Single Review: “Exactly” by Abacu5

imageBack in March, after some extended time off, the Dallas-based alt/rock band Abacu5 made  their return to the stage.

It was pretty much the same lineup, with one big difference: they had added a fifth member to the group, and Cory Martin took over on lead vocals.

Since then, they’ve performed a little more than half a dozen shows with this incarnation, doing both new songs and retooled versions of some from their debut EP. Fans have no doubt been hungry for a taste of this new music. Something to get an idea of how these new jams will sound played through some speakers, and something they can listen to whenever they want.

Today, they finally got that, in the form of the brand new single, “Exactly”.

It perfectly captures the slightly new direction the band is going in. Instead of some semi-heavy rock songs (like those found on their first EP), “Exactly” is even a little more radio friendly, though still retains originality. It boasts an excellent music bed, with some guitar riffs that instantly mesmerize you, and that alone can hold your attention for the duration of the track, as it transitions form soaring riffs to serene notes. The song derives its kick (no pun intended) from the ferocious drums; and while the bass is harder to hear in the mix, you can catch it accenting things here and there.

Lyrically, it’s a lovely tune about finding someone (in the romantic sense) and rekindling a spark that they had lost. “And I will bring you back to life again. And I will show you where you never been…” goes the first part of the chorus. It’s teeming with hope, with a message that no matter how cruel the game of love may have been to you, there is someone out there to make you whole again.

That’s the main difference between “Exactly” and their previously released stuff: it exudes hope. Now, by no means was the bands past stuff dark or anything, nor was it as upbeat as what this one is. That may well just apply to this one song, but that still makes it a good choice as a new single, because it does display a different side of Abacu5.

A new beginning, I guess you could say.

Abacu5 is:
Jonathan Sprang
Samuel Holder
Adam Manning
Eric Petrinowitsch
Cory Martin

Purchase the single on:
iTUNES

Visit Abacu5’s websites:
Official Website / Facebook / Reverbnation / Twitter

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Album Review: Photomaps by Exit 380

imageFifteen-years is a long time for any band to be together in general, but especially a local band. Actually, that’s somewhere around three to four average lifetimes in local band years. That’s how long Exit 380 has been kicking, though; and they have outlived many of their DFW counterparts, some of whom flirted with major label success and toured the country.

The band that was started by friends back in their college days at UNT in Denton may not have had those encounters with big breaks, but then again, that might be exactly why they have lasted as long as they have. They were never made empty promises that they would be the next big thing. If you ever were told that, and then it didn’t pan out, it’s easy to see why you would lose faith in the music industry, and perhaps even decide to hang it up and leave the band life behind.

That’s not to imply that Exit 380 is all fun and games for the members, either, but they do have a 50/50 balance of enjoying what they do and being professional at it.

It’s also rare you find a band who has kept pretty much the same lineup for the past eight years; and after a couple year absence, Bobby Tucker returned as the band’s drummer. Aside from that brief stint away, the band has been the same since the mid-2000’s, and that chemistry and camaraderie they’ve had plenty of time to establish has led to them getting better with each album, while they explored a diverse range of genres, from edgy rock to experimenting more with folk music.

But now, with their first release in more than two-and-a-half years, they’ve found themselves going back to their rock stylings, bringing renewed life to their earliest sound, along with continuing to experiment as musicians and try out some new genres.

The bands sixth LP, Photomaps, begins with “Laid Up In the Road”. Like many of their best songs, it doesn’t focus on a personal experience, but rather tells the story of a drunk who feels more at home on his own — in the middle of a road  then being surrounded by people, be it family or friends. The nearly three-and-a-half minute track tells you enough about the fictitious character to get you interested, yet also complete his story. The music bed also really gets your attention, and lead and rhythm guitarists Aaron Borden and Jeremy Hutchison, respectively, have some soaring solos. It’s been many years since they wrote a true edgy rock song, and it’s instantly clear their time away from it gave them a clear perspective as to how they want it to sound.

Speaking of Borden, as any longtime E380 fan knows, he’s also pretty talented in the songwriting department (the now classic, “Closure”, is still one of the most beautiful songs they’ve produced in all their years together.) Well, “Love Somebody, Cold” is another song he penned, and he sticks with doing what he does best: writing songs that revolve around love. In this case, it’s about still deeply caring for someone, even though the spark is fading fast out of the other person. Surprisingly, it’s a very upbeat song, with some great piano pieces thrown in (courtesy of Andrew Tinker, who produced the record at Big Acre Sound), alongside a well defined rhythm section and some sweet guitar licks; while Blocker sings at the end, “…And you know I won’t be the one to roam.”

The coolest intro has to go to “Lonely Days”, and after Tucker establishes a solid beat, the guitars quickly fade in with some awesome, ballsy chords. It has been quite some time since Exit 380 last did a rock song of this magnitude. The band is on fire on the track, operating as collective in a way that I don’t think they ever have before. Each instrument plays off one another, and even the various notes Blocker hits help accent the other instruments, and in turn, they aid his voice. Overall, this song proves that this is a more robust Exit 380 than fans have ever seen before.

Originally, Photomaps was going to be a collection of songs that all found the band experimenting with a Spanish flare. Things changed once the actual writing process took place, as they more split their time between styles. However, while “Hearts In the Sand” is a rock song, it also has some Spanish sounding elements scattered throughout it. It’s found subtly in some of the notes and hinted at in the lyrics at times, though this is still primarily a rock tune, and they save that stuff for later. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the synth solo towards the end. You would think it wouldn’t work well with the track, yet somehow, it does. Granted, I haven’t heard many (or any?) synth solos, either, but I would say this one is worthy of being the best.

“Take It Like a Man” concludes the rock section of the album, and it’s another one very reminiscent of old school E380. Say, circa 2006, back during the Last Monday era. It’s a hard-hitting number, and there’s a nice sense of urgency at the end, as the track comes to a slightly abrupt, but roaring finish.

For the second portion of the album (or Side B on the vinyl copies), Jeremy Hutchisons’ guitar is traded in for a mandolin, while Borden puts his lap steel guitar to use. “A Song About Us” isn’t new to most fans, as it appeared on the first Hand Drawn Records compilation album. Still, I find it nice the track actually found a home on a record, because with it becoming a staple at live shows, it’s deserving of that. It’s another one that Borden wrote, though there is not a trace of heartache to be found like in the earlier song. In fact, it’s quite upbeat, and Blockers’ skills on the harmonica help in setting it off.

Speaking of upbeat, there’s “The Love Sleeps”. It has to be one of the most infectious songs written (and I mean that in a much broader sense than just E380’s discography), or at least that I’ve ever heard; and it emits a feel good vibe for all two-minutes and thirty-nine seconds of it. It’s an ideal song to dance along to, especially with a partner; and it’s just refreshing to hear something so overwhelmingly happy. If you’re ever having a bad day, this would be the song to put on, and then just feel the smile as it slowly creeps across your face.

“La Rosa Carlina” is the final original offering on Photomaps, and it personifies that Spanish vibe they initially wanted to go with. The one-off appearance of a violin is almost hidden during it, but if you listen closely enough, you can hear it creeping in here and there. The harmonies the violinist adds at the end sounds incredible, too, creating a nice male and female vocal part. The song itself is a good story about the guitarist of a band who adoringly watches Carlina — a dancer — who moves graceful to the music they are playing. “…Each twirl brings a smile, each smile a wink…” goes part of the chorus of yet another song that shows just how much the band excels at crafting and telling unique stories.

Like most bands, Exit 380 started off pretty humbly, doing acoustic covers back in their earliest of days. While they may have started out that way, they quickly ditched that in favor of original material; and in the seven to eight years that I’ve been seeing them, I’ve never heard them do a cover song. At least not until recently, when they tried their hand at Townes Van Zandts’ “Pancho and Lefty”. It’s the first cover they’ve ever recorded, and it perfectly fits the style of Photomaps. Like so many other tracks from the record, it tells a story; and they lifted elements from both Van Zandts’ version as well as Willie Nelson and Merle Haggards’, reusing the intro of their rendition to make for a powerhouse ending. It’s more than a cover, though, they truly leave their mark on this beloved classic, and that’s not an easy thing to do no matter what song you’re covering.

This isn’t the longest Exit 380 record ever. In fact, at just about 34-minutes, it plays out almost like a beefier EP, and passes just as quickly, because you get so wrapped up in these songs and simply lose track of time.

But if I had a choice, I’d go with quality over quantity, and that was the decision they made with Photomaps.

No, it isn’t the longest album they’ve ever released, though it is leaps and bounds ahead of anything they’ve ever released (that’s really saying something, ‘cause I still hold The Life and Death of Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Stone in high regard and consider that concept album impeccable.)

For old fans, it’s great to hear them return to those alt/rock sounds they started with, and the growth they’ve undergone individually as musicians and as a band have helped reinforce that genre, and they take it to the next level. For newer fans, you still get some of that folk stuff, with a different twist put on it, as they continue to push their musical boundaries.

In fact, I think that’s another reason why they’ve had such longevity as a band: they’ve never gotten stagnant. I can see how it could be easy to concoct a “formula” so to speak for songwriting and then just stick with what you do best, but that’s not for Exit 380. There’s always room to improve; and really, how many bands can say that fifteen-years in they’re creating their most spectacular material to date? Well, I know at least one.

Exit 380 is:
Dustin Blocker - vocals, pianos
Aaron Borden - guitars
Jon “The Hutch” Hutchison - bass
Jeremy Hutchison - guitars
Bobby “Shoes” Tucker – drums

Purchase the album on:
iTUNES / Bandcamp

Visit Exit 380’s websites:
Official Website / Facebook / Twitter / Youtube
imagePhoto credit: James Villa Photography

Single Review: “Soon” by Swindle Boys

image“Soon” — the latest single from Fort Worths’ Swindle Boys — expands on the newer direction the band is going musically. It further fleshes out the arena rock/pop sounds that first appeared on the Motion EP; and they offered fans a better glimpse just last month, when they released the first of many singles to come (a new one dropping at the start of each month).

They also self-describe themselves as having a little new wave vibe, and while the keys are still heavily used, this doesn’t sound as new wave to me as “Comeback” did. “Soon” is more a straightforward number that is a 50/50 blend of rock and pop. Much like the previous single, it comes across as a behemoth of an anthem, and one that will resonate louder within you each time to listen to it.

It’s a song about moving forward and not letting events of the past — be it tragedy, your own mistakes, etc. — define you.

“…But if the past has proven anything at all, we’ll go on.” Joey Swindle sings at the end of the first two verses. Other lines are about hammering home the fact that it — which can be relative to however the listener wants to interpret it — is just a moment, and it will pass.

It’s calming in a way, and can provide a sense of peace in listening to it, what with the smooth vocals and angelic, yet intense guitar chords. The track boasts a driven rhythm section as well.

They may only be in their second month of releasing singles, but with each one, you’re getting a clearer picture of what Swindle Boys want to do with their music, and so far, I’m really digging the grand, lush sound they’re going after. One which can appeal to indie rock fans and pop music fans alike, and they marry the two genres together in a fantastic way.

Swindle Boys is:
Joey Swindle
Matthew Swindle
Josh Brown
Chance Cochran

Purchase the album on:
iTunes / Bandcamp

Visit Swindle Boys’ websites:
Official Website / Facebook / Twitter / Youtube
imagePhoto credit: Shanna Leigh Tims

Album Review: Mesocyclone by Nicholas Altobelli

imageNicholas Altobelli is a singer/songwriter through and through, perfectly embodying the genre.

One reason I say that is because just last year, in the earlier part of 2013, he released Without a Home to much critical acclaim, garnering praise from the smallest to the biggest media outlets in North Texas, and even from areas elsewhere. It was a different record for him, as he enlisted the help from several friends and fellow musicians, making it into a full-band effort, and in doing so left behind the solo, almost Americana/folk sound for some more poppy tracks.

Shortly after releasing it, though, he was already talking about a follow-up, even starting on songs for it. However, the year plus it has taken to create and release said follow-up wasn’t an easy one for Altobelli. His marriage came to an end during that time, and he also found himself going back to college to pursue a degree in history.

The result of that heartache is the 6-song Mesocyclone EP. The Gigawatts (his backing band) are again utilized, though they return to what Altobelli does best: folk/Americana songs. Poignant ones at that, and even though he’s known for writing more somber songs, this collection takes it to a new level.

The title of the EP isn’t the only weather reference on this album. Take for example the title of the lead track, “Thunderstorms”. While a full-band may be used, the most prominent elements of the music are still Nicholas’ voice and acoustic guitar, though the heavy use of the drums adds a nice kick to the song, while the pedal steel guitar creates some gorgeous moments, though you can hear that even those notes have a tinge of sadness to them. Various metaphors of wind and rain are weaved in as Altobelli croons about the beginning stages of a relationships demise, trying to put a positive spin on it. “…I just want you to know, thunderstorms don’t last.”

Each song tells the next line in the story, and for “Black or Blue”, that seems to be a line about how important communication is. “If I only understood, I could have been your king. If I only understood, you would have kept this ring…” Altobelli woefully sings. This is a contender for the saddest song on the album, and it’s one filled with what ifs, forever wondering if things had been different how they might have worked out. The saddest thing is, it’s hoping they still will [work out], as the chorus, “And I know that tomorrow you will see what’s been missing you…” suggests.

“I called your bluff and I called it hard. Now I’m left with a clotted scar…” goes the second verse of “Pretty Little Daffodil”, a track that finds Altobelli going back to his roots as a solo musician, armed with only an acoustic guitar. That format is behooving of the mood the song has, which is partly about how hard it is to say goodbye to someone you’ve come to know so much about and spent so much time with.  There’s also a soft and subtle sound of rain mixed into the track, helping intensify the mood.

“Memories” is a little more about acceptance of the situation, albeit reluctant acceptance. Altobelli is one of the best lyricists in the North Texas music scene and that talent is showcased exceedingly well on this track, especially on the final verse, “…Just like the love cherished, this too will perish. The memories we had are all that we’ll ever have…” The track exudes heartache, which shines through on every word. “Memories” also sees the return of The Gigawatts, and the piano is heavily featured, and it and the acoustic often complement one another. Quite well, I might add.

In making this EP, Altobelli also looked to the past, resurrecting a song from the Dog Years EP, “Summer Rain”. The fact that this version is so much more fleshed out with the drums, pedal steel, etc. makes it all the more impressive over the original version. It may have been written years prior, yet it fits the story arc of this record surprisingly well. It sounds desolate, and even with a band, that feeling is conveyed in the music. You’ll feel broken just by simply listening to it.

The delicate sound of rain falling is again heard behind the acoustic and Altobellis’ voice on “Odd Numbers”. It’s a fitting closing number, and despite being hurt, the core message is love is always worth it. “…I wouldn’t trade it in to ease the pain that I felt.” he softly sings as the first verse ends. It’s really a simple song in certain aspects, often repeating the chorus. But as I’ve said before about other bands: there’s beauty in simplicity. “…Yes, the darkness came, but the light sure gave a try…”. That’s such  a powerful line, and my take away from it is regardless how something ends, you should just be glad it happened in the first place. Be grateful you got to experience it for some amount of time, even if you’re left not understanding everything.

It’s sad that the most ardent music has to be born out of the most anguishing of circumstances. Yet in some cruel twist of fate, there’s also beauty in that.

I’m sure there are countless numbers of examples of that in music, and I can think of a few myself, where one album a band produces ends up being superior to anything else they have or perhaps even will do, because it’s so raw. Such is the case with Nicholas Altobelli and Mesocyclone.

The life changing events that he went through led to the best music he has done to date. Yes, it’s even better than Without a Home.

It’s so personal, and he has no trouble laying it all out there for the listener; and I imagine this was somewhat of a cathartic experience for him, too.

As I said, Nicholas Altobelli isn’t known for being the cheeriest songwriter there is, but Mesocyclone takes the sadness and despair often found in his music to a whole new level, completely immersing you in the breakup. It’s so rare you get a front row seat like that.

Don’t let that somber tone keep you from listening, though. This may not be an uplifting record, but it’s one you have to listen to. Savor how fluid these six songs are. How they gradually progress the tale. A tale that takes a mere 22-minutes to tell; and once it’s over, just be grateful you were given this glimpse into the life of Altobelli.

Key players in making the record were:
Nicholas Altobelli: acoustic guitars
Heather Kitzman: pedal steel
Trey Carmichael: drums
Daniel Markham: bass
Tony Whitlock: electric guitar
Rahim Quazi: piano
Salim Nourallah: electric guitar, backing vocals


Purchase the album on:
iTUNES (you can pre-order it now. Official release date is August 5th.) / Amazon / CD / Bandcamp

Visit Nicholas Altobellis’ websites:
Official Website / Facebook / Twitter / Youtube
image(Photo credit: Sally Durrum)

Album Review: “The Dark” by Waking Alice

imageWaking Alice has been around the North Texas music scene longer than most, though it wasn’t until mid-2012 when the current incarnation came to be.

With Rus Chaney as the new lead vocalist and Jonn Levey taking the role of the drummer, they got back into the performing circuit; and three singles came shortly after, allowing them to display the new lineup.

It’s hard to believe that’s already been nearly two years ago, and in those two years, the four-piece outfit has deepened their chemistry, which has resulted in even better material, which is showcased on their first legitimate EP (as this lineup).

The Dark starts with the two most recently written songs in the bands catalog, beginning with what is perhaps the best cut on the EP: “November Burns”. As the title of the EP suggests, these are darker songs, and topic wise, they are a bit different from their first three singles. This is a song about being betrayed by those close to you, offering a vivid account of it. “Waking now from this nightmare of mine; the sutures all but gone…” Rus sings in his unmistakable, slightly gruff tone of voice; and you can feel the raw emotion of it all. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Waking Alice tune without some sort of guitar solo, which Brandon Brewer adds at one point, before eventually easing back into the haunting chord progression of the verses that sticks with you. I’m also fond of the little false ending. A part where live you just might begin to clap, assuming the song is over, before the instrumentalists rip back into it.

“Bi-Polar Heart” is the longest track on the album — nearly five-and-a-half minutes — and the most epic, too. It’s more progressive than anything they’ve done in the past, taking a sudden turn into a very tranquil section that lasts for just a bit. That’s something Waking Alice doesn’t do often (show their soft side). It makes for an interesting change of pace for them, though, and it still retains all the elements that make Waking Alice who they are.

“The Dark” marks the midway point of the EP, which is something a little different for Waking Alice. It’s an instrumental song, which is something I don’t believe they’ve ever done before. They may have lengthy instrumental sections at times, but this is completely different. It’s a high-energy number that keeps the momentum from the first half of the record going, even expanding upon it. One of the best things about it is how each instrument as its own moment. Brayton Bourques’ bass is pretty dominant at the start, then sneaks in later on to accent the drums — which gets a couple of solos. It’s also a little surprising that the guitar is left waiting in the wings for the first half, though it works to the songs advantage, ‘cause when Brandon Brewer does strike with it, it hits fast and hard. At just under two-and-a-half minutes, it’s a perfect length for an instrumental track, letting them better highlight their prowess and instrumentalists, but not dragging on to the point it seems tedious.

“Paper Rock Shotgun” is one song Waking Alice fans have been hearing for quite awhile now, and it has finally been recorded. It’s the antithesis of the first half of the EP. Instead of dealing with backstabbing or the souring of a relationship, it focuses on the blossoming of a new one, one without all the deceit. It brings a hopeful aspect to everything, one that proves that even if you feel down and out, something good can always come along. The instrumental breakdown is also pretty slick, and it’s another track where they fool the listener into thinking it’s over before it roars back to life.

Despite having been recorded at a completely different time, “Hostage” fits perfectly with this collection of songs. For fans, if you look at it as the final piece of the puzzle of this EP, it honestly makes you look at the song in a new light. The nearly year-old track is about rising above whatever’s holding you down and no longer being a victim. “…Now I’m on my feet, I’m gonna kick some ass.” Rus belts on the chorus of what is the heaviest of the five songs.

Not many albums come full circle. That shouldn’t necessarily be a prerequisite for any, but it can be a nice touch. The Dark is one that does.

It starts out one way — with a fairly bleak perspective — and ends by realizing that with the bad, there must also be good; and also you need to take control of the situations around you.

These tracks offer a great look at what Waking Alice has grown into in these last two years, and just what a solid group they are. I’d say it’s the best thing the band has done in all their years together, and it leads you to wonder: If they’ve grown this much as musicians and writers in just two years, then what will the next batch of songs sound like?

Only time will tell, but for now, let’s just savor The Dark.

Waking Alice is:
Rus Chaney - Lead vocals
Brandon Brewer – Guitar and backing vocals
Jonn Levey - Drums
Brayton Bourque - Bass

Purchase the album on:
iTUNES

Visit Waking Alice’s websites:
Official Website / Facebook / Reverbnation / Twitter

Current Shows:
Saturday, September 20th at The Grotto in Fort Worth / Saturday, September 27th at Shipping & Receiving in Fort Worth

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Album Review: “You Can Take Your Sorry Ass Back To West Texas!” by Madisons

imageThe Austin-based Madisons formed in mid-2011, and quickly set to work building a name for themselves. I was introduced to the band in May of 2012, when they played the Homegrown Music and Arts Festival in Dallas. Shortly after came their debut record; and they’ve managed to stick to a schedule that even some bands with major label backings have trouble doing: releasing an LP every two years.

Changes occurred in these last two years, though, and only two members from the original lineup still remain. Change can be a good thing, though, and in this case, it has seemed to create a revitalized Madisons. One that has honed their sound and better perfected it during the time between records, and the difference is noticeable right from the start…

The seven-piece folk rock/ Americana outfit wastes no time in getting down to business, placing what is perhaps the best track on the record — “The Misadventures of Shea Grant” — right at the start. It’s as high-strung as they get on this nearly 40-minute long experience, and it’s absolutely pulse-pounding from start to finish. The drums establish a furious pace, and the vast array of instruments, from the guitars to the violin, upright bass and the rest keep up with ease. You’ll surely be singing right along with the chorus of this infectious number, “…I would settle for a smile in the pouring rain, but your smiles won’t pay the rent. It’s a retelling of my summer of discontent…”, in no time, and the rest of it will follow soon after.

Their folk stylings shine more brightly on “A Long, Slow Death in San Marcos, Texas”, where the trumpet is heard much better. The song covers a lot of ground, but is perhaps best summed up by the opening line, “I’m not responsible for the way you say you feel. That’s what therapists teach assholes so they don’t have to feel like assholes…” It’s filled with lyrical gems, from “…You can’t love me for what I am, but you hate me for what you’re not…” to “…There’s a leak in the ceiling and the floor’s begun to rot…” (which violinist Jocelyn White shouts alongside Dominic Solis’ lead vocals, giving it a nice effect.) The line is more or less a metaphor for the gradual desolation of a relationship, and it works beautifully.

The album has quickly been heading on a downward slope in terms of intensity, and with the gentle guitar chords and soothing violin that prevail for nearly the first half of “In My Pocket Forever”, you may be thinking Madisons has already done as much rock as they’re going to. That’s where you’d be wrong. It slowly surges to life; the electric guitar bringing renewed energy when it suddenly arises during an instrumental break. It acts as a prelude of sorts to the explosive end the track has, proving this is a band who has some tricks up their sleeves. As for the song itself, lyrically, it depicts what is easily the most unsettling story on the record, based on real events involving a fourteen-year-old girl who got pregnant by a man twice her age, and he eventually set her on fire. It may not be a story you want to hear, but at the same time, how many bands these days get that real with their music?

There’s a surprisingly fun vibe at times to “Carolina”, which is perhaps the most emotional song on this disc, dealing with letting go of a person you still feel for, all because it’s the best thing to do. The record then goes into “Losing Pictures”, which gives the opening track a run for its money. Presumably, it’s where the album title stems from, with one of the lines in it being, “So drag your sorry ass back to Los Angeles, but don’t forget what you burned. Live inside my friends if you have to, and dig your knees in the dirt…”There’s a definite good riddance feel to this song, verses the emptiness conveyed in the previous one, and being grouped together like this, you get a perspective on two very different relationships. The opening line itself, “Mary never knew she was a terrible person, but that’s what she come to learn. Some folks can’t handle what they’ve been handed, but some folks get what they deserve.” is quite powerful, too. The ebb and flow of the music bed is spectacular as well, waning on the verses to give the words more weight, while the build up to the choruses let you know you’re in for it.

They get back to a semi-gentler tone with “You’ll Never Know”, which carries with it a message of telling people whatever you may need to while you have the chance and don’t keep it held in. The band then throws you for a loop, when you suddenly hear Jocelyns’ voice on “Sucker Punch”. She stands as the lone vocalist on that downcast track, and the heartbroken feeling even bleeds through in her delicate voice. “…How am I surrounded by the ones I love, but I still feel so goddamned alone?” she pines at one point.

Madisons then try something a little different for them. “The Hill” is another personal song penned by Dominic, one about feeling forever trapped in a small town you don’t think you’ll ever get out of. It doesn’t quite fit the folk genre, though, and while it’s sort of rock (especially in the stellar guitar solo), it can’t be categorized fully in that, either. Indie may be the best genre to use to describe it, and the heavily used xylophone adds a nice touch to it all. You know how I said they’re a band with some tricks up their sleeves? Yeah, this is a prime example.

They fully embrace their country side with “Meet Me By the Riverside”. The banjo is in full effect on the joyful, folksy number that makes use of the numerous voices they have at their disposal. It’s just damn catchy, and you’ll no doubt find yourself stomping your foot along to the beat.

“The Fiscal Year” then rounds out this ten-track record, and it’s also the shortest on it. Like so many of the others, it’s about a relationship, and Dominic ponders at the start that, that’s all he seems to do (writing songs about the relationship). With all the turbulent moments portrayed on this album, it ends on a happy note. “The Fiscal Year” is a love song, plain and simple, and the line, “…‘Cause I want to spend my life making art for you…” couldn’t be described as anything else but sweet. There are some other good lines thrown in (“…Don’t go to work if you hate what you do…”); and style wise, they again stray a little from what they’ve set as their standard. There’s a saxophone solo thrown in, and while it’s brief, it gives the song a pretty bluesy vibe.

In just ten songs, Madisons capture a wide spectrum of different emotions on You Can Take Your Sorry Ass Back To West Texas! Best of all, you can tell they’re all sentimental. They all come from some deep part within Dominic Solis.

Their first album, Desgraciados, was great in my opinion. It set the stage for them, making sure you knew they were all about telling stories AND making quality music, and not sacrificing one just to have the other. They’ve taken themselves to a new level with this new release, though.

Their sound is more polished and fierce; and the stories told take you even deeper than those of the first album. It’s an all-around superb record that should rival even the biggest Americana releases of 2014.

No, it’s not necessarily something you’re going to listen to if you’re in a depressed mood and in need of a pick-me-up, but if you value legitimate substance, then You Can Take Your Sorry Ass Back To West Texas! will be a record you’ll be listening to repeatedly for a long time to come.
 
Madisons is:
Dominic Solis - Vocals, acoustic guitar
Jocelyn White - Vocals, violin
Cameron Cummings - Vocals, electric guitar
Oscar Gomez - Trumpet
Thomas Damron - Upright bass
Nick Kukowski - Vocals, banjo
Mike Rothschild - Drums

Purchase the album on:
iTUNES / Amazon mp3

Visit Madisons’ websites:
Official Website / Facebook / Twitter

Current Shows:
September 13th at Dorcol Distilling Co. in San Antonio, TX

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Single Review: “Man of Means” by The Screaming Thieves

imageMany people have probably been waiting a good long while for Brandon Callies to return to fronting a rock band. Black Tie Vendetta — the band that made him a staple of the North Texas music scene — hasn’t played regularly in years (though they say the band will never actually break up), and while his newest project, the Brandon Callies Band, has some rock elements, it’s equal parts country.

So, it was a pleasant surprise when people learned the other day that he has put yet another iron in the fire, and this one’s being called The Screaming Thieves (which just so happens to be made up of many of the members of the Brandon Callies Band).

They cite influences like Black Sabbath, Muddy Waters, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and MC5; a rather eclectic mix of groups whose styles are heard in The Screaming Thieves first track: “Man of Means”.

It’s a semi-bluesy rock number that is brimming with raw, unbridled rock sounds. The guitar tones and solos have a very magnetizing affect, and are completely pure. That’s to say, it’s just simple, good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll. The drums provide a solid backbone for the track, and while the bass and keys are a little less prevalent, they do edge in here and there.

Aside from all that, you get further proof of Brandon Callies’ superb ability as a songwriter. Take for example the line, “…A burden breeds a stronger back to bear a heavy load…”. It’s not all that complex, yet is quite profound.

All of that is condensed into a little under three-minutes; and it sets up a band that is ready to take the Texas music scene by storm. The fact that they are already a part of the Hand Drawn Records family should give them a boost, too.

The Screaming Thieves is:
Brandon Callies – Lead vocals and guitar
Zach Arrington - Vocals and guitar
Omarr Escoffie’ - Vocals and bass
Jason Myers - Vocals and keys
Christina Comley - Drums

Listen to the song on:
Reverbnation

Visit The Screaming Thieves websites:
Facebook / Reverbnation
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Album Review: “Loss Leaders” by Loss Leaders

imageLoss Leaders has only been around a couple of years, born from the ashes of Calling All War, after Lynyrd Stogner and Millard Hasbrook decided to continue making music together. As I said, it’s only been a couple of years, but it seems like the trio has been around a little longer than that (that’s a good thing).

A small handful of demos were released over time, whetting fans appetites for a real record, a record that took some time to make, because unlike most local bands, they jumped right into it with a full-length.

The record gets off to an unexpected start. It sounds like a line from a commercial, as a voice salivates over “…Cheese sauce, and oh, the gravy… And then the biscuits.” It catches you off guard the first time around; and then “Sugar Pill” instantly fires up as soon as it has been said. “I’d hate to have to break your pretty bones…” Lynyrd sings on the first line, using a hushed voice then and periodically throughout the track, making it sound all the more threatening. As for the song itself, it’s a monstrous track about the darker sides of a co-dependent relationship, teeming with emotion; and I don’t see how it could fail to capture anyone’s interest.

That intense number is followed by one of the shorter offerings on the self-titled record: “Brazen Bull”. The rhythm section comes out swinging on it, hitting hard, before the bass, drums and guitar find just the right mix to complement each other as best as possible. Some stellar guitar tones get laced in along the way, too, making it all the more enjoyable.

“Heavy Leg” is one of those demos they released probably a year or more ago. I really liked it, but man, this polished studio version is phenomenal. It’s an incredibly tight song, with strategically placed lulls — where the bass shines — before assaulting you with soaring guitar riffs. It’s one of the best cuts from the album, and no argument can be made otherwise.

That heavy pace then gives way to “Serpent” —a song about betrayal — where the members of Loss Leaders show off their softer side. “I used to run, before I crawled away…”Lynyrd croons on the chorus, toning down his voice from the previous tracks, showing the listener the impressive range he is capable of. It’s quite good, and the angelic backing vocals that are lightly tossed in on the choruses, harmonizing with the primary vocals, creates a lovely effect. Despite all that, though, it still retains a rocking mood.

The trio gets back to what they do best: intricately written rock numbers, with “The Boxer”, which lasts a little under two and a half minutes, but is more than enough time for it to get its point across.

“Long in the Tooth” has a finely crafted music bed, complete with screeching guitar chords and an instrumental break that lasts just long enough for the trio to really show off their chops on their weapons of choice. It’s followed by “Retrogradus”, a tranquil, rhythm heavy instrumental jam that really calms you. That relaxed feeling doesn’t last long, though, and “Amnesia” once again provides something you can bang your head to, while the guitar riffs are often so sweet, you just might find yourself practicing your air guitar skills.

I seldom make comparisons between bands (I know it may help people relate, but it’s just not something I like doing, because I believe every band as their own style). However, I have to say, “Smut Hammer” has many elements that remind me of one of Austins’ best metal bands: The Sword. There’s just has an epic feel to it, with some more technical pieces thrown in. They saved one of the best for last.

The job of closing out the album goes to “Brick”, and while many records seem to end on a softer note, Loss Leaders keeps the furious pace that has lasted for almost the entire length of the record going. It ensures this debut release is a rip-roaring experience from start to finish.

I have to say, I’m rather astounded at how exceptional “Loss Leaders” is.

The first record for any band usually is about finding who you are as a group. I mean, there are plenty of bands out there who, when you compare their later stuff with what they did right at the beginning, you can clearly tell they weren’t firing on all cylinders in their early days.

Loss Leaders may not be firing on all cylinders yet, either, but it damn sure sounds like they are.

They mesh well on all of these songs, and come across as already being a tight knit outfit who knows just what they want; and what they want seems to be to make quality, captivating rock music that the masses will listen to.

They’re headed down the right road, ‘cause this first release, well, most bands could only dream of releasing something this solid their first go-around.

Loss Leaders is:
Lynyrd Stogner – Vocals and guitar
Millard Hasbrook – Bass and vocals
Paul Pace - Drums

Purchase the album on:
Bandcamp

Visit Loss Leaders’ websites:
Official Website / Facebook / Reverbnation / Twitter

Single Review: “Straight Line Impala” by The Phuss

imageThe rhythm section isn’t always the most prevalent part of a song. Often, it lurks in shadows of the guitars and vocals, creeping out when it can. That’s not the case with “Straight Line Impala” — the first single from The Phuss’ new album, and debut on Magnetic Eye Records.

Trey Alfaros’ drumming is swift and heavy at the start, before the track suddenly explodes into one of the ballsiest songs the trio has churned out.

The bass (wielded by Forrest Barton) adds a pulsating effect throughout the three-minutes and eighteen-seconds the song lasts; a song that has singer and guitarist Joshua Flemings’ voice sounding even more devilish than before, and somewhat demented, too.

It’s a powerhouse number, mixing equal amounts of rock and punk (something the outfit has better perfected since their self-titled debut a couple years ago), and it’s filled with a barrage of wicked guitar licks and tones.

In listening to the gritty “Straight Line Impala”, you’re shown that the rock mantra of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll is very much alive; and if you’re not banging your head for every single second of it, then you’re not enjoying the track in the way you should be.

The Phuss is:
Joshua Fleming - Vocals and guitar
Trey Alfaro - Drums
Forrest Barton - Bass

Visit The Phuss’ websites:
Official Website / Facebook / Twitter

Single Review: “The Charade” by Alterflesh

imageAlterflesh has been around for a little while, but last year they started hitting the North Texas music scene hard, seeming to arise from out of nowhere; and making a name for themselves in a hurry.

They quickly became a staple at venues across Dallas and Fort Worth – playing those cities and elsewhere fairly often. It didn’t hurt that they had several singles recorded, too. A total of eight made their way onto the bands Reverbnation page, and while they were demos, the quality was still good, giving anyone who listened a solid idea of what Alterflesh was like.

Still, demos can only suffice for so long, and then you need something more professional. The band turned to producer Alex Gerst and his Empire Sound Studio (to say he’s one of the best in the region would not be an understatement); and before heading into the studio, they grew, adding Andrew Lewthwaite into the fold as another guitarist.

So, to better showcase this new era in Alterflesh history, they didn’t release a polished, professional recording of one of their older songs. Instead, they released a brand new tune.

The pulse-pounding drumbeats that start “The Charade” sound better than anything they’ve done yet, and they instantly let you know you need to buckle up for the ride. It blows everything they’ve released thus far out of the water, with roaring guitar riffs that can become quite catchy at times, while the bass compliments the drums insanely well.

The lyrical content is also up to par with what fans of the band have come to expect. “…Soak in the sponge of awareness…” Dayvoh sings in the later part of the song, a song that has a few different messages within it, one being that there is always more to know in this world, and you should constantly be expanding your horizons (and be aware of the goings on in the world around you).

Along those lines, Dayvohs’ voice sounds as great as I’ve ever heard it on this track. Our paths recently crossed while out at shows in Deep Ellum, and he was telling me had taken some voice lessons; voice lessons that have clearly made him an even stronger vocalist. He’s already set apart from the rest of the pack in the way that he is more of a spoken word artist, and he brings that style with him in his singing; and if you’ve ever seen the band live, then there’s no way you could question his prowess as a singer. You couple his unique style of vocal delivery with a voice that packs a more powerful punch and one he has greater control over, and the result is a force to be reckoned with.

Overall, “The Charade” showcases a completely new Alterflesh. One that is more confident than before. Perhaps even a little more self-aware, too; and striving to be the best they possibly can be.

Alterflesh is:
Paul Kubajak - Bass, backing vocals
Ben Schelin – Guitar
Kevin Mills – Percussion
Andrew Lewthwaite - Lead Guitar
Dayvoh - Vocals

Download the single for FREE on:
Reverbnation

Visit Alterflesh’s websites:
Facebook / Reverbnation / Twitter / Youtube

Current Shows:
September 13th at O’Riley’s in Dallas / October 11th at Hailey’s in Denton
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Album Review: “Seasons Change” by Dark Avenue

imageAfter being a band for more than ten years, it’s understandable that you could start feeling stifled creatively. So, when Dark Avenue was announced — a band that featured four-fifths of Pistol Whippin’ Ike — it was easy to see why they were starting a side project.

The hard rock sounds they have perfected were traded in for a more metal style, as they flexed their musical muscles. There was a lot of hype leading up to their debut, and after a one-off gig down at SXSW, they made their debut Dallas show an even more memorable event by also having it be their CD release show. Yeah, they came out swinging… Hard.

Right from the lead track, “Seasons Change”, the band proves why Dark Avenue is a fitting name for them. It is dark, even semi-haunting, atmospheric metal, and this song exemplifies that. The rhythm section bears down on you, the bass and drums complimenting one another very well, while the smooth, unmistakable voice of Mario Cadena offers some balance, providing some harmony to it all.

“In Memory of Me” sees the band demonstrating equal parts of metal and hard rock, complete with more pulse-pounding bass riffs and some heavy guitar licks. Then you get to what may be the best offering on the five-track EP, “Another Day”. Lyrically, it paints a vivid picture of the dissension a relationship (of any sort) can take. The opening verse, “Taste the life you’ll never have and for a second my deception looks a lot like your reflection: the life you built for me.”, says a lot about the tone the song has. It’s honesty in its most brutal form; and the guitar solo that’s thrown in is nothing short of epic.

“Sober may well be the hardest hitting song on the album. It’s quite reflective, too. Take, for example, the line, “…I have wasted so much time. The man I use to be has died. This addiction fuels my fire…” No doubt, some people will be able to connect with it on some level, and aside from perhaps being relatable, it’s real. And after all, isn’t that what music is supposed to be? It’s supposed to draw from some personal experience, which in turn makes the song into something far more emotional, as is the case here.

This all too short listening experience (the EP clocks in at not quite 20-minutes) goes out on an explosive note thanks to “Aftermath”. It’s another charged track that boasts some thunderous percussion, which actually tends to stand out more than the riffs. It’s a great one to end with, wrapping up the EP well, but it also leaves you eager to hear more from the Dark Avenue.

The thing with EP’s is (most of the time) it allows the band to put forth their best, most solid material. Such is the case with “Seasons Change”, as not one of these five tracks is lacking.

As someone who has been a fan of most of the band members for a while, too, it’s also nice to hear them trying out something new, and even Mario does some slightly different things with his voice on this collection of songs.

As stated in their bio, the goal of Dark Avenue is to set themselves apart from the rest of the herd. To standout. “Seasons Change” goes a long way in proving that is possible.

Dark Avenue is:
Barry Lorberbaum - Guitar
Barry Townsend - Bass
Jeff Hathcock - Drums
Jonathon Barnes - Guitar
Mario Cadena – Vocals

Purchase the album on:
iTUNES

Visit Dark Avenues’ websites:
Official Website / Facebook / Reverbnation / Twitter / Youtube

Current Shows:
August 22nd at Tomcats West in Fort Worth / September 6th at The Rail in Fort Worth / September 20th at Curtain Club in Dallas / October 10 at RBC in Dallas / October 11th at Hailey’s in Denton
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Album Review: “Motherfolk’nrock’nroll” by The Rye Boys

image“…These days, the Rye Boys have become organized, honing their hellish skills into an inhuman force of good times and alcohol. The term “band” would not be an accurate portrayal of these fellows, as they have also been known to rake yards, and give mighty fine handshakes…”

That’s an excerpt from the current bio for The Rye Boys, and I think it sums up the band quite well.

They’ve been around for a few years now (forming in 2009), but just within the last couple of months released their debut album, “Motherfolk’nrock’nroll”, which, by its title alone, should also be very telling of the folk/rock/country outfit.

The album takes you all over the place and covers a variety of emotions, though it begins with a low-key tune revolving around love. “If I lie awake she could sing me to sleep. When she’s not around I see no need to dream…” goes the first line of “Lucy Song”, with trace amounts of heartache bleeding through in the vocals not just on that portion, but the entire song. It’s a great song, and personally, I’m quite fond of the whistling thrown in, which is incredibly brief, though makes for a nice effect, before they create more of a rip-roaring raucous at the end.

The pace escalates quickly with “Yellabelly”, which is a fascinating hybrid of not just country and folk music, but also some punk. It’s all condensed into almost exactly one minute, showing just how vivacious The Rye Boys can be, and they pull off the gin-soaked sing-along type songs very well.

There’s a slight degree of lo-fi quality to both “Follow Me, Pt. 1” and, to a lesser extent, “Follow Me, Pt. 2”, that makes for a nice sound. It’s mainly found in the unison singing — which is featured most heavily on the first part — but it’s a nice effect, showcasing the vocals in their rawest form. In some ways, they sound better on those two than any other track on the record.

The album throws another twist at you with “Candidate”, which finds The Rye Boys exploring their rock side. It’s a side you’ll get sucked right into, thanks in part to the thicker, heavier percussion, while the guitars easily take center stage with some catchy riffs on the song that deals with not always being cut out for the game of love. “I am the worst candidate… I can’t help you or myself…” goes part of the chorus, which could easily be a fan sing-along.

“Yesterday” may mark the halfway point of “Motherfolk’nrock’nroll”, but with it, the band shows they still have some tricks up their sleeve, and this one happens to be in a form of a solo acoustic song. It’s possibly the best song on the album, and touches on some social issues that can really get the gears turning in your head. “Is it a sin to murder for your country? The Bible says I’m unclean, but the president assures me that God is on our side…” goes the chorus, which is executed in the form of some nice crooning. It’s a song about someone who is struggling with the process of war — having trouble with killing — and perhaps the best part is how the first two choruses are sung more pondering that line mentioned a moment ago, as if trying to become okay with that fact. However, the final chorus is filled with anger and rage about having to do something that is surely so hard to condition yourself to do.

The mood becomes much lighter with the upbeat and fun “Nickels & Dimes”, which can get you moving with ease — even if you’re setting in front your computer speakers listening to it. In fact, you’ll probably be a somewhat sad that it only lasts a little under two minutes.

“Misery Keeps” is another bare bones song, which also stands out as being one of the strongest on the album, and is just solid all the way around, from the lyrics (“…when he learned what love was, he tried to push away his own…”) and storytelling, to the way the intensity grows the further along it gets.

Said intensity then peaks with “Aeroplane”, which is another party-style folk number that evokes some movement from the listener. Then you have “Mama”, which shifts that energy around slightly, and thanks to the heavily featured piano, sounds reminiscent of an old-timey Western tune.

Out of the twelve songs on the album, the only one that really fails to capture my interest is “Yard’s On Fire”. I can’t say that it’s a bad song, nor can I pinpoint anything that could have been done better. It really is as simple as it doesn’t appeal to me.

“Motherfolk’nrock’nroll” then concludes with the howling (in both senses of the word) “Good Time”, a joyous song whose title pretty accurately describes the listening experience of this record.

“Motherfolk’nrock’nroll” is indeed a marrying of the folk/country/rock genres. Not necessarily on every song, but occasionally, and you can bet on hearing at least two of those genres woven together on each track. Above all else, they’re nearly all vibrant, fun songs that you and some friends can jam to, to get ready for some hell-raising good times.

The Rye Boys are (and key members in making the record were):
Clayton Smith -  Vocals/Guitar
Nic Harper - Vocals/Banjo
Jobie Ritchie - Bass
Kraig Zirnheld - Drums
Denver Graves - Producer/Arranger
Mixed by Salim Nourallah

Purchase the album on:
iTUNES

Visit The Rye Boys websites:
Official Website / Facebook

Album Review: “Skylines” by Shapes and Faces

imageThe Dallas-based quartet known as Shapes and Faces has been around for a little more than a couple years now, and are now on the verge of the release of their debut album, “Skylines”. Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the band is that you can’t pigeonhole them into one certain genre. They’re self-described as being indie, rock and new-wave. There are also some elements of pop thrown in, and probably even some other styles.

They don’t just mix them, either. They traverse through all of those styles, which makes for quite the listening experience.

“Big Sky” opens the little over 37-minute long record, starting off a little slow, before its catchy music bed, complete with heavy drum beats and blaring guitar riffs really take hold. There’s a very upbeat feel to it, and it will have no problem in reeling you in and making you interested in the rest of the record.

That spirited track then gives way to the rocking, “Blank Stairs”. “…Without yesterday, you never get older.” goes the chorus of the albums shortest track, as the four-piece shows that aside from crafting songs that get your attention, they’re also great lyricists. It’s a monster if a song, and my favorite from the album.

“Lost in CT” gives it a run for its money in my opinion, though. The band shows off their gentler side at first, while the track obviously stems from deep personal experiences. That emotion is conveyed, and one of the messages I get from it is to savor the little moments. “And the answers are always on the edge of the earth. When you don’t seem to notice what you’re home is really worth.” Derek Bennett sings on the chorus, a somewhat simple, yet impactful line.

Then, the catchy notes that begin “For You” spill out of the speakers. The track blends a new wavy vibe with rock exceptionally well. I’m hesitant to say it’s cutting edge, though there is a very refreshing quality to the way the keys interact with the bass, drums and guitar. Simply put, it’s mesmerizing.

‘To Survive” dances between an entrancing atmospheric vibe and an indie/rock song that rocks like no other. Two sounds that may sound contradictory, but they’re blended well on this lovely track; which fades out to the lone instrumental song on the record. I’ve said it before in past articles, and I’ll say it again: with few exceptions, instrumental music is just something that generally doesn’t appeal to me. However, there’s something truly captivating about “Artifacts”. The flow it has is great, starting slow, building up, then tapering off. After assuming it’s just going to be a more relaxed number, then it roars to life, providing something you can bang your head to.

The lyrical depth is again highlighted on the chorus of “Red Lights”. “In the end I just want you to find yourself outside of this cage…” Derek sings, a genuine quality heard readily in his voice. It’s a touching song, and the same could — to some extent — also be said of the following track, “Monster Tommy”.

The album closes out strong with “In My City”, which carries a certain feeling of triumph to it, and also seems to be coated in a layer of longing for days gone by, while simultaneously being excited by the prospects of things to come. All of which makes for a fitting way to end the record.

It’s definitely an all encompassing record, and one you won’t tire of for some time. At least you shouldn’t.

It’s refreshing to hear a band be able to pull off a varied style of sounds, and most impressive of all is how they make it sound like it fits what Shapes and Faces is, instead of, you know, coming across as if they’re trying to do something different for the sole purpose of being different.

If you haven’t gotten the drift by now, “Skylines” is well worth the investment of your time in sampling it, and if you like it, then you’re money, too.


Shapes and Faces is:
Derek Bennett – vocals and guitar
Ryan Martin – drums and backing vocals
Jeff Givens - guitar
Chase Gamradt - bass

Purchase the album on: iTUNES or Bandcamp

Visit Shapes and Faces websites: Facebook / Reverbnation / Twitter / Youtube

Current Shows:
August 22nd at The Grotto in Fort Worth
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Album Review: “Ellis” by Loyal Sally

imageTwo years ago, just a year into the band, the Dallas folk/rock group Loyal Sally did something few bands manage to: they released two EP’s barely more than six months apart. The momentum that built wound up earning them a plaque on the Wall of Fame at the Curtain Club, and a dedicated fan base followed. Shortly after, both fans and the band began looking ahead to the next album.

Their third release has been talked about for a while now. It was sometime in the latter part of 2013 fans were informed it would be titled “Ellis”, and pictures from the recording studio whet peoples appetites as they anxiously awaited a release date.

The wait for that would take several more months, with the actual album release show being further away, but believe me when I say it was (or will be) a wait well worth it.

“Ellis” starts with one of the bands’ best songs (in my opinion), and the mesmerizing sounds of the acoustic guitar fed through some pedal effects (to the point you would never guess it’s a simple acoustic) start “Solar”. It feels somewhat like a lullaby, in the sense that it has a profoundly soothing quality to it, as singer and rhythm guitarist Michael “Bubba” Lindblom croons on the first few lines. Even once the drums (the drumming is dynamic on this song, by the way) and bass (which is heard well in the mix) come in, it still retains that vibe; and after a few listens through, this catchy number will have you singing right along to it. Also, I have to say I’m quite fond of the soupy backing vocals which are peppered around sparingly and thrown in at just the right moments.

The quartet gets more into the folk/rock sounds they’ve built their name on with “One For the Lost”, which displays both genres equally well. There are the times the folk elements are most prominent, and others where you would swear it was a rock number, while the track traverses feelings of slight despondence with some heartening moments (or rather lines) woven in.

“…In the middle of the night she said, ‘I want your soul.’…” Bubba sings on the chorus of the acoustic “Paradise”. At not quite a minute and a half long, it provides a break of sorts, while still being a song that conveys what it needs to and then ends. The little tune also gives Bubba a chance to display a softer side of his voice, which goes down very smoothly.

That lull then gives way to another highlight, not just of “Ellis”, but of the bands’ catalog in general.  For a primarily acoustic song, “Call Me Crazy” is a vehement one, with blistering riffs assaulting your ears at a near nonstop pace. “…It seems here lately the tides have turned my backs to the wind. I’m glad you came out to celebrate. I’m not sure what you’re celebrating, but good for you anyway.” goes the first line, a line that sets up the rest of the song in just the right manner. Trace amounts of disdain and even sorrow seep into the delivery of the lyrics at times, and a little of both can be heard on the chorus, “…Turn our backs on each other and leave one another for dead…” This is one track that’s sure to get put on repeat by most, simply because the music bed is so irresistible, and I like the way the drums and guitar seem to accent one another on it.

“Officer” is another short offering from the disc, which gets reflective at times, as heard on the second verse, “…When the suffering’s gone I’ll be fixed on this place that I call hell…” I’ll be honest, upon the initial listen, this was one song I didn’t care for in the least, but the more I listened, it started to grow on me. It has a cool little end, too, and the vocals are made to sound electronic, sounding like something you’d hear on a Daft Punk record.

Apart from the current material, the band also looks back, revisiting “Clouds” (a cut from their debut EP). It’s a slightly alternate version, with most of the differences being more subtle. That’s not to say they’re indistinguishable, though it’s not a massive reworking, either. More than anything, the song has gotten a few coats of polish applied to it, making the slow number sound even better than before.

“No I Won’t” starts to wind down “Ellis”, a low-key song that simply oozes a feel good vibe; before the band then takes a look at the future, and offers listeners a glimpse of the new sound they’re working on. I don’t foresee Loyal Sally ditching the folk/rock style that gave them their start, but with “Whiskey Woman”, they show off their chops as country musicians. It’s a raucous song, and with all the hollering and an array of other noises that can be heard in the background, you would think it was recorded live in a saloon back in the Old West. There are even some moments here and there where lead guitarist Michael Morgan harmonizes with Bubba on this rip-roaring number, and they sound great together.

You can’t argue that “Ellis” is Loyal Sally’s best release to date. I mean no disrespect to the previous two EP’s (which sound great), but this one has a better production quality to it, with everything (vocals, instruments) sounding so clear, and it’s noticeable on every song. From the fan perspective, it’s also nice to have a few of those songs you’ve been hearing at live shows for awhile now on a format where you can listen to them whenever you want.

Above all that, you don’t hear the same track ever repeated on this record. Sure, there’s a commonality that binds each song together, but you can’t say that song “A” and “D” are partly identical, or any other variation like that. Each song stands apart from the others, especially that curveball they throw at the end.

The road to making “Ellis” was a long one for Bubba, Michael, Lucas Weiss (bass) and Stacy Blankenship (drums), and the time and work those guys put into it shows on the final product, a product which fans will be indulging their ears with for some time to come.

Loyal Sally is:
Michael “Bubba” Lindblom – Vocals and guitar
Michael Morgan – Guitar and backing vocals
Lucas Weiss – Bass
Stacy Blankenship – Drums

Purchase the album on: iTUNES (CD release date is June 7th)

Visit Loyal Sallys’ websites: Official website / Facebook / Reverbnation / Twitter / Youtube

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Album Review: “Ephemeral” by Sam Morrow

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The true troubadour musicians seem to be a gradually dying breed these days. If you look hard enough, you can find some truly exceptional ones, though, and one of those would have to be Sam Morrow.

The 23-year-old singer/songwriters debut album, “Ephemeral”, was recently released on Forty Below Records, and moments into starting the listening experience you find it hard to believe Morrow isn’t two or three times his age, due to the depth and honesty that’s conveyed in his songs.

“War” establishes an immediate somber mood, while a gentle playing of the violin accompanies the slower strumming of the guitar. Sam’s art as a storyteller instantly comes to light on this track and pulls you in, and if your interest hasn’t been piqued by about two-thirds of the way in, the sharp, sudden rise the song takes will hook you. “No, we’re not done.” belts Morrow, sounding almost a bit defiant.

The hushed vibe that’s found on that previous song carries over to the first bit of “Old Soul”, but it doesn’t last for long. His rich voice raises to the occasion on this track that’s a little more fleshed out, even rock sounding. “I’ve been told that you break when you’re old, but I’ve got an old soul, my dear.” he belts towards the end of this song about hanging on to a relationship.

Through those two tracks, you can hear the album building, and that pace continues with the harmonious “Sure Thing”. You may already have a preconceived notion about the content of Sams’ songs, and despite the upbeat (which is impossible not to get into), the tone of heartbreak is kept intact. It’s not just a simple re-wording of the past songs, though. In fact, lyrically, it’s almost like an original spin on the oldest subject matter in music.

The best part about “Run” has to be how it suddenly transitions form an acoustic song to one that has an orchestral tinge as the music jumps out of the speakers, assaulting you with an array of beautifully woven sounds.

The feeling of longing is found in nearly every second of “December”, which at times has the very nice addition of backing female vocals, though you have to have the volume up pretty loud to fully hear them. Then comes “Forever”, which evokes a real sense of calm. One that washes over you, and for this track, it’s really best to just close your eyes and give all of your attention to Sam Morrow’s storytelling, which is absolutely superb on this number, even a cut above the rest.

The album then gets turned on its head with “14”. Morrow has dabbled in rock elements before, but nothing to the point that things get taken to on this song. It’s a full-blown country/rock affair, complete with a pedal steel guitar, which lies in the shadows for parts of the song, but strikes at just the right moments to really impress. It’s set apart from every other song on the record; and just because it is more alt country and mentions whiskey and other drinks, doesn’t mean the song is cliché.

At not quite three minutes, “Midland” is the shortest tune on “Ephemeral”, though it’s another incredible song, and one that brings pretty and poignant together in just the right ways.

With the album coming to a close, “True North” is an appropriate way to start the end. It’s sort of about having that internal compass that will always lead you in the right direction, though not without some bumps along the way. The song quite possible stems from his battles with addiction, but the message it carries can be applied to anyone and everyone’s life.  “…One wrong turn and it defines who we are. But it’s the journey that writes the song…” Sam croons on the first verse of the song that is a testament to the fact while you might “screw up” in the eyes of the world, you haven’t necessarily gone off track, and you can always find your way.

“Gone” then closes out the album, and it ranks high on the list of Sam doing what he does best: writing songs that are wrought with emotion.

I’ll return to the word “honesty”. That’s what sticks out the most on this record comprised entirely of songs where Morrow lays his soul bear for the listener. That’s what he’s going for, and in his current bio, he talks about greats like Ray Charles and Johnny Cash, how that’s a common thread in their music. “…They all have these heavy truths woven in their writing that you don’t want to believe, but have to…” he says.

In that regard, he’s right up there with those musicians who names will never be lost to time. Perhaps one day he’ll be as legendary as they are, too.

“Ephemeral” is a good title for the album. It’s one that sticks with you, though that’s not a word that would be used to describe Sam Morrow. Quite the contrary, this is a starting point of what should one day be a legacy career.

Purchase the album on: iTUNES or Bandcamp

Visit Sam Morrows’ websites: Official Website / Facebook / Twitter / Youtube