Archive for the 'Reviews' Category

2Steel Girls – Red White and Blue Girls

October 08th, 2017 by Edward, Filed under: Reviews
2steel-girls-red-white-and-blue-girls

2Steel Girls is the mother/daughter Allison and Krystal Steel, who appeared on NBC’s The Voice, impressing Blake Shelton so much that he became their coach.  (Aaron Steel is the band’s lead guitarist and co-writer.)  They have made many TV appearances, including  The Today Show, and are official ambassadors for  Realtree camo. They were also Nashville Universe Artists of the Year & Song of the Year in 2015.  After a successful kickstarter campaign in 2014, their  debut CD “Red White & Blue Girls.” was released in 2016. Recorded in Nashville and produced by Trey Bruce, Red White and Blue Girls is a very effective synthesis of old and new Country.

2Steel Girls came to my attention on Facebook, and honestly I cannot remember exactly when I first saw them.  I have been following them for quite some time. There were three things that immediately impressed me about 2Steel Girls.  First, their music is excellent. Second, they are very responsive to all their fans.  This is pretty unusual in an age where social media seems to turn otherwise friendly  musicians into raging egotists that would put Henry VIII to shame. Third, they are  trying to put their music out the hard way:  by reaching out to their fans.  Unlike some bands I have encountered in certain “indie” scenes, 2Steel Girls don’t wear their “do-it-yourself” efforts like a mantle of martyrdom or some cloak of musical purity.  It’s all about sharing their music. 2Steelgirls have been reviewed by people and publications a lot greater than mine. Honestly I can add very little to further their goal.  But most of those reviews are about the story, not about the music. The story is important, to be sure, but sometimes reviewers tend to shove the music into the background.  So I decided to review this album.  With their indigogo campaign going into it’s final weeks, I thought it would be good to provide readers here with an in depth look at 2Steel Girls and their music.

The title track, Red White and Blue Girls is Country Pop at its finest. Harmonies are strong, and the fine vocals will reel the listener in like flipping a 10 pound bass on a summer day. The chorus is criminally infectious, and the  percussion is steady and not overpowering, but just enough to fill in the spaces. The guitar emerges from the background at all the right moments. then spirals masterfully around the vocals up to the end.

Mad Black Magic shifts the gears and roars into hard Country Rock territory with the hammer down. Twangy guitar leads off, before cutting through the sharp percussion like an electric saw.  The vocals are filled with energy with  a solid Shania-Twain-meets-Joan-Jett kind of punch,  and the chorus is addictive. “I’m feeling hotter than a stolen car with Vegas plates.” I love the little  “Addicted to Love”  style flourish.  The guitar has  shades of ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaugh, but does it seamlessly. There is a also a little bit of chop here that really adds some energy.  Mad Black Magic is high octane all the way around.

The Devil Leads drops back into a pure Country sound. This is my favorite song on the album, because it truly showcases Allison’s and Crystal’s vocals. Poignant and wistful, their voices are filled with a profound sense of loss. The harmonies are masterful, and remind me a bit of Emmylou Harris. The backing arrangements are perfect  From the distant,western” style guitar to the plaintive fiddle and the understated percussion, they form the perfect counterpoint to this utterly compelling song.  “When you’re dancing with the Devil/the Devil leads….”

Cheap Motel veers back into Country Pop, on a roller coaster ride that is both fervent and dangerous. The mesmerizing vocals are  little bit Bluesy and a little bit Soulful, overlaid with Pop sensibility and a brash, kick-ass Country attitude. The second half of the song is fast and furious. Raging percussion accompanies hard, nearly metal guitar,which is expertly tempered with a Neil Young sort of dark edginess. There is an gripping anthem-like quality to Cheap Motel that is best experienced when you play it loud“I’m never gonna let you come around baby/and if you do then you’re gonna see crazy…” 

The final song, Red White and Blue Girls (Dirty Rice Remix) is the perfect finish to the album. It all comes full circle, leaving the listeners yearning for more. “Gonna pour a little sunshine in your cup/nobody does a good time quite like us.” That’s for sure, and no one does music quite like 2Steel Girls!  They hold their own with anyone in Country music, and its only going to get better.  Check out some o these songs on their website.  You can buy the album on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Red-White-Blue-Girls-2steel/dp/B01GAFDNIY

2Steel Girls are trying to fund their next full length album with an indiegogo campaign. Please help them out so they can take their talent to new heights. You can contribute at

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/2steel-girls-project-sugar-rush-the-real-thing-comic-vinyl/x/1778707#/

See what all the fuss is about.  Check out more 2Steel Girls and their videos at

http://2steelgirls.com/

https://www.facebook.com/2SteelGirls/



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Ali August and the Abandoned Buildings – Is This Darkness?

June 04th, 2017 by Edward, Filed under: Reviews
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Eli August is back, and he is better than ever. This is no cliche, it’s the honest truth.  Eli and his fellow musicians  have done some excellent work in the past, and I have been impressed with it all.  But with Is This Darkness?, they have outdone themselves.

Honey features very visceral, gripping guitar that is diamond sharp and distant, almost reminiscent of the Doors. Backing vocals are fabulous, and the percussion is masterfully emphatic and hard . Eli’s voice is filled with strength and hope.  

Kentucky is a mesmerizing song with a fun Calypso type air.  There is some hot Jazz wonderfully thrown in.   The horn interludes add some real bite to the song . Backing vocals are superb. There is a choppy kind of percussion that nicely contrasts with a touch of bluegrass style picking.  All in all, Kentucky is a pure masterpiece. 

The Writer slows the pace for a bit before launching into a rousing,  energetic paean to the craft of writing.  “If there is no one to read what you write,  do you vanish into the night?” This theme echoes some of his previous songs, and it is nice to recognize the connection. The percussion relentlessly  pursues the furious guitar, that rages evocatively as Eli’s vocals rise to anthem-like heights.  Play this song LOUD. Then play it louder.  

Alive Again begins with slow, reflective piano. Eli’s vocals are low, fervent, and intense. The simplicity of the arrangements are very effective, proving the old adage that sometimes, less is indeed more.  And the listener certainly needs no more here.

The War is very much  anti-war, with a rolling gait almost reminiscent of a sea chantey, along with military-type snare percussion, and Eli’s fervent vocals. The backing vocals are a superb counterpoint, and clarinet soars as the song rises to a crescendo of poignancy and loss. ”Bodies are baptized with shells on the shore/that never come back from the war.”

A Light in this Life starts low and quiet, then launches into a rousing rock-type anthem, possibly the hardest that Eli has done to date. But then suddenly the tone drops into a very moving tableau of guitar, horns, and flute. Then Eli’s vocals practically explode, buttressed by strong percussion, and finally the song sinks to  murky depths of reflection and regret. A thunderous, nearly orchestral  finale abruptly ends the song. “A Light…” will linger in the memory long after the final notes subside. This is Eli’s  own“Ride of the Valkyries”.

Shadow and Stone is poignant and slow, but somehow keen and crystal clear. Eli’s vocals are showcased here, and his delivery is quite similar to pieces on his previous albums. The backing instruments are soft, with sort of a Renaissance “drone” effect that is very subtle.  Suddenly at about 3:00, percussion rears to the fore into and the song turns heavy, finally ending with a clever bit of a militaristic tattoo. ”But then the But I press on, into the dark.  And hope for change, somewhere in your heart.”  

Wilhelm Screams is one of my favorite songs on the album.  It begins with a Gothic Western sort of feel, Neil Young meets Marty Robbins, with a touch of the Heathen Apostles. There is a wonderful cadence to the song, like a stagecoach rolling across the dark plains. Eli’s voice is firm and strong. The guitar is very interesting, understated but solid.  Strings flow around the vocals like clouds stirring ahead of a storm.  “When you look up at the moon you see only a lie…“   

Next, Eli goes into a minimalist mode with Misery. This song is delightfully reminiscent of 19th century parlor music. Vocals are evocative and sincere, with keyboards and strings providing a sparse, yet poignant atmosphere. There is an odd sort of discordance here, that is very subtle, but quite gripping.

A Waltz After Midnight continues on the path set by  the previous song, but with a darker edge.  A swinging waltz tempo glides with Eli’s vocals as strings swirl around them like phantoms. There is a wonderful sort of Gypsy or Latin feel here, with a duet of backing instruments that is phenomenal, they culminate in a fast, rousing romp that momentarily reminds me of the long-vanished Israeli band Geula34. The pace slowly increases, becoming a vaguely sinister panoply. This is simply a great song.    “We all know the price but too often we can’t pay the cost...”

A Departure is a fitting end to this fine album.  Stylistically it is similar to Waltz but the theme is more direct. Part anthem and part plea, there is another fine interplay between Eli and the band. Deftly handled, sharp guitar and vigorous percussion set the pace, while Eli’s vocals are clear and sincere. In many ways this is an archetype for Eli’s work.

Is this Darkness? is Eli August’s finest work, and this is no mean feat, as his last album was a pretty tough act to follow. The production is fantastic, superb arrangements, great lyrics, and he is backed by an outstanding ensemble. Eli’s voice is stronger than it has ever been. Many of his songs have lost his trademark tremolo, and are more vocally diverse. While his music is tinged with melancholy and regret, you will find no fashionable, over-the-top angst here. His music will resonate for us all, reflecting the deep heartache of the soul that everyone feels in the darkest hours of the night. Yet there is always something more,  the possibility of some sort of redemption. Eli’s music remarkable honest and sincere. He is not afraid to step outside conventions, and you will certainly never find him following the herd. Is The Darkness? stands as the artistic pinnacle for Eli August and the Abandoned Buildings, but I am sure it will only remain so until their next release.

http://eliaugustmusic.com/

 

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Sweet Soubrette – Burning City

September 11th, 2016 by Edward, Filed under: Reviews

This review is long overdue, and my apologies to the band.   Though Burning City was released over  two years ago,  I wanted to give a proper nod to this fine work.  The project of Ellia Bisker,  New York City’s Sweet Soubrette has been called a “ukulele-powered indie rock band”, but Sweet Soubrette is much more than that.

Rock, Paper, Scissors begins with rather languid piano, balanced with heavy percussion and wistful violin. Vocals are smooth and reflective.  Suddenly the song erupts in an explosion of Broadway-style magnificence. Violin and wonderfully discordant, layered vocals dominate the last part of the song before the chorus ends with a final boisterous fling.

Charlatan features infectious vocals, horns, and mesmerizing piano.  A very catchy melody and rambunctious percussion contrast with the story of a fortune-teller who “knows who they want to hear from/what they long for her to tell“  A girl who is driven by a compulsion, but  “they think she’s a scam/but she’s no charlatan/she cannot stop til she is done“.  The vocals are very complex, with layered harmonies that bring the Beatles to mind.  The arrangements here are  resplendent, and simply pervade the listener’s senses. Each replay will reveal more discoveries.

Live Wire has a fabulously Big Band feel juxtaposed with very contemporary vocals. The song starts evocatively with descending guitar and bass alongside haunting violin. Trumpet and trombone are smooth as ice, melding well with the militaristic percussion and fabulously cadenced vocals.  Piano is sharp as diamonds. The overall effect is as deliciously dangerous as “little Miss third rail” can get.

Burning City is an unforgettable song that begins with a sense of  whimsy that proves to be far deeper than it seems.   I am reminded somewhat of  the band Pretty Balanced.  The lyrics here are phenomenal. “You knew you shouldn’t look back /but the past it snagged you like barbed wire“  Measured piano and plucked strings that proceed to meander desperately through vast musical  gardens,  along with mesmerizing vocals and  heart wrenching violin.

Sweet Time is a romantic paean that begins simply with slow ukulele, but rises to a plateau of  regal horns. The bass is prominent here, with a swinging cadence that has a sort of Victorian air, magnified by the abrupt percussion.  The violin interludes are wonderfully evocative  and the vocals are sincere and heartfelt.

Next is the rollicking Just Your Heart. Playful and upbeat, there is this song reminds me of such disparate elements as Calypso, Swing, 70′s Rock, and ’50′s Pop very masterfully combined.  Bass driven, with fun horns and hand-claps, the vocals are nicely layered on the chorus. The sharp but smooth violin reminds me of certain Cat Steven’s songs, while horns suddenly bring Chicago to mind. Play this at your club and the dance floor will be full in no time.  

Be My Man is another song where bass is featured prominently. I love the high hat percussion and and boisterous horns.   Vocals are earnest and evoke Anita O’Day, singer for Gene Krupa’s orchestra. Backing vocals are subtle but effective. The song also gives me a slight ’70′s R& B feel.  

Opening with ukulele and wistful vocals,  Port in a Storm then launches  into a wonderfully Beatle-esque rhythm, with heavy percussion and music hall swinging  bass. An interlude with  a bit of hypnotic, waltzy violin  frames the strong, yet introspective vocals.         

What’s My Desire? starts with slow and forlorn. Then the song rises to an almost operatic crest, with vocals teemed with resignation and acceptance.  Bass, percussion, and horns soar magnificently.  The violin weaves a soulful dirge around the vocals, which are sad, yet resolute.  “Yes I’ll let you read me I’ll keep nothing secret/
But all my love letters are forged
.”  This is a very insightful song addressing the contradictions inherent in us all.   

Homing Pigeon is the perfect song to close the album. Ellia’s fine, clear vocals are showcased admirable on Homing Pigeon.   Poignant, crisp  ukulele is accompanied by doleful, yet quite edgy violin. “Are you guided by a vision of what you love the most/  Like a homing pigeon or a restless ghost…”

Sweet Soubrette is one of those rare bands who can transcend genres without sounding contrived or artificial.  Ellia Bisker’s voice is one of the best, and her lyrics are second to none. She successfully tackles the frustrations  contradictions of everyday life without resorting to the common platitudes.  Themes range dark to hopeful, many times in the same song.  The arrangements are simply excellent. All elements of the band flow together seamlessly. I am particularly impressed with the way that Sweet Soubrette effectively incorporates  their horn section. The various genres mentioned in the review are masterfully amalgamated as a means to a musical end, not the end itself.   Like the band itself, Burning City is filled with originality and purpose.  I hope we hear more from Sweet Soubrette.    

http://sweetsoubrette.com/


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Heathen Apostles – Fire to the Fuse

August 27th, 2016 by Edward, Filed under: Reviews

Following up their excellent debut album Boot Hill Hymnal, Heathen Apostles draw their musical six guns, and stalk once more through haunted graveyards, dangerous streets, and debauchery-filled saloons. Fire to the Fuse continues the epic Western Gothic  journey, and demonstrates that Heathen Apostles are musical  desperadoes  to be reckoned with.

Fools Gold is a rousing, tumultuous frontier anthem. Rollicking guitar and galloping percussion accompany Mather’s exquisite vocals. The fiddle adds a magnificent touch.

Drowned in Trouble features very evocative fiddle and powerful guitar. There are a lot of elements here that are blended together seamlessly and add up to very hard hitting song. The rhythmic percussion and lonesome picking makes me want to take a train to Johnston Country, Montana to see if anyone needs another hired gun. The layered vocals are eerily effective.


Yveline changes the pace a bit.  Rolling like a rock n’ roll freight train through the dangerous darkness of the musical plains,  the song rides on fierce percussion, lethal guitar, and razor sharp fiddle.  Mather’s vocals are as smooth as deadly as Bat Masterson’s six gun clearing his holster.

Fist City opens like a dirge, slow and dark.  Bleak banjo and grim  fiddle stalk along with ominous percussion.  Mather’s vocals are like the snick of the hammers being drawn back on a 10 gauge stage gun. “If you don’t want to go to fist city, you better detour around my town”. The finale is fast and furious.  Great song!

Evil Spirits combines Rio Grande grit with Celtic fire. Hard acoustic guitar and rampaging fiddle hit the trail at breakneck speed, as percussion rapid fires like an 1873 Winchester. Mather’s vocals are forceful, and the backing male vocals are superb.

Looks are Deceiving is a delightful old-time hoedown with an edge like a straight-razor pulled from a shotgun boot. The fiddle and banjo  rambunctiously ride with fast percussion and some fine picking. Vocals are smooth and even a little Bluesy.

Fire to the Fuse is low and baneful, a perfect tapestry of direful sound. Percussion beats a doom-laden tattoo, evoking boot heels stalking down an empty main street. Guitars and discordant fiddle weave a sinister cacophony around Mather’s exquisite vocals. This song demonstrates her versatility quite well.

Death’s Head continues the dangerous journey into a neo-western heart of darkness. Dark and malignant guitars team with cutting fiddle in an unholy union as Mather invokes the terrifying entities that preside over a pitiless destiny.  Screams of terror accentuate the driving percussion, as doomy bass lays down a positively Stygian undercurrent. About 2:30 there is a superb  and some fine rock guitar.

Bang Bang is perhaps my favorite song on the album. Infectious percussion and guitar vie with  edgy fiddle, as Mather’s sultry vocals tell a tell of loss that somehow resonates with an odd feeling of optimism. There is a touch of vaudeville here, and  guitar has a brief gypsy flourish. The song is evocative of an old saloon ballad, as the  fiddle deftly weaves a haunting melody.    

Measure of Time is a bit more contemporary, with mournful vocals and plaintive guitar. The fiddle is mournful, with emphatic, well-timed percussion. Backing harmonies are fabulous, balanced with a powerful guitar solo at about 3:35. This is a very moving and rueful song.

Without a Trace makes me want to get up and dance. The high, lonesome fiddle is perfect, with martial percussion and rollicking guitar.  Vocals are dark, but they strike true. This song has a  little bit of  Celtic, a little bit of down-home, and a whole lot of sheer energy. 

Before You Go is in a slower vein with a rather macabre look at a “love that’s run astray”. Smooth and languid, the song has traces of a calypso feel. Romantic, meandering strings vie with suave guitar to accompany velvet vocals that incorporate some great harmonies. “Before you go and wish me dead, dear, choose the plot where I will lay”.

The traditional Lily of the West is the perfect song to close the album. Spirited, boisterous, yet cynical and dark, there is some fine picking here and truly infectious rhythms. The Heathen Apostles turn this classic into a boot hill ballad in their finest tradition.

What more can one say about Fire to the Fuse?  The music truly speaks for itself.  The production is fantastic.  The Heathen Apostles seamlessly weave their aural artistry into a well-crafted album filled poignancy as well as  well as corral fisticuffs.   The Heathen Apostles are clearly the finest musical guns under the Big Sky. I feel as though if I were to walk through the doors of the Oriental, I’d see them leaning on the bar, steely eyed. with a guitar as close at hand as a Peacemaker.   For all comers, Fire to the Fuse will be most pleasing the ear. Give it a listen.  You’re a Daisy if you do.  And keep one eye on those dusty plains. The Heathen Apostles will be back.

http://heathenapostles.com/site/



 


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The Heathen Apostles – Misery and Gin

July 16th, 2016 by Edward, Filed under: Reviews

Misery and Gin” is the new Merle Haggard tribute EP be released on July 22 by the fabulous Heathen Apostles!   The Heathen Apostles are Mather Louth (Radio Noir),  Chopper Franklin (The Cramps, Nick Curran & the Lowlifes) Thomas Lorioux (The Kings of Nuthin’) on bass, Stevyn Grey (Christian Death, 45 Grave) on drums,  and Luis Mascaro on violin. 

I’m Gonna Break Every Heart I Can” is a new take on Merle’s classic song of romantic retribution, which begins with a burst of Bluesy cacophony that levels off into a boisterous honky-tonk rhythm.  The fiddle has a fine Charlie Daniel’s style edge to it, while the fast-paced percussion and galloping guitar give a fine saloon blues backing.  Mather’s vocals are  energetic and  alluring, reminiscent of a young Reba, and like Jeanne C. Riley, Mather socks it to ‘em and  closes on a seductive, yet dangerous note.

Misery and Gin” is a bit slower, with  a full, lush sound that brings to mind the superbly produced Country songs of the ’60s and ’70s.  Orchestral fiddle, tight guitar, and steady percussion provide the perfect backing for Mather’s reflective vocals. The instrumental interludes are particularly evocative of the age of classic Country.  “Misery and Gin“  is a fine interpretation!

“I‘m Gonna Break Every Heart I can“  (Amighty Watching Remix”)  is a modern twist on this Merle haggard standard, with a bit of punk and electro.  From the highlight buzzsaw guitar to the electro backings to Mather’s bewitching vocals, which evoke a bit of of Debbie Harry and Terri Nunn, this is a rousing song. 

The Heathen Apostles is one of the best bands out there today, with their imminently successful Southern Gothic meets The Old West sounds and imagery. You can almost hear the wind blowing tumbleweeds on Boot Hill.  Most people who have tried this end up sounding like they are trying to giving the listener a music lesson.  But not The Heathen Apostles. They sound genuine and spontaneous,  inspired by the past, but firmly here in the present.  They understand completely that it isn’t what the listener knows about music that is important, but how the music makes the listener feel. The Heathen Apostles put their own soul into the tracks here, but also keep true to the original spirit of the music. “Misery and Gin” is  a worthy tribute to Merle Haggard.  I think he would approve.

If you like great music with an Old West flair, you can’t go wrong with The Heathen Apostles.  (NOTE: I have it on impeccable authority that Chopper is working on some soundtrack material! Stay tuned….)

Check out the brand new video for Misery and Gin!

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=sOGHe-8jJaA&feature=youtu.be

And don’t forget:

http://heathenapostles.com/site/

 




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