed to underline these aspirations and renders the band’s instrumental attack with visceral, intimate intensity. This is rock, revamped, refurbished, and reclaimed.

It starts off with a bright step on the album’s title track. “Analog Mind Bender”, as a title, implies that the song might be a little trippy, but it’s a relatively straight forward melodic rocker that lands with an impact but also ranks as one of the most accessible tunes on the release. Much of the remaining material is far more challenging – both musically and lyrically. One of the album’s hardest excursions into rock/metal comes with the second song “Aurora”. The thrashing guitars and powerful rhythm section attack are far more extreme than anything we heard in the first song and the band sounds quite credible manifesting this sort of attack. “Mustang” signals the album’s first big shift in direction as they pare back the guitar theatrics in favor of a more artfully employed six string approach. It’s compositional in nature, letting notes and passages accumulate for a final effect rather than showing the listener all of your cards at once or else attempting to bludgeon them into submission. “Heavy” is a rough and tumble tune with attitude to burn and the churning guitars of Mike Virok and Jim McGee team up here for memorably powerful effect. Lettieri’s drumming here sets a tone that’s difficult to forget.

His ability to play to the song and not be heavy handed is evidenced on the earlier “Mustang” and “My Dear” as well. It’s truly a treat to hear how he’s able to help orchestrate the song’s high points for maximum effect and his vocal is equally up to the challenge as well. His ability to emote is just as strong as the ferocious roar he’s able to summon up with his voice and the lyrical material is among the strongest on Analog Mind Bender. “Death Vibrations” is another fine lyrical effort, albeit rather dark, and Lettieri gives an uncompromising vocal that doubles down on its demeanor. This is an impressive effort from first song to last and it’s clear the band went into the studio ready to record rather than meandering around with potential creative dead ends. The fully realized feel of this release is impossible to escape – Dust of Days’ Analog Mind Bender will definitely push this band to among the vanguard of talented modern rock acts.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Chris Murphy - Hard Bargain (2017)

VIDEO: (“Cape Horn”)

Written by William Elgin, posted by blog admin

Chris Murphy has established himself as one of the pre-eminent instrumentalists in American roots music and likewise solidified his position as one of the best songwriters working today. His endlessly inventive and personal reworking of traditional music for a modern audience and his role as an instructor has likely steered countless individuals towards musical paths they might not have otherwise explored. He recorded his latest release Hard Bargain for a live audience and it proves to be a gripping listening experience. The recording captures Murphy working solo and in full creative flight – he certainly draws energy from the appreciative crowd and brings a first rate collection of songs together for the performance/recording. It really is kind of a misnomer to label Murphy as a performer in the Americana genre even if he uses traditional instrumentation. His songwriting purview extends far past the relatively narrow borders of roots music and there are some tracks on here that are outright radio ready fare recorded with acoustic instruments.

The violin “riff” driving the opening of the title song draws you in. It isn’t any stretch to imagine this existing in another life as a hard hitting rock song and Murphy plays it with some of that abandon – without ever losing the musical substance, too that makes the track really fly. It’s hard to not like the laconic sound of Murphy’s voice and how it can shift to an all out bray at a moment’s notice. It isn’t a song that remakes the wheel, but Murphy definitely brings enough of himself to the performance that it comes across as something fresh, individual. “Ain’t No Place” takes a much more traditional approach to the music and it strikes a notable contrast with the aforementioned title song. Murphy relaxes here but hits all his marks and then some. “Bugs Salcido” finds him turning away from violin and to mandolin instead, but the album doesn’t lose a step. This is much more in the singer/songwriter vein than earlier tracks and rates as one of the best lyrics on this release. There’s a narrative here and, even through the uptempo verses, an attentive listener can piece together the hard luck story behind the song or arrive at their own conclusions, naturally.

“Holcombe Creek” brings Murphy back to his violin and another strong songwriting narrative. The terse violin during the verses is ideal for the lyrical mood and the flourishes coming with each instrumental break possess much of Murphy’s signature lyricism. “Last Bridge” is one of those aforementioned tunes that transcend the Americana label and, instead, would find a lively home with any good four or five piece rock band. The fundamentals are so strong here, but Murphy’s added touch of talent and lyrical facility transforms it into something even greater. The album’s finale “Friend” is a particularly affecting tune and one that reveals the reams of personal experience and years of hearing other’s stories that go into crafting meaningful and first class material. It’s a deeply moving and thoughtful way to end Hard Bargain and we’re rewarded with the same rich journey as ever by Chris Murphy’s latest release.