In one of his movies, Woody Allen coined the term “Heaviosity” and that’s the best way I can describe The Red Book’s project Sleeping Is Living.
The Red Book is New Orleans guitarist Dan Schubarth with guest drummers Andi Preen (live kit) and Darryl DiMaggio (mostly digital). Schubarth’s new release Sleeping Is Living is a mammoth double album-length download that’s mostly Les Paul guitar through various stomp boxes with a fat, heavy tone and miles of sustain. I was intrigued by this album because I’ve recently done a similar project: recording my amp speaker with a Shure SM-57, adding bass tracks directly into the board, and finishing with a mix of live and digital drums. However, Schubarth out-heavies me by several tons, and I bow at the feet of this monstrous set.
Schubarth describes his 90-minute masterwork as “guitar-heavy modern psych rock with some prog tendencies that will take you into, through and out the other side of its sonic dreamscape.” Aside from guitar, Schubarth also produces, plays bass and sings. Though his vocals barely peek through his torrential wall of sound, he’s not a bad prog rock singer.
Schubarth’s musical background began in Hollywood, California as the guitarist for the indie band Loungefly in the early ’90s; he then studied music composition at the University of New Orleans (perhaps why many of these tracks feel “composed” on the fly). Schubarth joined Testaverde as their second guitarist in 2012, and Sleeping Is Living is his first solo project. “I like the cool and noisy sounds that can come from an extremely overdriven tube amp and distorted guitar,” he says, “and you may notice that in many places I did not remove extraneous sounds such as string slides, amp hum and feedback, but rather chose to use those sounds stylistically.” Schubarth recorded, mixed and mastered the album himself in his New Orleans living room studio (which he calls Prima Materia) between April 2017 and November 2020 using Ableton Live 9 and Isotope Ozone 8.
“Virtual Circle” wastes no time getting into the noisiest settings on Schubarth’s Marshall stack as a sort of Static Overture. The basic riff here is catchy in a bemused Zappa-like way, with heavy metal style vocals: “They are a hologram, making a hologram / Their new hologram will make another hologram / which made another hologram, that made them as a hologram / Building themselves.” Okay, so the lyrics are not really the point. Schubarth takes short breaks for impressive Brian May-like guitar orchestrations, especially toward the end.
“InsideOutside” gets us into dark prog territory worthy of Van Der Graaf Generator or Gong guitarist Steve Hillage. Here, as most everywhere, Schubarth’s control of his wailing axe is impressive, as sheer volume can overwhelm even the hardiest of home recordists. The tonal sustain here is truly melodic and symphonic, taking the full twelve minutes to build. The changes this track goes through are nearly impossible to explicate, but it smoothly moves from major to minor, prog to metal to jazz without a second thought. Schubarth’s first solos pop up at around five minutes, absolutely killer and fully supported by Andi Preen’s live drum kit. The echoey indistinct vocals are from a poem by William Blake. More choral guitar and choir-like voices end the track.
“T minus 1” is a HUGE slab of a metal guitar riffage that threatens to obliterate the universe, backed by Schubarth’s own drum programming. Slow, lumbering and angry.
“The Gateway / Enchanted Lands” is a 17-plus minute prog metal epic with the welcome return of Preen’s live drums. Schubarth’s riffs are sharp, jagged and right on the verge of disintegration. He also does some cool production tricks, having his guitar jump around the stereo field and suddenly become a totally different sound. Some of this stuff plays a bit harsh in headphones but blasting it through speakers is a thing of joy. Though I’ve used the term “symphonic” Schubarth does not really start with a theme and then introduce variations; it’s more like he creates a sonic world where different themes fade in and out at will, and everything hangs together despite all odds. Again like Queen’s Brian May, this track has an early section with a decidedly Middle Eastern flavor, followed by some incredible bone-like percussion. The sheer bulk of melodic invention here kept my jaw permanently hanging open. At 13 minutes there’s an incredible unison-note break that’s worthy of a movie score. Near the conclusion an affable theme emerges that could have been its very own song. By the very end I’m reminded of the longer jams by Neil Young and Crazy Horse, but with 100 times more intensity.
“Behind The Stars” feels like a more traditional, Metallica-style speed jaunt, but with inventive, ringing chords. There’s lyrics here but frankly there’s not really room for vocals. The middle section contains some heartbreakingly beautiful guitar harmonies. A desperate A & R guy might pick this more accessible track to push the album (after pumping up the vocals, of course!).
“Other Worlds” starts as a heavy sustained-note overture, moving into an elliptical, outer-worldly main theme played by what sounds like hundreds of guitars, while still leaving plenty of sonic space for Preen to beat the skins. The heaviness quotient increases by tons toward the end, while still retaining inventive melodies. “The Visitor” is a vocal-heavy tune with frantic lead guitar voicings; a highly unusual track that took me a little longer to warm up to.
“Inner Limits” is the final track, and it’s a freaking epic, clocking in at 20:03! Full disclosure: I heard this song on the freeway, and the further I drove, the more I hoped it would never end… and I almost got my wish! It opens with more opaque Red Book melodies with several fuzzy guitar tracks gently vying for attention. As we progress, Schubarth’s lead harmonies become more daring and dissonant, while remaining way cool. At five minutes there’s a distinct Steve Hackett section, who’s also been known to send his solos out on a limb. Spaced-out chorale vocals appear, but you’ll need to check the lyric sheet to understand them. Here again, I find Schubarth’s song structures to have no discernible through-line, but damned if they don’t work anyway. The center holds, even while slowly morphing over the span of 20 crunch-filled minutes. As we near the conclusion, the final four minutes nearly gave me chills.
I’m a sucker for music epics, even ones that don’t always work. For me, this album is one for the ages, both for the hubris of Schubarth’s idea and his totally unique execution.
Nameling is a solo artist located in Red Bank, New Jersey. He has been in bands for the better half of a decade, mostly hardcore and metal, playing in venues across the East Coast and North East. In the meanwhile, he has been writing indie-pop/indie rock/emo songs and with his debut as a solo artist having been very recently, he is ready to unleash to the world his new collection of songs called Ask Again that ties in melancholy with popish melodies with themes of “magic and poor life management.”
Ask Again moves right in with “Stanley (Intro),” where some beats and a chiptune vibe on synths sound off toward the start of this track. The sounds meander for a bit, slowly building as the track progresses. This seemed to serve as an apt intro. The guitars erupt with full-on melodic impulses on “What’s Best For You.” Backed by a drumming beat, the sounds are very ear-pleasing. The vocals are in the emo vein that recall a Death Cab For Cutie feel. Gradually, the music grows in traction becoming a mix of indie and pop rock. Synths greet the start of “New Year’s Eve” as guitars and beats eventually join in. This felt more like a pop song with heavy leanings into electronic territory. The inclusion of acoustic instrumentation made way for a fuller sound.
The guitars strut in with a driven sound on “Broadwalking.” The slow burning energy of this track is tangible. The lead singer’s vocals are also emo-inspired here. He sings with a touch of nonchalance. The moving instrumentals behind his droning vocals are a good contrast. Hip hop-inspired beats pave the start of “Magic 8-ball.” Next, the sound of melodious guitars makes its way into this track. The song really picks up toward the chorus where the combined vocal harmonies sound very compelling. The track has a nice flow to it. Dramatic strumming on the guitar makes for a captivating acoustic sound on “New Year’s Eye (Reprise).” The simplicity of this song makes for an emotionally resonating performance coming from the vocals.
The artist has been working on these songs at different points of his life over the past six years. Because these tracks were written over a span of time, there is evident a mixture of influences across the EP, reflecting what the artist was going through at the time. Each track stands alone, with no song sounding alike. These tracks have been brewing on the backburner for a long time and finally Nameling is releasing them, much to listeners’ delight. With major influences that include Death Cab for Cutie, Pedro the Lion, James Blake, Weezer, Guided By Voices, Bright Eyes, among others, you can hear these influences in his sound, but you can also hear Nameling taking a whole new direction of his own take of emo, indie and pop. I’m glad they tracks are being released and we finally get to see what Nameling is all about as far as a singer/songwriter embarking on his solo material for the first time. This proved to be a successful start and I look forward to seeing what comes next for the artist.
Stephen Stavola is an artist born and raised in Queens. The artist mentions he has written hundreds of songs and performed throughout the New York City area with the piano principally as his band. On his release Juniper in Times of Trouble it certainly sounds like it’s from New York but not really in this era. This release has heavy a ’70s folk quality. The most obvious comparison is Simon & Garfunkel. The topics, mood of the songs and vocals all reminded me of the famous folk duo. However, there are also folk comparisons. Donovan came to mind.
Up first is the song “Kathy” and funny enough there is a song called “Kathy's Song” from Simon & Garfunkel. I loved the song and it felt so familiar in terms of aesthetics and style. The melodies are memorable, the performances are well sung and I thought the female vocal harmonies were a nice touch.
“And She Sings To Me” sounded even more ’70s influenced. You just don’t hear music produced like this very often. I think that might have been a harpsichord in there but either way it’s a warm song that’s easy to appreciate.
“I Long for The Sun” is up next. It’s another great song that’s really well written with fantastic guitar picking patterns. “Leave Your Troubles For Another Day” is the somber and melancholy song in the batch while “After The Fountain Of My Sorrows” is a little pick me up and felt like some hope after the crying.
It would be my guess that Stavola grew up on similar music as a teenager. The similarities aren’t subtle. I think it goes without saying that if you appreciate folk music from the ’60s and ’70s this will be a very easy win for you. All the songs are well done and really stick to a familiar style that purists will identify.
Stone Soup is a gathering of seasoned musicians over five studio sessions (and one live appearance) over the span of 2019 in the Blues Bunker studio in Clinton, CT. The result was Keepers of the Flame. The songs are primarily rock based with psychedelic overtones.
The first song is called “Dark is the Night '' which combines atmospheric synths, some percussion, guitar and vocals. I was instantly reminded of Pink Floyd. In fact the aesthetics felt very retro and mostly ’70s based. I can’t say it sounded contemporary which was fine in my opinion. The song isn’t very dynamic however it ends where it begins and there’s no chorus or hook.
“Welcome the Dawn” started playing and I swear I’ve heard this melody before but I couldn’t figure out where it came from. It felt like background music you might put on while relaxing at a spa or getting a massage. There’s atmospheric pads that float about. It’s not a song that’s begging for your attention but invites you to join if you want. Great stuff.
Next up is “Why Can’t I” and similar to the previous song the dynamics are almost non-existent. There’s no crescendo or anything like that which leads to a peak. They float around a solid riff with some vocals and guitar solos and repeat that until it ends.
The centerpiece is “Starfish” and I noticed the recording was a little lo-fi. There isn't much definition to the drums and bass which felt more in the background and everything just sounded soft. That being said it was probably the highlight. I felt like the band was rocking and upbeat on this song.
“Devil’s in the Details” contains some solid lead guitar skills. The best groove on the album is on “The Ever Elusive G-Spot” and I especially was digging the bass line. Last up is “Strange Universe (LIVE at the Bunnyfest, Aug. 24th 2019)” and is very lo-fi and live. The audience is audible in the background.
This release felt like it was spawned by musicians who were influenced by classic rock from the late ’60s and early ’70s. They seem to have fun doing it and it shows in the music.
Canvas and Color is a recent release by Cory Coffman. It’s an eight-song release that’s about 35 minutes long. There are a number of different styles so let’s get into it.
The first song which is the title track seems to be an homage to ’50s pop. There isn’t so much distinction on the chorus because there is a little bit of distortion but for the most part the lyrics, vibe and really just about everything seemed to come from that era. It sounds great and is well written and delivered.
Up next is “Tango til They’re Sore” and was a direction I was not expecting. I’ve been a Tom Waits fan for about twenty-five years. He’s got a very distinct singular sound and the music could have been from Waits. The obvious baritone was missing but I would be very surprised if this wasn’t directly inspired by Waits.
“Mother Earth” is next and is another change in aesthetics and vibe. This was a contemporary blues and rock hybrid. It sounded like a subdued song from The Black Keys. “Marigolds on Monday” is Coffman's attempt at an intimate ballad in the spirit of Sufjan Stevens and it even has a similar cadence. The track builds with elements and ends up being one of the highlights on the release.
“Weeping Willow” is another ballad and is seeped in melancholy and reflection. I would say no one specific artist didn’t come to mind like on the other songs. The mood brightens with levity on “Raspberry Seeds” which is a happy go lucky type of song similar to the title track but less drenched in ’50s pop. He goes deeper into the happy go lucky vibe which is playful on “I’ve Been Thinkin’.” Last up is “Midnight Callin’” which is stripped down that feels more pop oriented.
This album was so varied in mood, style and approach it was difficult to feel the signature sound or essence of the artist which is often the case with debut releases from solo artists. It felt more like a compilation of songs instead of a release that weaves a singular aesthetic X-factor into each song. Whether or not you think that is a good or bad thing is certainly up for debate but I think building more of a foundation on the next release might be food for thought.
I had some preferences in terms of the songs but overall I thought the songwriting and delivery was top notch. The songs whether they were chipper, somber or specific to a genre or artist all felt heartfelt, tender and warm.
Overall, I thought this was a solid debut and look forward to where Coffman goes from here.
LANUE is a new project from Sarah Krueger. She collaborated with an impressive array of musicians. Krueger worked with Steve Garrington (Low) and Sean Carey (S.Carey, Bon Iver) to assist with production and instrumentation while relying on JT Bates (Pieta Brown, Taylor Swift) on drums and Ben Lester (Field Report, Sufjan Stevens) on pedal steel guitar. The string arrangements are by Ryan Young (Trampled by Turtles) and guitar work by Erik Koskinen.
The album contains ten songs and is a blend of folk and rock. Musically, I didn’t feel this album was pushing into new territory but the delivery was often exceptional. In addition to that there’s no denying the top notch production and it creates a warm glaze over the music.
“Wars Intro” is up first and is a minimalist intro that revolves around a vocal and somewhat ominous atmosphere. It works well enough and captured my interest. We get our first fleshed out sounding song with “September.” The song revolves around piano, guitar, drums and some atmospheric elements. At the center of the song is the vocals which drip with melancholy and reflection in a way that sounds familiar. My first thought was Mazzy Star but the mood itself had a sense of familiarity.
The mood extends with “Oil Fields'' which is a highlight. I loved the vocal melody on this song. It gets stuck in your head but in a way where you don’t want it to end. “Pull Through” is next and as the song implies sounds a little more hopeful in some ways but still contains a foundation of melancholy and reflection.
“What I Love the Most” is the most joy filled song yet and in my opinion the most single worthy song. The chorus just pops and connects with the medley the first time I heard it. The push and pull continues with the slow burn on “Mexico” and the reflective yet uplifting “July” which could be another single. “Mississippi” is great and “Something Scared” continues to meld elements of melancholy and reflection. Last up is the anthemic and celebratory “Days in the Sun.”
This is an exceptional album from beginning to end. The ebb and flow is seamless and a journey I highly recommend taking.
Dred Buffalo is a Boston-based rock quartet. Their lineup consists of Alerisa Rosa (vocals), Chase Cavacco (guitars), Paul Curran (bass) and Angie Heaney (drums). All are longtime friends who grew up on Boston’s South Shore; following a strong Boston band tradition, they’ve moved into a house together, and have written, recorded and released their eponymous debut album Dred Buffalo.
Dred Buffalo is a tasty slab of bluesy rock, although calling it just “rock” doesn’t do it justice. Over the nine tracks, the band takes us on a journey of evolving musical styles--like a good train ride, you don’t feel as if you’re moving, but when you look up you’re somewhere else.
Our ride starts with “Mr. Fella” which is Dred Buffalo’s take on the twelve-bar blues format. They’re not breaking new ground here, but they do move outside the standard I-IV-V chords and give it their own twist. And, besides, how can you dislike a song that includes a vibraslap?
“Malign and I” introduces elements of soul and psychedelia into the mix, and Cavacco lays down some dueling blues-guitar lines to keep us rooted. “Gloo Canoe” with its punky A section, riffy B section, and various breakdowns and tempo changes, could have been a Guns ‘N Roses song, if Dred Buffalo cranked up the Marshalls. Curran introduces a heavy, Led Zeppelin-style bass riff here, which foreshadows some of his later work.
“3AM,” the band’s take on the slow blues shuffle, features some terrific guitar tones. “Night Owl,” heavier still, harkens back to early ‘70s Aerosmith, a la “Train Kept A Rollin’.” “Call of the Buffalo” has a great arrangement, where the main descending riff is reinterpreted in surf-rock and hard-rock flavors. When we finally arrive at “Tacky Tendrils,” the band is full-out heavy rock; Zeppelin fans will find this familiar.
Overall, the album sounds as if the band, as a cohesive, well-practiced unit, set up in a studio room and played their hearts out. Rosa’s vocals sound great, and Heaney’s drums keep it all locked in. There are overdubs--Cavacco does a nice job making us think there are two distinct guitarists in the band--but for the most part the feel is that of a nearly-live album. It’s nice to hear a new rock album from the Boston music scene. Give Dred Buffalo a try!
The music of Tuscon, Arizona songwriter Gabrielle Pietrangelo is inspired by the open spaces and big skies of the southwest where she grew up. Her new solo album On My Way Back Home comes after working on several collaborative projects including the Silver Thread Trio, and brings her full circle to simpler guitar arrangements, open tunings and “melodies that emphasize the shimmering quality of her voice.” Besides guitar, vocals and harmonies, Pietrangelo also plays ukulele and piano, and has help from Thoger Lund on double bass. This album was recorded and mixed with Jim Waters at Waterworks Recording Studio in Tuscon using Logic 9, and mastered by Jim Blackwood.
Pietrangelo has a sweet, high pitched singing voice which reminded me of Nanci Griffith, Stevie Nicks, or even (going way back) Melanie. Her songs feel like classic folk tunes, and the recording quality is studio-pristine, if a tad heavy on the reverb. She’s quoted as saying: “I hope that these songs can be a helper to those walking their own path to transformation and healing."
“What The Darkness Knows” starts us off with double-tracked acoustic guitars picking a descending pattern with Pietrangelo singing harmony with herself. This song appears to be about a disappointing lover or friend who refuses to take ownership of the hurt they’ve caused. “If you could see / Then you’d truly believe / And finally face the heart you’ve broken.” For the choruses, Pietrangelo adds some lovely piano figures.
“Summer Rain” is an especially beautiful love song with achingly intimate vocals and sweet guitar picking. “I’ll hold you when you're lying in your bed / I’ll soothe you when you're seeing scarlet red / I’ll feed you when you've nowhere left to turn / I’ll love you like you've never known your worth.”
“He’s Got A Broken Wing” feels more like folk country with a lead vocal venturing into Dolly Parton World. In this song, the singer appears to be gently taunting herself with the inevitable questions after a breakup. “Who's loving you now? / Who's holding your hand? / At night when you can't stand / The sound of the demons knocking on your front door.” Just under three minutes, this song is a true gem. “Way To Fly” again has a country feel and makes full use of Pietrangelo’s guitars, piano, ukulele and multi-tracked vocals.
The title track “On My Way Back Home” may be the first song with Thoger Lund’s double bass. Compositionally this is a sweet but effortlessly complex tune, casting an upbeat glow on the entire collection. “I’m coming home changed… I’ve been digging deep / I’ve been hearing the words / That the mountains and the rivers speak.”
“Morning Bells” is another close up, intimate vocal performance with a melody vaguely reminiscent of the Stones’ “Angie.” Some especially nice piano here as well. “Listen To The River” ends the collection with a slow-picked lament you might find recorded by Sony artist Mary Lou Lord: simple, heartfelt, moving. “I listen to the river when she's dry / Late summer whispers in the trees / Singing the song of I'm sorry / Telling the tale of goodbye / Giving me strength to uncover the truth that I / Can finally let you go.”
This short but exquisite collection was something my heart needed to take in, without really knowing why.
StellarJay is the musical project of Nathan Randall who is currently based out of Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. He recently released an EP entitled Sea Breeze which is an eight- song EP revolving around guitar.
The songs mostly revolve around the same thing. There’s a simple chord progression and some lead guitar with reverb. The music has a similar quality to one of my favorite artists William Tyler.
The album begins with the title track “Sea Breeze” and it is indicative of what else is on the EP. Suffice it to say if you like this track you will appreciate the rest. “Milky Sway” had its moments and I enjoyed the calming stream of rain on “Brookside.” “Aurora” has a calm, contemplative type of quality. “Hindsight,” “Rendlesham” and “Venera” were pleasant songs and further built on this foundation. Last up is “Adobe” which is a short but sweet send off.
The strongest aspect of this release is the cohesive qualities. From beginning to end there’s a specific type of mood created that aligns with the cover art. I always preach about this and thought he did a fantastic job with this aspect of the release.
I would really encourage this artist to listen to William Tyler and in particular his masterpiece entitled Modern Country. There were so many similarities in what they were trying to achieve in the music to my ears. As a recording engineer myself I think it might behoove StellarJay to try and get to a similar aesthetic in terms of the sound quality. I applaud him on achieving what he has in his home recordings but I promise there’s much more that can be done in this department to complement the style of music he’s doing.
Overall, I thought there were good ideas and solid implementation. He is a talented guitar player who has the ability to find a memorable melody and seamlessly transition to other ideas and sounds.I hope to hear more soon from this very promising artist. Take a listen
Mickey Monster is a rock band with members from Kauai, HI and Seattle, WA. It is no wonder that the band is able to draw from the influences of these two realms, going on to incorporate a classic island reggae ska vibe with mainland modern rock on their debut self-titled album Mickey Monster.
Mickey Monster starts off with “Kalypso,” where the band right from the start brings in the Caribbean flavors with steel drums. The mixture of percussions and beats makes for an inviting sound that embraces a great island vibe, mixing reggae with a modern rock sound. The melding is just right. This felt like something great to listen to while relaxing on a beach-y front somewhere. More island flavors are unleashed here on “Hawaiian Punch.” The soft vocal harmonies evoke a soothing sound. The band’s reggae influences could really be felt here. I felt carried away by the music. A blissful island feel makes another appearance on “I’m Not Crazy (I’m Just In Love).” The sounds of bongos give off an ear-pleasing pulse. The acoustic guitar underlines this track. The combined vocal harmonies feel very dynamic. The song blends in soulful R&B with a tropical and reggae flavor.
Sparse guitar riffs sound off on “There’s A Rainbow.” Next, a drumming beat struts in. More steel drums include an island pulse. The vocals sound softer here and due to the subdued execution, it was hard to make out the lyrics. Perhaps more attention in this area would benefit the band. The guitars are touched with a dash of psychedelic and the distorted effects recall a surf and garage rock vibe. Finger-picking on the electric guitar makes for a stark introduction on “Monkey Feet.” The sound meanders for a bit. Next, the drums and percussions come in. The vocals sound slightly off-key here. Not sure if that’s the band’s intent but this became distracting at times. Driven guitars make for a hard-hitting sound toward the start of “Space Force Dropout.” The combined vocal harmonies point to an energized sound. The vibe here sounds heavier, heading into grunge and metal territory. The more aggressive-fueled sounds made for a harder rock vibe.
“My Sweet Angel” felt like the ballad out of the bunch with the lead singer sweetly singing about his “angel.” This felt like a song that plays up to the impulses of a hopeless romantic. On “A Man Sitting Under A Tree,” reggae-inspired guitars really bring in a tropical flavor. Heavy guitars add an intense element to what otherwise would be a laid-back number. The sounds of organ are a nice addition toward the start of “More Than You Will Ever Know.” The vocals are somber-sounding at first. Then a touch of theatrical aspect factors into the performance. Giant sounding guitars eventually roll in. This felt like a straight rock-based sound with embellishments on the xylophone to give off the band’s signature sound of Caribbean flavors. This is another example of the band’s excellent sound.
Filled with tons of flavorful party sounds, this type of music will get you in the mood for a beach-y bash jam. The band displays great chemistry as you can feel all the members each meshing with each other’s frequencies to give a well-executed album with many feel-good and uplifting flavors. I greatly enjoyed the positive energy here and this is definitely something I will come back to frequently. Fans of reggae, ska and rock will be delighted to find a band that mixes all these genres and well too. I think this album successfully blends in different genres and styles to create a new sound worth exploring from start to finish. This is a great start and I look forward to seeing more in a follow-up release.
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