Les Paul - 1959 reissue

Les Paul - 1959 reissue

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Grace Freeman - Shadow (2017)

Written by William Elgin, posted by blog admin

Shadow isn’t Grace Freeman’s first taste of the experience had writing, recording, and releasing an album. Her emergence into the recording world came with the 2015 release of The Moon Police’s The Lost Go Sailing By and it is only in the last two years that Freeman has started to open shows as a solo artist for figures like Suzanna Vega and Macy Gray, among others. It’s impressive for any young performer, but when you take into account that Freeman hasn’t had her twentieth birthday yet and wrote all eleven songs for this release, it’s nothing less than a marvel. She shows off some various influences during the album’s duration, but they are filtered through her consciousness and particular skill set in such a way that they emerge as something much different and highly individual. Shadow marks Grace Freeman’s emergence in full and, based on its strengths, she’ll be around for some time to come.

“Oliver” begins things on a very pensive note. It’s obvious, even from a cursory listen, that Freeman is an unusually considered writer, no matter her age. There’s a discipline she applies to both her musical arrangement and lyrical content ensuring there not a single extraneous word or note to be found in either. “Shadow”, the album’s title song, takes a different musical direction from the opener thanks to its elegant piano lines and the introduction of a rhythm section that adds much more audible weight to the performance. Freeman works just as well with an expanded musical lineup as she does weaving magic essentially solo and the poetic touches distinguishing this song help it stand out as one of the album’s peak moments. Listeners are brought back to much more fragile, sensitive music surroundings with her performance of the track “Blue Eyed Boy” and the crystalline beauty of the arrangement and Freeman’s voice will hang in your memory for a while.

Another high point of the album comes with “Autumn” and, even though it embraces a rather spartan sound, still manages to incorporate elements like bass to give the arrangement extra heft. Her ethereal vocal musings are ideal for the poetic nature of her lyrics, but she never strains for effect as a writer. The clipped melodicism of “Dreams” will brighten the mood of listeners after two relatively exhausting tunes emotionally and Freeman’s beguiling vocal magic is just as capable of embracing upbeat material as it is the album’s more introspective fare. “Muddy Puddles” is an artful piece of writing, especially lyrically, and Freeman performs the song with unfaltering and graceful confidence. The literary qualities in Freeman’s writing are impossible to ignore. “God Forbid” is another highlight on the album – there’s a stunning mixture of sorrow and ruefulness filling the lyric and Freeman embodies both qualities extraordinarily well in her singing. The musical accompaniment is ideally suited and presents itself in such a way that it only helps highlight the masterful writing job that she turns in with this number. Shadow is an impressive album under any context, but as a solo debut, this release will have lasting impact on Grace Freeman’s life from this point forward. It sets the bar high.

KALO - Wild Change (2017)

Written by William Elgin, posted by blog admin

The power trio KALO spotlights the talents of vocalist and guitarist Bat-Or Kalo but her musical partners bassist Mack McKinney and drummer Mike Alexander are more than capable of matching her musical firepower and complement her playing extraordinarily well. The band’s fourth release, Wild Change, is an eleven song effort that doesn’t content itself with pursuing one style or formula but definitely excels in a much stronger way when they play to Kalo’s strengths as a gut wrenching blues singer with finesse and passion alike to burn. The songwriting certainly knows its way around the musical style and makes invigorating use of some long standing tropes, but it also features a number of inventive musical and lyrical flourishes that are Kalo’s own, plus an underrated sense of humor that’s always useful for this sort of music.

“One Mississippi” is a swaggering and sinewy blues rocker that moves at a brisk pace and has quite a bit of jump thanks to the rhythm section’s playing. Kalo gives a physical and assertive performance that feels like she’s throwing all of herself into the music. This sort of commitment and no nonsense approach to their material gives Wild Change a mightily promising beginning. The appreciative live crowd heard at the end is just an added bonus to a listener’s enjoyment. “Isabel” is a real guitar wailer from the beginning and Kalo further spices it up with a do or die vocal that really turns up the heat for the song’s chorus. There’s some piano creeping through the cacophony during the chorus that gives it an extra dramatic spike. The band turns toward hard edged R&B on “Upside Down” and Kalo delivers a really showstopper vocal on a song that sounds like it was cut live in the studio. There’s a kinetic energy they achieve here, regardless, that sounds like a band letting loose and inspired by each other’s contributions. It’s one of the best moments on Wild Change for pure musical interplay.

“Fix” is a little more obviously commercial than some of the other songs in the sense that it seems a little more ready made to be among the new songs the band will incorporate into their live act and the chorus is far punchier than anything else on Wild Change. Any widespread appeal this song holds isn’t a bad thing. The symbolism in the lyrics doesn’t remake the songwriting wheel, but there’s no question that there’s a lot of vulnerability masked by the sonic bluster. “Wild Change” is a gritty title track that makes its relatively simple bluesy stomp as effective as possible, but Kalo’s wide-eyed belt is the critical factor in pushing this song over the top into something truly memorable. The loose shuffle opening “Smile and Blush” ushers in some shimmering acoustic guitars and KALO maintains the same low-fi approach for the entirety of the track. Kalo scales her voice back appropriately and provides the song with a rather haunting, lyrical vocal performance. There’s an abundance of creativity on Wild Change that helps it stand out from the pack as a release worth noting. Kalo continues to grow as a vocalist and songwriter with each new release and the band, as a whole, shows no signs of slowing down.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Dust of Days - Analog Mind Bender (2017)

Written by Jason Hillenburg, posted by blog admin

Dust of Days’ Analog Mind Bender is the first release from this New Jersey based band since 2013’s EP Ethers and Embers and poises them to ascend the ladder to the next rung of widespread visibility. The dozen songs included on the release are definitely personal in nature, but drummer and vocalist Frank Lettieri Jr’s songwriting touches enough on universal human experiences that it further opens the band’s potential while still surely satisfying Lettieri’s inner need to write and communicate. Lettieri, obviously, reworked and refined this material until he was certain that it was ready to go and the mere three days it took for the band to cut the collection further testifies to that fact while recalling the way iconic bands worked during rock music’s infancy. Dust of Days are certainly big on guitars, but the six string isn’t the only story on this release. Dust of Days, likewise, incorporates unexpected instrumentation that never sounds out of place and repurposes traditional elements in exciting new ways.

Scott Silvester’s subterranean bass lays down a thick groove for the title song and opening cut “Analog Mind Bender” that alternates with the band’s two guitarists, Mike Virock and Jim McGee, striking a rousing note with the song’s melodic axe work. There is a ringing quality, akin to a bell, recurring throughout the song that gives it an added melodic lift. There is no such melodic lift present in “Aurora”, but there is a certain amount of finesse. Dust of Days goes back and forth from a full on vocal to spoken word during the verses, but Lettieri imbues the verses with memorable theatricality in his delivery that, nevertheless, doesn’t overreach. “Mustang” has a similar spirit driving it along. Lettieri is afforded a chance here to show off his emotive chops and doesn’t disappoint even if one moves away from this tune feeling like its potential peaks aren’t exploited enough. “Little Angel” excels largely on the backs of the fine rhythm section playing of Silvester and Lettieri’s drumming. It’s a song full of light and shadow as it moves back and forth from stripped back bass and percussion driven verses with massive guitar flourishes.

“My Dear” comes off as a more fully realized version of “Mustang”, albeit about very different subject matter, and it hits home with memorable emotional force. The guitar work from McGee and Virok is more nuanced here than ever before on the release and uncover a bluesy, elegiac eloquence in this performance. They make another 180 degree stylistic turn with the raging cut “The Circus” and its post-punk ferocity doesn’t diminish the same intelligence behind this tune that powers so many of the other cuts. “Death Vibrations” has some of the same punky spirit as the previous song, but there’s a more tempered edge to this than we hear on “The Circus” and more of a focus on Lettieri’s singing and lyrical content. Analog Mind Bender provides a thrilling listening experience throughout its duration and one of the most fascinating moments comes with the penultimate track “The Shore”. This haunted soundscape is carried by hazy piano, hushed vocals, and some surprising contributions from strings. It’s the most illustrative moment on the release showing off their capacity for surprise and shows that this is a band developing at an exponential rate despite the time between new releases.