Les Paul - 1959 reissue

Les Paul - 1959 reissue

Monday, November 13, 2017

Nick Black - Summer + Spring (2017)

Written by David Shouse, posted by blog admin

There’s scant or no power chords to be found on Nick Black’s Summer & Spring, it isn’t his style, but there’s plenty of guitar driven fireworks spread out over the album’s thirteen songs. One gets the feeling that there’s likely nothing Nick Black couldn’t play if he applied himself to doing so, but the spectrum of styles covered on his third full length album cover the areas of R&B, funk, soul, and a little bit of blues. He’s equally at home on the acoustic guitar as he is the electric and his vocal skills are the icing on the cake – history is littered with the atonal output of expert axe slingers whose singing talents never quite measured up. With Black, they’re part of an overall outstanding package. It’s all wrapped up in classy, first rate production that treats every part of the song as essential and renders the instrumental work with bell-like clarity. The songwriting driving his first two albums was remarkable, but he’s certainly stepped up his game with this release and the inclusion of some comedic elements indicates a performer of growing confidence rather than someone merely angling for attention.

One of the album’s first two singles, “Joy to the Girl”, begins things on a wry and slightly funky note. It’s an infectious, celebratory number that makes great use of the uptempo churning of its verses. This is a song that’s light on its feet and has a bright spirit embodied by the tightly coiled rhythms and crisp dispatch from every instrument. The album’s second single and title track “Summer & Spring” is a much more sedate number by comparison, but its stylishness never undercuts the heart and soul Black so obviously pours into its performance. “Nick at Night” is a rollicking romp with jazzy inclinations that we seldom hear on Summer + Spring, but when those traits come out, they capture your attention. His guitar work has a rugged quality on the song that it doesn’t typically sport, but it also pushes through the song with the same bounce we hear from the horns and rhythm section alike.

“Change” is more like a light rock track with horns brought in as an added musical measure. The steady 4/4 beat never wavers and avoids unduly spicing things up with any sort of ostentatious fills or self-indulgent notes. The same lean, muscular focus defining so much of the release continues with this song, clocking in at just a hair over three and a half minutes, but the relative brevity of these songs doesn’t indicate a paucity of ideas. Instead, Black and his musical cohorts come off as a musical unit that knows exactly what they want to say each time out. He continues flirting with light AOR rock on the song “Neighbor” and it’s the drumming that, once again, gives this a four on the floor quality impossible to deny. It’s the first song to exhibit his talents as an acoustic player, but soon cedes ground to a musical arrangement more common for Black. He turns up the funk heat with his song “When the Morning Comes” and it dials in to a bite missing from most of Summer & Spring’s songs without ever sound radically different from the surrounding material. “The River” closes Summer & Spring with a bluesy acoustic track that varies from the bulk of the material, like the aforementioned tune’s sound, without ever standing out as some sort of oddity. It proves to be a fine ending to one of the year’s most rewarding releases from any genre.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Black Note Graffiti - Volume II: Without Nothing I'm You

Written by Frank McClure, posted by blog admin

This is a little bit harder of a review to write than most. You aren’t likely to hear the songs on Black Note Graffiti’s second studio release, Volume 2: Without Nothing I’m You, performed like this ever again. The reason is that, after recording this album, the Ann Arbor, Michigan based four piece added Gabrielle Bryant on vocals. The songs, undoubtedly, will continue to be incorporated into the band’s live set, but they will take on a distinctly new quality with Bryant’s presence on vocals and the chemistry she finds with long-standing singer and second guitarist Ricardo Ortiz. It’s a pivotal time for this band. The eleven songs included on Volume 2 are the band’s strongest yet and it is clear that Black Note Graffiti are a band well on their way towards realizing their potential and, undoubtedly, drafting a female voice to join the band as a singer will transform and, likely, further elevate their art.

They may bring intelligence to hard rock/metal and alternative rock guitar workouts, but they bring the firepower and thunder as well. “No Love Lost” is, indeed, shorn of all sentimentality and is one of a few songs on Volume 2 where the guitars and rhythm section whip up a hard-edged swagger any rock band with ears would covet. “Such is Art” is a little more finessed than the first song, particularly in regards to its lyrics, and singer Ortiz impressively tailors his voice to the song’s demands. Drummer Kurt Keller and bassist Adam Nine often figure as the band’s less than secret weapon with the assertive performances they serve up that, thanks to their good sense and production alike, understand their place in the band’s mix. They also provide all important bedrock ballast for the album’s songs which allow Ortiz to stretch as a singer while the playing can take any direction it likes knowing the two can ably hold down the bottom end.

“Castles” harnesses thumping hard rock drums into a jagged guitar-driven alt rock body and gradually wins the audience over despite being a slow-starter. The guitar sound, warm yet unforgiving, redeems the deliberate tempo and Ortiz hits listeners hard with a desperately emotive vocal. The song “Bars from the Cages” dispenses, for the most part, with any glimmers of hard rock posturing in favor of a more atmospheric and moodier guitar focused arrangement. The vocal emphasizes a more theatrical side of their presentation as well. “Shadows” continues the move away from outright metal and hard rock towards guitar heavy riff music that’s coupled with astonishing variations of texture. The movement of this song from a highly artful introduction into its explosive guitar and rhythm section pyrotechnics is one of the album’s indisputable high points. The strongest part of Volume II continues with the album’s moodiest number, by far, “Why We Trust” and the seeming portentousness of the song title isn’t reflected at all in this intelligently written piece. It grapples with big themes and questions in a decidedly talented way. The dark dance between bass and guitar opening “Relapse” is the ideal sonic preamble for the song as a whole and ranks among the album’s best songs. Volume 2: Without Nothing I’m You may already be consigned to be a bit of a curiosity in the band’s discography, but there’s no question the songs have a tremendous amount of life in them. Black Note Graffiti are a band with their eye on the future and looking to grow in any positive way.