(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Monday, August 30, 2010

CD review - The Tony Castles, No Service (2010)

The Tony Castles are best described as dream pop, with the requisite exploration of sonic texture. But on their upcoming EP, No Service, a mere 5 songs can't help but venture out of that garden. Although the songs vary, they manage to cultivate an altered consciousness feel across the whole EP.

The title cut, No Service leads off with a choppy, ska wave feel which slides into a cleaner dub groove. But then it drifts into more of an experimental sound as the music takes on a twisted soul-pop feel. The vocal style follows along with those changes, channeling Beck's falsetto funk-soul during the soul pop section. The balance between the anxious ska and laid back soul ties the song together.

The single, Black Girls in Dresses also has experimental element. The looped bass groove, keyboard fills, and simple strums are indie pop, but it takes on a dreamy lassitude at the ends of the verses. The lyrics are jumbled to fit the mood, from the black girls of the title to the crap car that the singer bought. The synth lines are catchy as the song slides away. This sounds a little bit like Tom Tom Club, but more laid back.

If Black Girls in Dresses is dreamy, then Dream Job is sonically less restful. Stabbing synth jabs, a lurching bass part, and a weird falsetto vocal give this all the "experimental" cred it needs. Again, this reminds me of Beck.

I was captivated by New Brain. The combination of a faux funk disco bass line, drum machine snare riffs, and languid guitar strums builds a casual indie groove. The bridge moves into a more psychedelic feel that reminded me of Dr. Phibes and the House of Wax Equations. I would have loved to hear this spin out into more heady realms.

The electronic groove of Adequate Sheen anchors a pop sensibility. The synth pop feel builds into a breakdown section that opens up a call and response between a processed bass and distant jangly guitar. After revisiting the synth pop space, the song hits the breakdown again, but this time it wanders further afield into jam band psychedelia.

No Service is a very promising debut. The Tony Castles are currently out on tour with Jamie Lidell and later with Tom Tom Club. No Service is due for release on September 21 (Famous Class Records). I'd pair this with a sweet raspberry daiquiri: familiar, but with a twist.

Friday, August 27, 2010

CD review - Guster, Ganging Up On The Sun (2006)

Outside of their music, Guster is almost as interesting as the songs they play. Their on-stage stunts have been legendary (e.g. opening for themselves as a different band), their environmental activism (Reverb) has reached out beyond greening their own tours, and their grass roots connection to their fans is strong.

Much of this had registered, but I had only heard a few songs over the years. Ganging Up On The Sun is the first Guster album I've heard all the way through and their music shows a diverse range, with a balance between the revelatory and the facade of cool detachment. There are plenty of familiar sounds, like the pseudo-ska beat of the Police, Beach Boy style harmonies, or Chris Isaak's moody reverb soaked guitar. None of these touches rise to the level that they could be called influences or even original sources. They are just descriptive tools for a band that hasn't pigeonholed their musical style.

Ganging Up On The Sun also bounces between perspectives and moods. There's the mournful rootlessness of Lightning Rod, with its sense of alienation and anomie. Here the simple acoustic core of the song creates a pretty frame for the sad lyrics and soaring harmonies. Satellite is also moody, but it's detached. There's not enough engagement to call it introspective. The veneers of instrumental parts create a smooth, impervious feel. These contrast with the jaunty pop bounce of Manifest Destiny or the uptempo indie folk shuffle of The Captain.

Throughout the album, many of the songs have a moderate complexity. For example, in the driving indie rock of C'mon, it throws some brooding, pessimistic lyrics against an optimistic musical delivery. The overall effect is one of turning a corner and breaking out of a depressive funk.

The dark lyrics of The Beginning of the End work well with the strong rocking frantic beat:
We're not sentimental, we're just oil filled machines
Trying not to say the things we mean.
You gotta show us a little love
This is a stark contrast to the many of the more reflective songs of the album. Despite the curves and hills covered by Ganging Up On The Sun, though, Guster never loses their musical way. That's why it's a satisfying album. "Hang on, hang on, there's a twilight, a nighttime and a dawn." I'll pour a glass of Traquair House Ale and wait for that dawn to come.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

CD review - Working For A Nuclear Free City, Jojo Burger Tempest (2010)

Jojo Burger Tempest, due out October 12 from Melodic, spans two discs. The first is a collection of shorter cuts (most run under 4 minutes). The second is a rambling 30 minute title cut. Post-rockers Working For A Nuclear Free City scatter a mix of indie rock and electronic across the project, with elements of retro-spiked experimental rock.

Guitarist Gary McLure explained the wide ranging scope, saying,
“We made so many different tracks, that for the listener to understand the last year of our creativity, 10 tracks just isn't enough. I think that, like it used to be, an album should be a document of what a band has been doing over a certain period of time. And almost everything should be included. Like it or not.”
This is a poor philosophical position. It often leads to the ugly compromise of a band releasing weaker material just to fill out an album. Great artists have weakened their legacy by prolifically releasing everything they do, regardless of quality or context. Prince, Frank Zappa, Bob Dylan, and even Pablo Picasso have fallen victim to this. This kind of historical record can work; Pete Townsend's Scoop showcased a collection of demos, outtakes, and experiments. But it was successful because of the filtering done to select the material and set a context.

So how does this philosophy work for The Jojo Burger Tempest? Fortunately, the songs on disc one are fairly good. Still, for the amount of time they filled, it would have been better to release fewer songs and take more time to explore the musical themes in the remaining songs. Do A Stunt steps through a set of smaller pieces that shift mood and feel. With a vibe like Yes arranging a Frank Zappa composition, it's a microcosm of the whole album. Electronic bits, rock based rhythmic drive, and interesting progressions all come together. But at 2:44, the musical ideas are hinted at rather than fully explored. Similarly, Pachinko is a bubbling electronic groove with a nice driving bass. The bridge feels expectant before it slides back into the starting part. The club vibe is nice, but it really needs more room to stretch out.

Along with the instrumental pieces, there are some well balanced indie rock numbers.

Working For A Nuclear Free City, Silent Times - on PopMatters

Silent Times (download on PopMatters) is full of satisfying details. Shimmery keyboards slide behind jangly guitars and a warm, melodic bass. The vocals almost sound like the Byrds, but the reverb and slight detune give them a murkier, indie rock feel. In this case, the song has plenty of time to exploit its verse-chorus structure. Little Lenin fuses an electronic intro to a repetitive progressive rock feel, all tied up with a similar indie rock vocal.

The weakest link on the album is the long form title track, The Jojo Burger Tempest. This random collection of song fragments cements a number of homeless musical ideas from the sessions with a bit of sonic collage. It's an artistic statement that may work for some listeners, but doesn't really hold together. There are plenty of interesting bits within that could have developed into good songs.

The Jojo Burger Tempest has its moments, but pins its listeners between short attention span songs and a meandering second disc. Maybe this would pair best with a sampler tray from your favorite brew pub.

Monday, August 23, 2010

CD review - Blood Red Shoes, Fire Like This (2010)

Fire Like This rolls relentlessly like a juggernaut. Blood Red Shoes have infused this album with a rollicking energy that grabs the ear and won't let go. It's a blur of post-punk, indie rock, and edgy hard modern rock. The rhythms are heavy and crunchy, accented with angular guitar lines, and permeated with a rich vein of discordance.

This all becomes evident from the start of the opening song, Don't Ask. The insistent driving beat is accompanied by a pounding guitar. This beginning is the anxious post-punk chorus. The verses are a more modern Arctic Monkeys alt rock Brit pop. The two parts fit together smoothly. Then the bridge shifts the balance by kicking in a hard rock grunge. This turns out to be a standard tool for Blood Red Shoes. They delight in using a contrasting bridge to force the listener to rethink the song a bit. This perspective shift is a great tool for adding depth to their material.

What's most amazing is that Blood Red Shoes is just two musicians: guitarist Laura-Mary Carter and drummer Steven Ansell. While the album does have some overdubs, there's a raw energy offset by richer complexity. This contrasts with similar bands like the White Stripes, which balance more to the raw energy side.

My favorite track is It is Happening Again, which has a more progressive rock intro then slides into another angular post punk guitar riff working against a driving, heavy rhythm. The drums switch effortlessly between the straight rhythm of the intro into the subtle syncopation and speedy fills of the chorus. Once again, the bridge takes us somewhere else. It's a chromatic, drifting wander through a hard to predict series of chords.

As a contrast, When We Wake starts tentatively with a simple melodic riff. Heavy syncopated drums build underneath. The song builds with repetition to a grungy rock:
In the end, is this all we can ask for?
Breathing every day and night just waiting
Broken in pieces
The build and Edge-like guitar riff give this a U2 vibe.

My favorite song is Count It Out. What? I've already named a fave? I don't care, this is my other favorite. Again, this features a riff driven guitar, relentless drum, and a longing vocal. The drums develop more complexity and the chorus is amazing: a wonderfully grindy guitar line that stretches high at the ends of the lines. It sounds like the Smithereens meet Nirvana. This time, the bridge goes for a jangly punk guitar feel before diving back into the chorus.

I could keep picking favorites or just tell you to get Fire Like This when it releases on October 12 on V2 Records (it's already out in the UK). I've been too caught up listening to the album to pick anything special to drink.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Concert review - Honey Gitters, with Novalectric

18 August 2010 (Aggie Theatre, Ft. Collins CO)

Free shows at the Aggie Theatre, one of the great treats of Ft. Collins. These shows give bands some good exposure and they encourage people to make time for live music. Last night's crowd was a little thin, but they had the enthusiasm of a multitude. The Honey Gitters were the main draw and a relatively new band, Novalectric, started out the show.

Novalectric's sound was firmly rooted in Southern rock and blues. Over the course of their set, they quoted plenty of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Allman Brothers. Lead guitarist Scott Simon was the most dynamic member of the band. His technical skills are strong; he was comfortable shredding to a southern boogie or laying out some jazzy Allman-style licks during a spacier interlude, not to mention playing a mean slide. Simon was also the dominant element of the band's sound, laying out a lead after every verse and filling all the available sonic space.

While the lead work brought a lot of energy to the stage, Novalectric's sound needed more space. Dialing down the lead guitar would have given the audience a better chance to hear the vocals and other players and to appreciate Simon's chops. A good band's sound should be like a conversation. The players make their musical statements and give them a chance to sink in. Maybe one player makes his point and steps aside to let his bandmate expand on the idea or counter it. That kind of organic flow is important and it's not genre dependent. Jazz, metal, or bluegrass - the best examples feature this kind of dynamic.

Novalectric's setlist did showcase a range of sounds: blues boogie, Southern rock, spacey jams, and country rock. At times, they even reminded me of Country Joe and the Fish. My favorite song of their set was a long jam, based around a John Lee Hooker guitar lick. Glancing at their setlist, I think this may have been Crazy Mama/Tijuana. This flowed from a bluesy beginning, into a looser jam section with a cool Mexican modal vibe. This kind of versatility will serve them well. As they grow into their sound and develop a stronger stage presence as a full band, they'll be well worth seeing again.

The Honey Gitters
It's been a while since I last saw the Honey Gitters. They've maintained their bluegrass roots, but last night, they emphatically embraced the jam. Maybe it was in response to following the rock sounds of Novalectric, but they pushed the boundaries of their improvisations.

The set was well paced, moving between their core jam grass sound and wilder interludes. They hit a lot of the classic songs from their CD (and earlier show), like Cocaine Lil, Shankar Stretch, El Dorado, and Roll On, John. The heavy funk of It Ain't Funny was particularly amazing. Josh Beard's wah-wah infused electric banjo sound drove the start of the song. Later, Beard and guitarist Chachi Simms jammed out, with Simms accenting the sound with tatters of feedback. By contrast, the rhythm section kept things comfortably tight, with Slim Acosta's spider walk bass line and Leland Leyba's syncopated fills.

This jam is why I'd like to see the Honey Gitters start reaching more fans of acts like the String Cheese Incident. They've got a lot to offer.

After a good, long set, the band was ready to call it a night. They played their obligatory encore, finishing around 12:30 am. The small, but dedicated remaining crowd demanded more. After another song, the situation repeated itself. Feeling exhausted, I headed for home around 1:10am while the Honey Gitters were playing their third encore.

This was a long night of good music, from the hyper intensity of Novalectric to the dancing jams of the Honey Gitters. It called for sipping on some good homebrewed India pale ale.

More photos on my Flickr.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

CD review - Stars in Coma, And The Cloud Withdrew From The Sky (2010)

This new release from Stars in Coma is mostly a collection of material from 2008. The Swedish group is primarily a vehicle for André Brorsson's artistic vision, although there is a full touring band. Kingem Records has put together a nice little CDR package for this album.

Even as a collection of bits and pieces, And The Cloud Withdrew From The Sky has a coherency that seems to capture Brorsson's aesthetic during this period. Like an ellipse, it has two focal points. One is the electronic/dance/disco vibe, which often adds an old school sensibility. The first couple of songs, In Your Prison and Arcane Abstractions, hone in on this disco pop feel. The other musical focus is a kind of emotionally cathartic expressiveness. For example, on Golden Sight, Golden View, around the 3:00 mark, the song takes on a sort of progressive jam like My Morning Jacket or the Flaming Lips. One of my favorite songs, Am I Hermetical?, sets a dreamy, electronic mood. The vocals float easily over a bed of shimmery arpeggios. The melody gives it a slightly retro indie pop vibe, but the electronic layering adds a slightly psychedelic feel.

These two directions don't tear And the Cloud... apart, though. Instead, the boundary of this elliptical album holds them together under a veneer of indie pop.

I've already mentioned Am I Hermetical? as a great track. NYE, released as a single, is another strong song. It's firmly tied to that second focal point, with rich layers of guitar, keys, and a steady processional drum part. This might show my bias towards more of the expressive side of the album. Even so, the electronic elements are a necessary part of the sound.

A snapshot in history. A "self-archeology". A melding of styles to create an interesting album. Give Stars in Coma a listen, maybe with a glass of vodka and lime in hand.

Monday, August 16, 2010

CD review - New Collisions, The Optimist (2010)

The New Collisions offer up a danceable version of '80s power pop. Singer Sarah Guild's voice hits a mix of Chrissie Hynde, Terri Nunn (Berlin), and Mary Prankster. The band matches her sound, playing like the Pretenders meet 10,000 Maniacs. Some of the songs drift closer to the girl bands of the '80s like the GoGo's and the Bangles, but still maintain a rocking pop feel. Across the 9 tracks of The Optimist, they lay down an assertive guitar sound with backing synth elements.

A tense driving bass kicks off Swift Destruction. It reminds me of Elvis Costello and the Attractions. The changes are interesting, with some of Costello's phrasing and arrangement touches. The keys balance the strong guitar levels, providing the perfect accent. The flow pulls you in and sets your feet to tapping. The lyrics are about hitting the end of a long fall..."We're the dregs of America, I see that now." Still, there's a strong will behind this, rather than despair:
I'd like to order up a swift destruction
Make this house no more
I'd like to order up a swift destruction
Leave us for dead, leave us for dead, leave us for dead
Let the robins pick our bones
The song ends abruptly without tonal resolution, which sets up...Well, it doesn't really fit the next song, Over.

Over hits the other end of the New Collisions' sound, aiming for the girl-band pop. It's like a frantic Manic Monday crossed with the Pretenders, especially Guild's voice, which takes on that knowing Chrissie Hynde tone (like Middle of the Road). The splashes of rhythm guitar are straight from the Pretenders. Guitarist Scott Guild has a wonderful tone and nice ear for power pop. Casey Gruttadauria's keyboard work adds a satisfying veneer here, as well.

My favorite track on The Optimist is another speedy number, Ne'er-Do-Well. After a heavy intro, it leaps forward with Alex Stern's wonderful bass line. The lyrics are a clever, hyper flow of words. Sarah Guild's voice sounds something like Mary Prankster meets Natalie Merchant. The upbeat feel of the music contrasts nicely with the lyrics:
Bring me all your able bodied men
So I can live in comfort once again
And I can have a nervous breakdown every now and then
And no one will come visit me. a frightening possibility
I might seem desperate in fact, I like my dignity intact
Drinking on the deck, stopping payment on the rent check
The dire lyrics wouldn't work as well with more mournful music. It offers some hope and an element of "Damn the torpedoes".

There are plenty of other interesting tunes: Coattail Rider channels a chunk of Berlin's Metro and there's a decent cover of the B-52's Give Me Back My Man. The Optimist may be an ironic title, but it's a strong debut album. Sweet, sour and powerful: it reminds me of Jack and Coke.

Here's the only single available. Also, Swift Destruction is available on their MySpace page.

New Collisions - Dying Alone (PopMatters)

Friday, August 13, 2010

CD review - Vincent Minor, Vincent Minor (2010)

"Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it"...Well, those who know the past can often improve it. Vincent Minor's new self titled CD (due out September 21) expands upon the classic piano based singer/songwriter model. With inspirations like Harry Nilsson, Paul Williams, and Tori Amos, Minor has created a unique sound using piano and orchestration. Many of his songs are moody with a kind of clingy darkness, but they're not whiny. In fact, the overall sense is one of documenting or overcoming, not wallowing.

The album opens with The Trap, which pulls a play from the Wilco songbook. There's a tone in one ear, a clock tick, and sparse piano intro. Minor's voice has a plaintive Jeff Tweedy quality. The sound swells as the song accrues elements. If Minor had put more guitar on it, I might have mistaken this for a Wilco cover. Like Tweedy, the lyrics here a bit abstract, but the song satisfies, even as it ends with a more hopeful musical tone.

Jack and the Waltz sounds like some of Janis Ian's earliest work or Paul Williams crossed with Tori Amos. It's piano driven pop from a singer/songwriter point of view. While it starts out introspectively, it opens up into more of a wistful mood. The arrangement is clean with a lush piano and slight accompaniment on the verses. The chorus has a stronger pop focus. The bridge also reminds me of Rufus Wainwright, who comes from a similar place.

One of the more upbeat tunes is Heavy Metal Lover, which comes from somewhere between Tin Alley and the Brill Building. It's a different flavor of retro pop than the standard sources. The lyrics are clever and amusing as Minor sings of a misguided obsession:
Pseudo dictator, handsome Hitler
Putting drugs in my tea again
Arsenic for flavor, you're a heavy metal lover,
Why can't you just say you don't want me around.
The feel is relentlessly cheery, despite whatever might happen to the singer as he sticks with his bad choice.

Be sure to look for Vincent Minor once his album is out and try to catch one of his shows. He's been organizing a Craigslist tour, with pick up musicians in each city. I might try to catch his Denver show, sipping a Manhattan.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

CD review - Deluka, You Are The Night (2010)

Deluka's self-titled EP (my review) was just an appetizer for the upcoming full length CD, You Are The Night, which is due out in October (download release is September 14). The five songs on the EP hit a tight mesh of new wave music and club-centric pop sensibility. The new CD delivers on that taste with consistently catchy songs that continue Deluka's exploration of an updated retro sound. Two strong songs from the EP slide into place on the album (OMFG and Cascade), but the rest are new. The tempos stay a little faster, which stresses the poppier elements of their sound.

Deluka - "Nevada" on PopMatters

The new single, Nevada, is a great sign of what the album offers. It's a fast rocker, sounding like the Killers with a Debbie Harry sound on the vocals. This gem shows off Deluka's writing skills -- the various sections of the song transition through a great dynamic range, making the song feel longer than it really is. The rock guitar combines with an underlying disco synth to build a perfect tension.

You Are The Night flows smoothly from highlight to highlight. The modern pop of Come Back To Me follows Nevada to show off Innocenti's expressive sultry voice. Mean Streak nails the dance club groove with a tight electronic sound. The driving rock of Morning Comes harnesses a disco beat to some very interesting guitar work.

The sparse start to Waves doesn't hint at its epic nature. It's moody and threatened:
You know what it means if you don't deliver
Baby, you're the gun and I'm your trigger
The waves crash into a funky post-punk jam. The melody echoes the first verse, but the feel is more frenetic and edgy. The counterpoint between the guitars marks the boundaries of the cage. The bridge collects eddies of sound before the final fade.

Deluka's You Are The Night is a supreme followup on their EP. Their modern pop reinvention of old school new wave is no pastiche gimmick. Keep an ear open; it'll be out soon. Let's move beyond the Kir Royale. We'll keep the Chambord, but go for a Champagne Supernova as our matching beverage.

Monday, August 9, 2010

CD review - Young Man, Boy (2010)

There's a common theme here: Young Man (Colin Caulfield) is releasing a concept album, Boy, about the the trials and experiences of a 5 year old boy. At around 30 minutes, this EP covers its subject well. The opening song, Five, is distant, retro, and sort of folky. Its simple musical sound reflects a child's perspective. The lyrics capture that serious weight that I remember my own son showing occasionally:

My life has changed forever
Now that I've grown a year
But, boy, do I find that I'm feeling quite the same
Now that I'm all grown up
When can we leave cause I'm feeling quite ashamed
Now that I'm all grown up
Sure, there's some of the adult looking back in those lines, but that "Now that I'm all grown up" is perfect.

The rest of the EP occasionally throws in some electronic elements to expand on the simple guitar sound, but that just sets the hook for the mood that Young Man is creating. There's a paradox here. Boy tries to show the simplicity that we see in the subject, yet still catch the depth that's actually there even if we don't remember or notice it.

My favorite song is Just a Growin', which has revels in a faint psychedelia vibe. The rhythm is interesting and the parts build a more dreamy pop feel. The harmonies are a nice touch, reminding me of It's A Beautiful Day, while the guitar during the break evokes an aura of Jerry Garcia.

Boy is a nice musical interlude to add some distance to all of your adult problems. Relax and let it wash over you. How about a nice Hawaiian Punch?

Boy is releasing August 24 on Frenchkiss Records.

Friday, August 6, 2010

CD review - Les Savy Fav, Root For Ruin (2010)

Rhode Island School of Design must put something in the water. Like the Talking Heads before them, Les Savy Fav has roots at RISD. They also have a similarly quirky musical approach. The sound on Root For Ruin (due out September 14) mostly hits a new wave/post-punk sound, with elements of pop and straight punk sprinkled in. This seems to be a extension of their more recent sound, moving away from their abrasive hardcore roots.

Lead singer Tim Harrington sounds a bit like John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) in his Public Image Ltd. period. The opening song, Appetites, nails the John Lydon vibe, but it permeates the whole album. The first single, Let's Get Out Of Here, sets up a new wave, riff-centric guitar sound. The vocals dominate the sound, though, sometimes pushing the guitar back into the background. It's a bit of a cross between Psychedelic Furs and PiL. It's catchy with desperate lyrics:
I want you, right now
I don't need you to soothe me
To fix me, to prove me
I just want you to want me now
Don't care about the warning signs
Don't care about friends of mine
Don't care about what you should be
I just want you to want me right now
The only bit of true noise is the start of Poltergeist. The experimental intro dominates the first 30 seconds and persists for another 20 seconds after that. It's a little annoying, but the rest of the song makes up for that as it slips into a Velvet Underground guitar punk meets Bauhaus swirl. A bit like Bela Lugosi's Dead, the song builds to an exquisite tension that dissolves into the pop beginning of High and Unhinged in the next track.

Dirty Knails is another high point. It's a low fi, post-punk gem. The beat is frantice as the spasmatic guitar riff twitches with the unconscious obsession of restless leg syndrome. This reveals some of Les Savy Fav's nervous energy, but it's still harnessed to the song. It's got an edgy punk cred, which makes the vocal jam bridge that much more powerful.

Root For Ruin is another one of my sour beer albums...maybe a Flanders red, like Rodenbach. They share a certain intensity and challenging character, but they're worth the listen.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

CD review - Kelli Scarr, Piece (2010)

Is it her voice or the music? Singer Kelli Scarr creates a hauntingly beautiful sound on her new album, Piece. The arrangements are often introspective interludes, soaked in echo, that create a delicious mood. She's gotten exposure, touring with (and opening for) Moby, but this album reflects more of her experience creating soundtrack music.

Salt to the Sea opens the album, with her lush voice initially evoking Karen Carpenter, then sounding more like Julie Cruise. It's a mellow, yet rich song. The arrangement is masterful, from the simple piano and stereo guitar strum at the start to the filling in sound of string swells, light percussion, and a slowly rocking bassline. Each instrument contributes its part to the greater whole, creating a balanced dynamic to carry the song. The album version on her MySpace page is a better place to hear this than any of the live versions.

On Anything, Scarr takes an indie folk approach, with a pop layer underneath. It's hypnotically soulful. The harmonies are sweet and wistful as the echoed parts add a dreamy quality. The song ends with tatters of sound circling the initial piano.

Throughout Piece, Scarr imbues her simple songs with depth: from the wistful Brother to the achy and vulnerable Break Up. The heavy reverb gives her music a retro sense that comes to feel timeless. It's her voice and the music together that create an ethereal beauty. A rich burgundy wine would complete the mood.

Monday, August 2, 2010

CD review - Kings Go Forth, The Outsiders Are Back (2010)

Sherman, set the Way-Back Machine for 1972. That would explain how Kings Go Forth can capture the classic sound of the soul era so perfectly. Andy Noble and company wrote, played, and recorded The Outsiders Are Back following that era's state of the art. For all I can tell, they even drove a 1970 Plymouth Valiant to the studio when they were recording. Unlike many of the neo-soul bands out there, it's nice to hear the real sound without irony or updating.

Listening to the laid back groove of High On Your Love, the resemblance to the Temptations is uncanny. The solid bass line and beautiful vocal parts create a My Girl feel. This is the sound of summer love. The horns are mixed perfectly, providing the necessary punch without dominating the arrangement.

This leads into the full voiced soul blues of Paradise Lost. It's a lush sound with bluesy guitar punches. Again, the vocals are strong with those late '60s/early '70s harmonies. The drums punch with a touch of slap-back echo and a loose syncopation. It manages to evoke Cab Calloway's Minnie the Moocher, chain gang hollers, and Mike Bloomfield, all wrapped together.

The rest of the album is plenty strong, from the Shuggie Otis style funk soul of I Don't Love You No More to the upbeat, hippy soul of Get a Feeling (dig the retro organ work). The Curtis Mayfield sound of You're the One or the vintage rock-steady reggae groove of 1000 Songs are a couple of more examples.

The only weakness of The Outsiders Are Back is that it's more of a collection of singles than a planned out album. That's not entirely an accident. Noble has mentioned a preference for singles in interviews and the songs were recorded over a period of a couple of year. Still, the consistent mindset creates its own continuity.

I'm not sure why I associate Brandy Alexanders with classic soul. It may be the richness, the veiled punch, or just the sophisticated sound. In any case, The Outsiders Are Back has already been released, so listen to a couple of tracks and pick it up.