Dec 2

The Exploding Boy – Four

by Edward, Filed under: Reviews

The Exploding Boy from Sweden is one of my favorite bands of the millennium.  Their  album “Four”, released last year is, obviously, their fourth release,  a fine follow up to “The Black Album” from 2011. Heavily influenced by Post-punk, Goth, and Punk, The Exploding Boy’s “Four” has music  that is fully contemporary and accessible with Pop sensibilities, yet still fully within the edgy tradition of ’80s underground.

“Cracked- Reasons” has some great post-punk guitar and rhythmic percussion.  The song thunders along with a freight train, while  the vocals are typical Exploding Boy: direct and forceful.  Clearly guitar driven, there is a fine layer of synth that adds depth.   The cadence reminds me a but of The Cure, with a catchy chorus.  At about 2:27 is my favorite part of the song:  riveting guitars and compelling vocals.

“Street Cliche” starts out with a very synth ’80s feel ala Deprech Mode, but then the guitars explode with a roar.   Percussion is hard and driving, while the vocals have a slightly distant feel that is juxtaposed with insistent layering.

“Going to Hell” is smoother and more synth driven, with a base line that expertly hovers just beneath the percussion and vocals.  The guitar is crisp and adds a sense of lucidity, to the brooding synth.  Lyrics are somber and vehement       “You look at me and you are lying/it’s so obvious to see..anyone can tell/you’re going to hell.”

“Dark City, Pt II” is hard-driving and dynamic.  This is a great song for the dancefloor. I am reminded a bit of the Sisters of Mercy.  “I’ve been alone far too long/lie down next to me…” The chord changes are somehow particularly gripping, and the chorus is riveting. The rapid guitar at about 4:00 is masterful.

“Runaways” is brilliant, just brilliant, with shades of The Church. Synth is sweeping and gives a monumental foundation to the dramatic, visceral vocals.  “It’s all right here in the moment….”.     From the turbulent guitars and dirge-like percussion to the “western” flourishes of synth,  “Runaways”  rises and falls like a grand musical  epic.

“Awful”  changes the pace a bit, with a New Wave feel. Staccato percussion and ponderous, yet forceful  bass  lead the way.    Some of the  flourishes remind me of harpsichord.  “I don’t know what you want/do you want to kill me?”   Layers of sound in the background fill the spaces admirably, then saw-edged guitar ups the ante.  A discordant chorus ends the song on a nice jangly note.

“Shadows” has Punk overtones that lie beneath a momentary darkwave facade.  Blistering  rock guitar  blows the covers right  off the speakers, as  percussion runs riot alongside fervent vocals.  “Leave me alone the damage is done/ just begun.” The song lowers with sparse keyboard before ramping up again and careening to a fuzz laden close.

“Always”  features excellent fast-paced postpunk guitar and driven by inexorable percussion.  Vocals are fast and incisive, buttressed by hairpin  synth that is as sharp as Joe Jackson’s shoes. There is a some searing  deathrock-ish guitar  about halfway through that propels this great  song to a finish.

“Get it Out” is slow and hypnotic with an opening reminiscent of Siousxie.  Excellent basslines roam beneath catchy synth, while  the vocals and   tight percussion  are  somewhat reminiscent of Lush.

“Scared to Death” reminds me of Echo and the Bunnymen meets Catherine Wheel.  Very evocative in the tradition of ’80s postpunk, there is also a sense of power as in the best of ’90s Indie. Orchestral synth accentuates powerhouse guitar and layered vocals that have a hint of echo.  There is a strident, shouted “harmony” beneath the chorus.   “Take a breath, hold on tight/there’s no need to be scared tonight” The song ends with the eerie beating of  a Tell Tale heart.

I have probably missed a few things here, but hopefully I had hit the high points.  The production on “Four” is outstanding.  There is no filler here at all.  One of the things I like most about The Exploding Boy is that that they incorporate Gothic elements without trying to imitate the typical swirling, doomy drone of the late ’80s into ’90s.   Really, we’ve heard enough of  that.   The same with postpunk.  If I want to hear Joy Division I’ll throw on a Joy Division CD.   Time marches on.   The Exploding Boy manages to evoke that unsettled feeling that brings a sense of nostalgia to Goths of a certain age, while at the same time being dynamic and relevant.    It’s great driving music, and great headphone music too.    Just as important, the guys in the band are  friendly too.    Give them a listen.

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Nov 30

Ira Wolf – Fickle Heart

by Edward, Filed under: Reviews

Originally from Montana, new folk singer/songwriter Ira Wolf  moved to Nashville in 2013, and completed her second tour in the fall of 2014. Ira Wolf’s  songs are based on her personal experiences.  “Fickle Heart” was just released in September.

With infectious fiddle and banjo, “Can’t Say” is catchy and energetic. There is a touch of Irish Folk in here, balanced with very contemporary layered vocals on the moving chorus. The steel guitar lends a nice Country vibe.

“Poison in my Veins” is slower and poignant. Militaristic percussion meshes well with languid bass and moody  guitar.  The song rises and fills out at about 3:00, with synth in the background. Vocals are smooth, yet incisive.

“Give a Damn Danny” features understated, yet edgy banjo and firm, strident percussion. “You want it all, but you know that ain’t fair/I keep saying don’t you come back around. but you turn on the charm and my guard is down.” Vocals are sincere and personal,  with the sudden swell of  the  chorus adding weight to the song before it closes.

“The Devil and Me”  gallops along with choppy, foreboding  guitar, sharp fiddle, and steady bass on this eminently danceable song.  Percussion emerges and sets the pace, while the  guitar evokes shades of the Eagles’  “Desperado” era.  Ira’s vocals are wonderfully fatalistic yet defiant.   “They told me that I was headed for the devil/I asked them what a life if you’re livin’ like you’re dead?” A bit of echo adds a dark touch.  “I was born to be a sinner/I was born to be free/I was born to dance with two left feet.” This is a great song, perhaps my favorite on the album.

“Won’t Talk” is a soft chronicle of a rather complicated relationship.  “I won’t talk and you won’t talk/and we’ll just walk away…” The song begins soft and mellow with a furtive air, but suddenly firm percussion and  and expertly layered vocals heighten a sense of sincere regret that is not quite enough to change anything.   The song will resonate with everyone who has faced conflicting emotions. Vocals are superb, and the subtle backing instruments are the perfect complement.

“In the Dark”  is fast paced and flowing, percussion driven with hypnotic steel guitar. Vocals are again superbly  layered, with an echo effect that gives the song an enigmatic feel.   “There are monsters  underneath my bed/keep me up and scared to death“  The “monsters” are ones of doubt and futility that we all face at one  time or another.

“Fickle Heart” has a Celtic cadence with clear, precise guitar that is reminiscent of some of the artists on the Windham Hill label but quite a  bit stronger.  Vocals are simple, yet powerful.  Backing guitar has some fine echo, which gives the song an otherworldly kind of vibe.  This is the right song to end the Cd.

Ira Wolf takes new folk in a different and quite refreshing  direction than most, with pleasing melodies and straightforward lyrics.  There is more strength here than is first apparent. The production is excellent, and it is obvious that the vision behind “Fickle Heart” was a solid one.  Fans of folk and rock alike will appreciate the clarity and intimacy of  “Fickle Heart” as well as Ira Wolf’s fine vocals.

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Nov 26

Brahma Bull – Leader of the Pack

by Edward, Filed under: Reviews

I usually don’t review singles, but there is a first time for everything.   “Leader of the Pack” is the first solo and video by Jeff McCool, AKA Brahma Bull,  founder of Moccasin Creek. I first discovered Moccasin Creek as few months ago and  was blown away. They have some truly great stuff that is on my permanent playlist.  “The South Never Died” is one of the most outstanding songs ever written!   I was deeply disappointing to have missed their local shows in my area, but that’s the breaks. They are growing more popular by the day, and I was very pleased to see Brahma Bull’s first single, which was released on may 30th.  I’m a little late, but I’ll do what I can to rep it  here.

The first time I heard “Leader of the Pack”, the lyrics jumped right out at me.  Anyone who has read any of my other reviews knows that I consider lyrics to be just as important as the music in a song.  If the lyrics don’t move me, the song doesn’t move me.  This ain’t no disco.   And Brahma Bull ain’t fooling around.  He  hits the mark from the very start:

“They said it couldn’t be done man that makes me laugh/ you can’t mix country, metal, southern rock, and rap / they were right, you can’t, I can, I will/you tried, you failed, I win, for real”

This echoed a topic that I had been thinking about for a while.  My girlfriend and I had quite a few discussions about this very thing,  so it was very cool to hear someone else write a song about it.  There seems to be a lot of elitism in music these days, and this has increased exponentially with the fragmenting of music into many niches and enclaves.    But it seems to have taken on a tone of meanness, where people are trying to exclude and ridicule others.  This has never been what music was about.   Sure, there should be some standards and definitions,  but this should be in the spirit of community, not snobbery.  In the end, all music is subjective.  It is all about how it makes you feel.  No one can say that their opinions are better than anyone else’s.  No one has to justify or explain why they like any particular music.

Anyway, a couple of months ago, C-Hubb of Redneck Souljers made a comment  on Facebook that hit the heart of the matter.  He said something to the effect that when he grew up listening to Classic Country and Rap too, and he didn’t think anything about it.  I know what he means, when I was growing up I listened to all different types of music.  The radio was more eclectic that today.   I listened to everything from Johnny Cash to Led Zep, and I didn’t think much about it either. People  liked what they  liked. “Nuff said.  Nobody sat around and insulted folks because of the music they listened to.

“Leader of the Pack” features a foundation of hard-hitting  metal riffs,  while Brahma Bull  delivers fervent rhymes commemorating  Country, Rap, and metal. References to Ozzy, Motorhead, Slayer, Black Sabbath, Kiss on one hand, and then LeeAnne Rimes, Willie,  David Allan Coe,  Billy Ray Cyrus ,and all three Hanks on the other hand show that that Brahma Bull is not just whistlin’ Dixie.  He has listened to music prolifically and his inspiration comes from many different sources.  He celebrates MUSIC.  Music is like your hometown. You might not like where you grew up, but it will always be a part of you.

I love the references that shoot through this song like a 30-06 in deer season, so fast that you’ll miss them if you’re not paying attention.  “Half drunk and hollow eyed….” And  “I go hard you’re soft, you’re limp, you biscuit” . And my favorite:  a little Stephen King, with “…Riddle me this….” He gets deadly serious with  “This stuff they call country makes me sick/all they sing about are big trucks and chicks/tell a story/write your own damn hits/Merle Waylon Johnny George and Coe would hate that shit.” This is exactly what some of the Country elitists who snubb Hick Hop are saying.  They need to realize that folks like Brahma Bull are on the same side as they are.   Everybody who loves Country doesn’t have to sound like the Possum or only listen to Classic Country.

Musically “Leader of the Pack” is tight and concise.  There is no “fashionable” sloppiness that characterizes a lot of music these days.  From the heavy guitar riffs to the piano that evokes a glimmer of Skynyrd,  its the perfect platform for Brahma Bull’s vocals.  Most important of all, this song is from the heart. Love it or hate it, it is straight up and genuine.

“Welcome to my jungle where the moonshine grows”. Hell yeah!   Check out Brahma Bull  (and Moccasin Creek, too.)

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Nov 24

Strand of Oaks – Heal

by Edward, Filed under: Reviews

I first heard of Stand of Oaks while drifting through SiriusXM one day, when I chanced to linger on The Loft.  The music there was not as bad as I feared, it was actually decent stuff.   When “Shut In” was played, it was so  good that I immediately hit the button for track information.  At home I checked out the entire album and purchased it.

Strand of Oaks have released four albums since 2009.  Founder Timothy Showalter and his wife Sue were in a severe traffic accident on Christmas Day, 2013.   This near death experience was the impetus behind “Heal”.

“Goshen’97″  is an autobiographical song with a strong Indie vibe.  Nicely layered vocals are backed with blasting rock guitar and furious percussion.

“Heal”  has fast paced vocals, buttressed with edgy synth, orchestral backing effects, and syncopated percussion.  The energetic arrangements bring New Order to mind,  while the rapid-fire vocals have a gritty sincerity,  but flow smoothly at the same time.

“Same Emotions” has a great chorus that invokes shades of ’70′s R&B, brilliantly laid over industrial-paced  synth and percussion.   There is a great synth interlude about half way through the song, while the guitar creeps surreptitiously  in.   The song finishes  with a fine flourish  of galloping percussion.

“Shut In”  is simply a great song.  Vocals have a sort of ’90s feel, and manages to be introspective and energetic at the same time.  Percussion is nice and strong, resonating with an almost postpunk  roll. Edgy guitar emerges from the background, buttressed by synth that rises like a tide at the perfect moment.  There are also very cool echo effects that add  a fine sense of depth.  The song ends with feedback and a rumble of percussion that fades into a moving piano and vocal finish.

“Woke Up to the Light”  is somewhat reminiscent of The Search.  The  slow, measured percussion and moody synth remind me of a military dirge.  Vocals are introspective, nearly a lament, with great layers of contrasting moods juxtaposed on each other.    Synth drops low and heavy, adding a depth to the song that is visceral and dramatic.

“JM”  reminds me strongly of Neil Young Crazy Horse on songs like Cortez the Killer  Poignant piano joins plaintive vocals, and suddenly a wall of sound falls.  Percussion is heavy and sort of syncopated,  never wavering behind the epic guitar, which lowers to a sombre roar before rising to a crescendo.  The song clocks in at over seven minutes.  I am usually no big fan of songs this long, but “JM” fully keeps my interest.  There is some excellent sonic layering here.    The song slows to a bit of quiet piano before subtly closing.

“Plymouth” changes pace a bit.  Vocals are moving and heartfelt, especially the chorus, which has a nice bit of discordant harmony.  Sharp, clear percussion sets the pace for the song along side keyboards.  Electro background effects provide a wonderfully spacey and  dark soundscape  and add a perfect sense of balance.   Comfort doesn’t mean you’re better off…” This is definitely a song for headphones.

“Mirage Year” continues in the same vein.  Profoundly regretful, yet with a sense of lingering nostalgia, this song also evokes shades of Neil Young, particularly the falsetto phrase “Ohhh, love can bring you down“.   Halfway through, the listener is deluged in a heavy sonic wave of feedback and cacophony that somehow remains under control.  Suddenly it ends, dropping to a slow, echoed piano finale.

“For Me” rocks out.  Gripping fuzz laden guitar rolls alongside incisive percussion, with rattling effects in the background.  Vocals are pensive yet decisive.  “and the sun fell right out of the sky“.  Suddenly everything  falls together in a towering anthem that ends like a fitful dream.

“Wait for Love”  closes out the album in a grand fashion.  Evocative, almost prim piano, accompanies fervent vocals that have a hint of  otherworldly distortion.  Percussion turns frantic, while feedback pervades the senses.   A sense of longing turns to madness or joy or just release, and then fades into the ether.

“Heal” is suffused with emotion, but this does not weigh it down  like has been the case with too many other bands.  This is no mean feat.    The compositions are strong, and effectively meld together disparate musical threads.  The result is wholly satisfying and memorable.  There is not a weak song here.  There have been some complaints about the mastering, but I see no issues at all.    “Heal” is a masterful album that resonates deeply.   Check it out.

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Oct 15

Brooke McBride – Songs About Carolina

by Edward, Filed under: Reviews

Sadly to say, I have not meet Brooke McBride in person, nor heard her perform live.  Not for want of trying.  Last year I hurried over to a venue in Raleigh after work where she was performing, but a major storm caused the event to be cancelled.  I rushed to my second choice that night, an event In Chapel Hill, NC.  I REALLY wish that storm had not occurred.  But it was a good learning experience. I discovered who was real and who wasn’t.

But I do feel fortunate to  have heard Brooke’s music.  She has earned my sincere admiration because she is very responsive to her fans.   ALL of her fans, not just ones  that fit in a certain ‘scene’ or have a certain ‘look’.  Too many local bands are like this, and it is truly sad.  Brooke  is also very dedicated to her music.  Not content to be a big fish in a small pond like many other bands, she took the big leap and moved to Nashville in 2013.  She tours prolifically across a multi-state area.  Within a year of her move  she had been in a Brad Paisley CMA Promo commercial, a Darius Rucker GAC special, and a featured extra on ABC’s “Nashville.”   This past spring, Spring 2014, Brooke graduated Cum Laude from Belmont University.  Here in NC,  is a  2013 Carolina Music Award nominee and 4-time Charlotte Music Award nominee.  Brooke takes her music seriously and she is taking it places.

Brooke grew up in rural North Carolina, and this is clearly reflected in her music.  Not long ago a local musician (who doubtlessly would prefer to be unnamed) told me  “there is more to Country music than just the songs”.  He went on to say that the people, culture, and the history are important elements.  I agreed wholeheartedly.  There are two kinds of Country musicians.  First, ones who grew up in the country.  Country culture and music have always been part of their lives.  Second, musicians who learned Country by listening to Country songs.  Don’t get me wrong.  There is nothing wrong with the latter.   There are musicians who didn’t grow up Country who write some fine songs.  But for me,  it’s one thing to sing a song about Country life, it’s another to have LIVED a Country life and sing about it.  This is what adds soul to the music. It’s real.  Not just a line in a song inspired from a line in another song. For me, lyrics are a  critical element in any music.  I don’t care if someone sounds like the prefect Honky-Tonk band.  If their lyrics could have been written by the Eagles, then they ain’t Country.

Even if someone sounds exactly like George Jones in 1966,  the music isn’t enough.  The singer  has to  add something of their own to the music,  and they have to make me feel something  when I hear it.  If they don’t, I’d rather just go and put the Possum on the stereo.  The original is always better than an imitation.  Country music is alive.  It never sItopped growing.  The best Country music is relevant to our everyday life.

Brooke isn’t trying to emulate anyone else.  Her music is…well….hers.  It’s some of the most evocative music I’ve heard in a long time.   From the opening lines of her first song, “Open Sunday”, it is clear that Brooke is genuine Country.  She’s  lived it.  She knows it. Even though Brooke is only 21 years old, “Open Sunday” brought back a sheer wave of memories of  my own childhood in rural NC.  “There’s two empty rocking chairs on the front porch/of the little while house on Lumber Road/every Sunday my whole family used to be be there/ and it was the only day Granddaddy’s store was closed/when those old chairs get to swaying/I can almost see my Grandma/then I blink and it’s just the wind

Man,  I felt like had been talking to Brooke personally about my own family!  I pass a pair of empty rocking chairs every time I travel to Davie County.  My Grandfather was a Country barber in a little North Carolina town for 50 years, and when the sign came down from his old barbershop I felt a keen sense of incredible loss.  Brooke’s fine vocals convey that same sense of loss and reflection. Guitar is evocative and the syncopated percussion is light, but adds weight to the song.  The layered vocals and chorus are poignant and gripping.  “Open Sundays, ain’t it funny how things change/even even in the sleepiest town/everybody’s awake/how I wish it was still the old way/when church doors and Grandma’s kitchen/were the only things open Sunday.”  “Open Sunday” is truly a fine song.

But before we get too far down memory lane, Brooke hits the listener with the “The Dog”.   “If you do me wrong you’ll find out/you don’t hurt a girl from the South”. Yes!  We’ve heard enough tear-in-my-beer and I’m-gonna-lay-down-and-die-’cause-my-baby’s-gone songs.  Real Southern girls don’t lie around and weep. They kick butt when they are wronged.  And Brooke sure enough does it in “The Dog”.   “I took the jeep hooked up his boat/took all his clothes that I could tote/and I struck a match just to watch them burn.” Now THAT’S a REAL Southern girl. “I took everything everything he every owned/but I left him the dog”.   Not one of our canine companions, either!   “With her big brown eyes and red lipstick/you can’t miss her tail the way she wags it/just whistle and she’ll jump right in your lap“.   Yep, you push a real Southern girl too far, and that courtesy her Mama taught her gets put aside and the ball bat comes out.    As a mater of fact, she  even mentions her mama.   This is a fast-paced song with deft and hard-hitting guitar.  Some great fiddle is thrown in there, and the percussion just gallops along.  “Be careful what you ask for/you jut might bet your wish/now he’s sleeping in the doghouse/ with a…female dog”.    Ha!  By the way, this is a great dance song, too.

“Songs About Carolina” is a tribute to Brooke’s home. The song has some  awesome fiddle and mandolin for that down-home sound.    “Oh Lord, take me home/I didn’t know what I had.until what I had was gone/where strangers wave when they drive by/staring into the night/no city lights to burn my eyes….”   This brings back many a memory for me of the years I spent in the cities of South Florida, yearning for the stars in a Carolina country sky.    “No matter where I am/I’m  there in my mind/When I come back just to leave/it tears my gypsy soul/the only way I can go home/is through the radio“.  I was delighted to hear her reference to James Taylor, who my girlfriend and I have loved since out high school days.  The chorus on “Songs About Carolina” is simply fabulous.  The whole song packs a visceral  punch that strikes right at the heart. “..there’s a reason there’s so many songs about Carolina“  Indeed!

“Not Knockin’ Anymore”  is a very soulful number, that showcases Brooke’s vocal range.  “You said “I’ll love you til I die/looks like you didn’t live very long/there’s still life left in your lyin’ eyes/but baby I know what’s going on.” Brooke’s vocals reminds me a little bit of Reba McEntire.   She is regretful but firm, “I’m not made of ivory piano keys/and you can’t play me/a game that you created/and simply stated: you LOSE“.  Damn straight!   There is some fantastic country-rock guitar here, that brings to mind a crisper Joe Walsh.  The flourish at the end is very Neil Young-ish.  Percussion is stronger on this song than the others, but not overpowering

“This Guitar and Me”  is a heartfelt, genuine song with some fine backing vocals.  The guitars are mellow, but buttressed by percussion that adds just the right weight.   “First one that ever knew that I loved you/and is the only one that knows I still do/and now I do what it means/to be a broken soul mended by strings”. Sung like a true musician, this is a good song to end the EP.  But I’d love to have heard another five songs!

“Songs About Carolina” is very well produced.  Everything sounds right where it should be.  All the musicians here are clearly talented and dedicated.   Brooke sings about her life, and she makes it sound like she’s singing about your life too.  This is what Country is all about.  Her love for Country, the South, and North Carolina shines through her songs like a full moon on a Carolina night.  This is about as authentic as it gets.

This is an EP that Brooke and the band can be proud of.   We look forward to the next one.

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