All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Bullyheart - Antigravity

Bullyheart – Antigravity
2014, Skim Milk Productions


Bullyheart is the outward expression of recording artist Holly Long’s rebel musical heart.  The Chicago born singer/songwriter took off for UCLA to study theater, but it was music that ultimately moved her.  Today, Long has built a reputation as an honest, earthy songwriter and performer.  Long finds a home for her voice, both as a singer and as a songwriter, with Bullyheart.  Long created a cycle of ten songs entitled Antigravity with the help of musical cohorts David Boucher and Kevin Harp, but the sound is ultimately from the heart of Holly Long.

Bullyheart gets started with "Antigravity", a catchy little rocker full of syncopated guitar and a strategically laid back vocal from front woman Holly Long. The juxtaposition between arrangement and vocals is memorable, and Long's voice sounds like a cross between a young Geddy Lee and  Linda Perry.  "Thin Air" has a much more laid back vibe that's melancholy and refined. "No Pleasing You" has a catchy feel, and is driven by a talk-sing narrative style. Long works this song for all it is worth, and you'll have a hard time keeping it out of your head.

"How Was I to Know" is a slickly produced song of regret. It's well written and performed, but the elemental lyrics would work better without the highly polished sonic veneer.  "Lost My Nerve" is a languorous bit of navel gazing poetry set to a crawling arrangement. The juxtaposition of Long's voice and the depressive arrangement works on one level, but this is a tough listen nonetheless. Bullyheart sets the ship aright with the manic "Panic Attack". The inclination to pogo dance to this one is understandable; at the very least you won't be able to keep your feet still. "The Pendulum" swing back into navel exercise with a molasses like arrangement that is a tough sell.

"Shaken" takes the upbeat path in an observational piece about another’s emotional state and world outlook.  This is actually well-written, both musically and lyrically.  The song gets off to a slow start, but the incessant chorus has its own inertia, and you’ll find yourself bobbing along.  “There Goes My Man” explores angst in a delightfully high tempo rocker. This is a brilliant tune that could be even bigger in sound, but it works very well as presented here.  Don’t even try to sit still.  Bullyheart pulls in the oars for “Stay”, an angst filled, repetitive dirge that features just a lingering, plaintive acoustic guitar and Holly Long’s dynamic voice.  It’s a chilling moment, both memorable and painful. 

Bullyheart takes listeners through several ups and downs on Antigravity.  The down tempo pieces can linger too long and become bogged down in emotional and musical angst, but Holly Long always manages to sound good in the process.  The upbeat tunes are where she shines, rocking out in an understated but still notable fashion.  Antigravity is the sort of album you’ll revisit again and again, whether for specific tracks or the whole experience.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)


Learn more at www.bullyheart.com.  You can purchase Bullyheart from Amazon or iTunes.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Review: Michele McLaughlin - Undercurrent


Michele McLaughlin – Undercurrent
2015, Michele McLaughlin

Michele McLaughlin found her field of dreams, and it has 88 keys.

Drawn to the piano from a young age, McLaughlin was playing in front of school mates at the age of five and composing by the age of eight.  Blessed with a musical ear, McLaughlin inhaled melodies and breathed them in ebony and ivory.  McLaughlin briefly took piano lessons, but eschewed the structure of formal instruction.  For the most part, she taught herself by listening to and copying other composers.  Validation came in 2000, when after much pestering from her Mom; McLaughlin created a cassette of her music.  The feedback received from this experience led McLaughlin to set up her own home recording studio and get serious about making music for others to hear.  Fifteen albums on, and McLaughlin has become a powerhouse in the new age/instrumental world, with awards and/or acknowledgments including the Independent Music Awards Song of the Year; and Whisperings Solo Piano Radio Album of the Year.  McLaughlin’s latest effort, Undercurrent, is a powerful and moving cycle of 13 songs that demand your attention.

McLaughlin is a new age composer with a pop musician’s heart, writing in almost a singer/songwriter style.  It’s therefore not surprising to be occasionally reminded stylistically of pop recordings as you pass through Undercurrent.  The opening track, “11,000 Miles”, carries an air of Billy Joel in its straight ahead musicality.  It’s a pop anthem, unrestrained by subtlety but thoroughly enjoyable.  There’s more nuance to “Living in Awe”, which has an emotional, if not dramatic build.  The early trend on the album is not toward finesse, but almost to a power songwriting aesthetic.  Even the waterfall-like chorus of “Full of Love” carries this impetuosity, like a child seeing new wonders of the world for the first time. 

It isn’t until “The Space Between” where we catch glimpses of McLaughlin’s more pensive side.  As she moves into the second part of the song, however, McLaughlin’s muse storms back with a rush, pushing with an impatient insistence the story she has to tell.  She steps back for “Undercurrent”, but even here the quiet surface is deceptive, and the listener is soon caught up in her musical pull.  “Starstuff” makes no bones about its push, but McLaughlin seems to draw down the intensity on “Never Give Up”.  There’s a singular beauty to this piece, which reflects in grace and subtlety the depth of emotion it represents.  A sort of quietude pervades “Evolution”.  You might expect that this song would follow its own title and evolve into something louder or grander, and to a degree it does, but it is a gradual slide up the scale that shows tremendous finesse. 

“On My Own” showcases McLaughlin at her very best, with melody, finesse and lyric grace fully integrated.  This transitions into “Melody in Motion”; starting as a plaintive waltz but becomes an aggressively melodic piece of musical prose.  McLaughlin’s cascading piano style is imperative and impulsive and utterly without reserve.  A sonic code arrives with “Stepping Stones”, a pensive-yet-spritely meditation that’s pretty and refined.  McLaughlin closes out with “Synesthesia”, a quietly impatient number that rolls over and over itself without a sense of where it’s going until it arrives.

Michele McLaughlin impresses with “Undercurrents”.  Her compositional style is impetuous, inpatient and often lacks a sense of subtlety, but it is also ultimately inspired.  McLaughlin isn't afraid to be herself.  She wears her heart on her sleeve and she touches listeners with her musical honesty.  It might not be for everyone, but if you get it then you’ll find something to like here.

Rating:   4 Stars (Out of 5)


Learn more at www.michelemclaughlin.com.  Purchase Undercurrents via Amazon or iTunes, or via McLaughlin's Web Store.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Blade of Grass - She Was [EP]


Blade of Grass – She Was [EP]
2014, Blade of Grass

Blade of Grass is a minimalist, post-rock electronic duo from Los Angeles.  Josh James and Mike Hurst combine electro, rock, surf and world music influences to craft simplistic yet intriguing arrangements that serve as a bed for Josh’s vocal melodies.  The band released two singles as a two-song EP in the summer of 2014 entitled “She Was”.  While the EP doesn’t give a clear sense of the duo’s musical direction, it does serve as an intriguing introduction.

Blade Of Grass kicks things off with “She Was”, a droning post-pop ode to love lost.  This one is likely a love/hate proposition for listeners.  Josh James sings with a droning, nasal quality that affects the low-speed angst of remembered heartache, while a minimalist electronic arrangement counts the slow passing of time.  This will either connect or it won’t, but it is well and artfully done.  “Who You Gonna Run To” is likely to have more general appeal, with its mellow vibe and pure vocal line.  The simple arrangement is appealing, with a more readily apparent musicality than the previous track.  James’ voice is more appealing here as well, presented with a softer edge.

Blade of Grass isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but there’s a unique muse at work here.  She Was is an intriguing introduction to a duo with a lot, perhaps, to say, but whatever they say is going to have their own distinctive musical pizzazz.  I can’t guarantee you will like everything you hear, but there’s enough artistic juice here that you’re bound to respect even that which you do not find a feel for.  

This one is a keeper.

Rating:  4 Stars (Out of 5)


She Was is available from Amazon or iTunes.

Light Over There - Light Over There


Light Over There – Light Over There
2015, Light Over There

The ubiquitous nature of the internet has allowed for artists who might never otherwise meet to connect and make some great art.  Perhaps none of those stories is as intriguing as the one behind Light Over There.  Rex Haberman is a musical veteran, with two solo albums, a duo album a series of EPs with socially progressive rockers War Poets.  Aileen Henderson is an 18 year old resident of Galway, Ireland.  Haberman Aileen Henderson met via Twitter in 2014, and still have never met face to face. Nevertheless, they have begun a writing and recording partnership that is bound to catch your ear.  The duo, with the help of a handful of Nashville musicians, recently released their debut EP, Light Over There

Light Over There kicks off with “Where Memories Live”, a solid Americana rocker with a good voice and the wonderfully enigmatic lead vocals of Aileen Henderson.  The song tackles the subject of dementia and the devastating impact it has on families.  In spite of heaviness of the subject, there’s a lightness and energy to the guitar-driven arrangement that reflects love for the passive protagonist.  This energy carries over to “She Cries To You”.  The juxtaposition of Henderson’s reserved yet dynamic voice and the up-beat rock arrangement is reminiscent of some of the better work of the Cowboy Junkies.  You’ll have a hard time shaking this song; it will follow you around for a few days, popping into you head at the most random moments.

“I Ain’t That Bad” is a low-key duet between Haberman and Henderson that’s well meant but perhaps doesn’t work quite as well as expected.  The arrangement has a country-ish Gin Blossoms feel, but there’s little vocal chemistry between Haberman and Henderson, and the gap is something of a distraction.  “Solitude, Gratitude” is another solid, low-key rocker, but Henderson’s vocal energy just isn’t this one.  Her voice is pleasant enough here, there’s just no oomph in the performance this time around.  Light Over There closes out with “Mountain Song”, by far the standout track on the EP.  It’s catchy, yet understated, and makes a brilliant showcase for Aileen Henderson’s voice.   Everything clicks here.

Light Over There chose their name as a reflection of the wonder of two musical kindred spirits finding one another across the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean (or the internet).  That inspiration is apparent on Light Over There more often than not.  The disconnect of recording in different places at different times does show up at times, but the band generally does a very good job of bringing an organic feel to the songs.  It will be interesting to see how the project progresses over time; working face to face will likely help Haberman and Henderson find the deeper roots that are apparent from the music on their promising debut.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)


Learn more about Light Over There from the band’s Facebook page.  Light Over There is available via Amazon or iTunes.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

War Poets - Searching For The American Dream


War Poets – Searching for the American Dream
2015, War Poets

Minnesota rockers War Poets have been busy in the last year.  Their most recent release, Searching for the American Dream, is the third in a cycle of three EPs the band has released in the past nine months.  The cycle is a series of rock and roll meditations on issues faced in modern American, as seen through the politically jaded eyes of the Occupy movement.  Searching for the American Dream is the cycle’s culmination, referencing issues of incarceration; income inequality; respect for prostitutes; and revolution.

The EP opens with “Day Dream”, a compact little rocker with smooth edges.  The song is mildly catchy and will appeal to fans of classic rock.  The lyrical content is awkward but consistent with issues addressed in the television show American Crime.  “Shadows” is a clumsy humanistic take on redemption.  It’s a great listen musically, but the disconnect between sound and lyric may be tough to take.  “On My Own” is a classic rock biograph of a homeless man who experienced child abuse; ran away and grew up on his own.  The song is well written, and the sound references Pink Floyd or perhaps post-DeYoung Styx.

“Sarah” is a song of affection for a prostitute that looks to remove the stigma of the world’s oldest profession.  It also works as an atypical love song if you’re not listening to the words too closely.  “Pay The Piper” is all about income inequality and revolution.  This is perhaps the standout track on the EP; featuring a tremendously catchy arrangement.  Searching for the American Dream winds down with “Hey There”, a middling rocker about the pursuit of happiness and love.

War Poets are musically competent on Searching for the American Dream.  The band is musically in sync and wears their progressive social management views on their collective sleeve.  The message, whatever you might think of it, is ineptly delivered more often than not.  This is a mixed bag that will have some regional appeal but just doesn’t have enough universal appeal to break big.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more at www.warpoets.net.  Purchase Searching for the American Dream from Amazon or iTunes.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Video: White Like Fire - You Gave Up On Me

Pittsburgh rockers White Like Fire have a new album, Wait The Night Out, dropping on April 21, 2015.  The first single from the album, "You Gave Up On Me", is an impressive introduction to the band that has the potential to launch them into a higher musical orbit.  Check out the video today, a great morsel to start off the week.



Learn more at www.whitelikefire.com.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Love and Music

Music is a generous suitor.  There’s always something new and interesting to catch your ear.  The concept of falling in love is a fair parallel for finding new music that moves you.  “Love” can mean so many things of course.  You can fall madly in love someone, or love them like a brother or sister; or love them in a new age/agape sense that many claim but few understand.  Our attractions to music can be very similar in their disparate sensibilities and styles.  Sometimes you need something to rock you; others you need something to soothe you.  Sometimes you just want to think or feel; and sometimes you want none of these.  The common element is that you find something that touches you on one level or another.  It might be a tryst, or it might become a lifelong love; but music rarely leaves you unscathed.


Just like any relationship, the connection between artist and fan must be maintained.  The artist keeps up their side through new material, but also through their social and personal connections with their fan base.  Some relationships start strong and fade over time; some start slow but grow over time.  I am perhaps talking in circles here, but these concepts apply to two albums I want to talk about today.
The first is from The Grace Stumberg Band, a Buffalo-based act fronted by the indomitable Grace Stumberg.  Stumberg is a diminutive singer with a huge voice, in the vein of Grace Potter.  Over her first two albums, 2011’s To Whom It May Concern, and 2012’s Affect, Stumberg has shown off a powerful voice and a strong songwriting sensibility.  She has an ability to light up a room with that voice.  I was understandable excited upon hearing that Stumberg would be releasing a live album in 2015.  Live At The Studio Café (Popadelic Records) is a fair representation of Stumberg’s live set a fact that is both encouraging and disappointing at times.  The album is encouraging because it gives an accurate representation of her impressive sound, and the material here is among her best.  At the same time, the energy level on the album perhaps leaves something to be desired.  Stumberg is very much engaged with her audience, and the band backs her 100%, but the album doesn’t do her live presence justice. 



At the same time, another Buffalo-based band, Bryan Johnson and Family is coming into their own.  The band released a self-titled demo back in 2011 to positive reviews.  The songwriting showed promise and the sound was dynamic, but the production wasn’t quite where the band wanted it to be.  Bryan Johnson and Family return in 2015 with Cool Your Jets (Admirable Trait Records), a delicious five song EP full of a rock and roll ethic and a wonderfully danceable sound.  The sound is much more polished this time around, and Johnson’s lead vocals and guitar work lead a tight and dynamic quartet with serious chops.  There’s a garage/surf/rock ethic here that’s primitive in nature, but this is overlaid with a polished musical veneer that is impossible to ignore.  Highlights include the title track, “Cerulean Eyes” and “Dead Fox”.  

Both bands are great representatives of the Buffalo original music scene, and both have the potential to rise above it.  Stumberg’s sound might be a little too comfortable to break big, but the talent is there.  Bryan Johnson and Family are still honing and developing their sound, but the pop sensibility and DIY/alternative sound they are cultivating speak of big things down the road.

Stumberg’s Live at the Studio Café is a solid 3 stars out of 5.  You can learn more about Stumberg at www.gracestumberg.com. In the mean time, check out this live rendition of "Root Beer Fairy".



Bryan Johnson and Family’s Cool Your Jets clocks in at 3.5 stars out of 5, but it has some definite 4 star moments.  Learn more at https://www.facebook.com/bjandfam.  
For now, here's a little live footage to wet your whistle.