The Americana singer/songwriter duo of Tony Ford and Lindsay Gella has been creating music together for the last three years. Before that, Ford had played with the rock band The Long Shots and acoustic vocal duo Willow Road. Gella wrote and performed music in Minneapolis before teaming up with Ford in the fall of 2015. In October 2016 the Minneapolis group released their EP Southeast Avenues with LSRS Records. After the EP, they worked on their full-length album Echoes of 852 with help from local musician Casey Frensz contributing both music and production and mastered by Tyler Redmann.
With Ford on harmonica and Gella on acoustic guitar, Echoes of 852 opens with the folk song “Wishin’ Well.” It’s an easygoing song. The follow track is the smooth “Autumn Blues,” the only song written by both Ford and Gella. It is the best song on the whole album. With just an acoustic and harmonica accompanying her, Gella’s voice is both sweet while still being a rugged blues song.
“L ‘Etolle du Norte” is Ford’s love letter sent from Southern California to Minneapolis. “So I’m going home to Minnesota, where I’m from. / Feeling like the new kid in town. / I’ll show you where the best families are found.”
“What to do Wednesday” is another strong performance from Gella. With an introduction from Ford’s howling harmonica, Gella’s harmony vocals play off her acoustic guitar very well. “Weep Me Away” is a tender song of a breakup where both artists give their points of view about the separation. Surprisingly, this is one of the only songs where the duo both gets a verse. Up until then each song were performed solo or Gella singing backup in the chorus, making Echoes of 852 feel like two separate albums.
Echoes of 852 is a pleasant album to play on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The folky, small town sound the pair brings is nice and simple: acoustic guitar, harmonica, and strong vocals from both musicians. However the majority of songs are performed solo with the order going Ford, Gella, Ford, Gella. By the time you hear them sing together you kind of wish they had made more songs that way or even a duet. It makes the albums feel a little disjointed. And with Lindsay Gella's solo songs sounding more defined, I can see a solo project working as well.
Overall, there is a lot to appreciate from his duo. Make sure to take a listen.
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Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, Big Adult is what you might call “a pop punk band turned into after getting a job at a used music store and nerding out on synths” might sound like – I like this band already. The band’s debut was recorded by band member Danny Lemmon and mixed and mastered by James Garcia at Over the Counter Culture Records.The group consisting of Lemmon, Mike Dawl and Brent Lawson all participate in playing bass, drums and synths together which really makes for some interesting band performance interactions. And for word nerds like me, who value the minds of a songwriters’ lyrics, Big Adult included the words to each song.
To start things off, “Talk More” is lively and has a total nerd vibe with all the quirks and funny sounds coming from the synths and off beats to the drums. The funniest line by far is – “Smelling my bullshit / don’t make it any easier to shovel.” “Sexy Pastry Chef” definitely has some great and creatively written hooks on the synth, not to mention provocative, comedic-laden lyrics about meeting a sexy pastry chef at a Halloween party. “Lunch Box” has more of a punk vibe with the jumpy rhythms. The words suggest a reflective time of being and/or learning “how” to be a punk (i.e. doing the right things, hanging with the right people, buying the right clothes.)
“Song About Divorce” is the band’s sad ballad moment and for the most part the tempo is slower than the other songs. The words get pretty serious with the songwriter coming to terms (?) about how a divorce makes or made them feel – “as if I am my own psychoanalyst / even though something about that feels amiss / I don’t know if I could handle this in any other way.” “Teeth vs Tongue” starts off like a battle between the bass guitar player and random synth sounds from some arcade game. The writing is really well done and written in both first and third person.
“New Year” has a familiar old school vibe with more guitars added cranking out some great riffs and a sweet solo take towards the end.
If you value a unique sound that lies somewhere outside the usual pop punk band template, complete with synths and a few f-bombs dropped, then Big Adult is your band. For me, I thought the band’s songwriting was truly fun to indulge in – the words didn’t read like typical song lyrics, in my opinion, which made them all the more entertaining and expressive.
Heads in Space is a new band based out of Knoxville, TN who released their debut EP entitled The Light. The songs are mostly between one and two minutes long. I’m pretty sure the band was influenced by Minutemen as the style seems comparable and shorter songs was a hallmark of that band.
The songs are fun, done in familiar raw punk spirit and easy to appreciate. I can’t say the band is presenting a 2.0 version of this sound but fans of bands like MInutemen, The Pixies and Guided by Voices should be very happy with these songs.
These songs don’t require in depth analysis. They are immediate and have zero fat on them. You can hear this on the opener “Anywhere but Here.” The song accomplishes quite a bit in the time allocated.
The good times continue with “Take it Apart” which is the arguable highlight. It’s a fun song with great drumming and vocal harmonies. They even manage to pull off a breakdown and buildup which didn’t seem rushed.
“Fly High” just rocks right out the gate while “Reflect” is a brief breather with just guitar and vocals. They crush with “Let a Light in” which was anthemic and I imagined people singing along at a small punk rock club. They close with “Treasure Chest” which is more of the same for the most part but has a couple of inventive changes in BPM and memorable vocal harmonies towards the end.
I always loved this type of music and the newly formed band has a new fan. Recommended.
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Therapy Dog is the solo project of Josh Hicks. He recently released Spilling Milk and Getting Ants. Apparently the music got comparisons to Bright Eyes even though Hicks never heard of them before. I thought the same thing having been a fan of Bright Eyes since my college days about twenty years ago. In fact it seemed like there we tips of the hat to multiple eras of Bright Eyes.
Spilling Milk and Getting Ants is pretty varied in terms of style even though there are only five songs. The EP opens with “Breath In, Breath Out” which has a pensive, reflective feel to the music. It doesn't sound too far away emotionally and lyrically from an artist like Julien Baker. The song builds until it finally explodes in an anthemic post-rock-esque type section.
The approach to the music changes slightly with “Keeping Up Appearances”. There is a little more of a straight alternative 90’s vibe to the music here. It’s arguably the most catchy song and the vocal similarities to Conor Oberst are apparent on this track.
“That’s How You Get Ants” is a complete 180. Hicks plays into alt-country angle which was perhaps the highlight. It’s a really catchy song but have to admit it the song felt it came out of nowhere if you listen to the EP sequentially.
Up next is”Northcote” which is a slower and more melancholy song than anything that came before. Hicks pulls it off. Last up is the much more upbeat “Spilled Milk”. My favorite lyrics were about the cliches of a young songwriter and unrequited love.
My only issue with Spilling Milk and Getting Ants is the songs felt pretty separate from each other at least stylistically. It’s not like Hicks was doing hip-hop or anything but some more cohesion with the style would have made the experience feel more seamless and fluid.
Overall, I was impressed with his talent in multiple areas. I look forward to hearing more soon.
There is something charming about Mt. Meru's no fuss, no muss, straightforward folk pop sound. It's not hard to believe that this is a band with deep roots that stretch all up and down the west coast. This group originally went by another name and it seems is now wiping the slate clean and coming out fresh with a self-titled album Mt. Meru. Mt. Meru features twelve tracks that feature various blends of Americana, folk, pop and indie. It's a clean cut sound that for me evoked sunshine, introspection and nostalgia.
The vocals and lyrics were a big pull. While the music is very straightforward, the words are pretty sophisticated in terms of narrative and metaphor use. If you isolate the words, they have a distinct poetic quality to them. The words are also delivered with incredible vocal performances. The vocals fall heavily under a more modern, indie styling, which I think is a huge asset for the album. The vocalist range is also pretty impressive and just a downright delight to listen to.
Musically this album is very strong. Songs like "In Keeping With The Times" or "The Paradox" managed to find that sweet spot between folksy and modern which complemented those vocals beautifully. The issue came right out of the gate. At the start of the album, songs like "The Open Road" I feel needed a little more diversity in terms of treatment to the instruments to punch it up and out of the box. As the album moved forward, this issue quickly disappeared and I was pretty spellbound. There are so many songs out of the twelve tracks that I wanted to hear again.
This album was a labor of DIY, in home love and it was well executed. If you told me this was a pro studio album, I would easily believe it. The mixing is incredibly tight and gives the music such a clean, professional edge. On production alone I think this group can really go places. Every part of the process was done by their hands. The core of their process can be credited to Logic X Pro and I think this one of those DIY albums that offers a free advertisement of what artists can do with a little elbow grease.
I feel like Mt. Meru has a timeless quality tucked into their sound and I think that will be a big part of what sustains them. I get the sense this group is battle tested and is ready for the big show. You'll get bang for your buck with this album. I'm gonna ahead and stamp a big fat "buy it" on this one.
Willem Kingma is an artist from Melbourne, Australia, who recently released Saints of the Catacombs. The album does a great job at creating a pretty original sound. It sounds a bit like the Beatles album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band mixed with a trickle of Elliot Smith and maybe The Beach Boys.
The songs are short and never overstay their welcome. I loved the vocal melodies which are really the main draw of the music. The album first got my attention with “Crooked Love.” “Crooked Love” really doesn't go anywhere but I loved the minute long vocal hook which is catchy, fun, psychedelic and hopeful. The vibe continues with “Choke.” Similar to the first song the music doesn't go far from where it starts but is still this cool carousel ride of organ and cotton candy.
The western saloon piano doesn't last long enough on “The Unfortunate Tale of Allan.” “Saints of the Catacombs” felt like the first meaty song. It’s more intimate and melancholy with the scratchy vocals which perhaps were a little too upfront in the mix. Regardless, it’s a good song and well delivered.
“Hum Strum Interlude” really served little purpose. “Bones” reverts to the similar style and kind of nails it if you wanted to combine calliope music, Animal Collective and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club. “Flower” is a darker dream that has potential to turn into a nightmare. The mood becomes a little more chipper with “Mr D.Bentfeld.” “Saints of the Catacombs (Reprise)” is a little more festive and infectious than the first version. He closes the album with intimate piano bar tune “Sincerity.”
I would encourage the artist to keep going with this style and perhaps write a couple of songs that are a little more lengthy, maybe epic, as well as complex and dynamic. This was a really good album but I wanted about three songs that felt more meaty with distinct choruses, hooks and crescendos. If he could throw that in with the more sparse material I think it would make a good follow up.
Overall, this is an original sounding album and I suggest taking a listen. There is a lot to appreciate.
Rock Nacional is an Oakland, California band led by Argentinean-born singer/songwriter Maria Magliano. The band's debut Come Madness First is an alternative rock album with songs that range from “sweet, fingerpicking Sunday morning tunes to slap-you-in-the-face rock tunes.” Magliano describes the group’s sound and influence comes from bands like PJ Harvey, Queens of the Stone Age and Cat Power, to Mazzy Star, Led Zeppelin and even Nirvana. A unique aspect of Rock Nacional’s music is their use of choirs and back-up vocals, which got its roots in Magliano’s singing in choirs growing up in Buenos Aires.
The opening lyrics to “See Candy” seem to suggest that the “Candy” character is into dark schemes or simply has gotten herself into some deep trouble. Magliano sings those lyrics with a smooth, smoky and gorgeous voice which has a fabulous lower tone quality to it. The style of music is part goth, part dark alternative grunge – a great opener! I liked how some of the words to “The Stone and the Sea” rhymed with a triplet format (aka A-A-B, A-A-B in poetry lingo) and this song’s style is more acoustic and darker folk – very haunting. “I Let You Down” is about disappointing a lover and being blind to what was going on in the relationship – “babe you gave your love to me / all you got is misery / I let you down.” The style is sludgy, heavy and deep, tapping into the PJ Harvey/Mazzy Star influence.
In “Running Low” Magliano sings about a former lover who’s “love is a poisoned tree” and “is a haunted home / where crickets go quiet and rooms are full of ghosts, not of me.” Musically, it’s quiet, solemn and tender, and beautifully played. The low tribal drumming and droning guitars really added a lot – a favorite and sure to be played again and again. With “Cherry Pop” you’ll hear some provocative and sensual lyrics for sure. The band’s energy is great and some parts reminded me of PJ Harvey’s “Down by the Water” or perhaps something from Florence and the Machine. “Don’t Break Me (It’s Nothing)” has a nice acoustic vibe, sweet and mellow. The words suggest that one lover doesn’t want to see a relationship end and pleads with their beloved to “not break them in two” and hoping that they don’t “dream of that girl / much better than me.” The layering of vocals really made this tune stand out.
Fans familiar with Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged version of “My Girl” will be blown away by Magliano’s take of “Black Girl (Where Did You Sleep Last Night).” Sure, a few words are changed, but not much. Overall, I thought Magliano’s take on this number was hugely creative and unique. Explosively epic, she really makes this cover her own. It felt like she tapped into some classic Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath tune – I was pleasantly surprised. “Time for Love” has a crisp, clean sound and the words read like two lovers who are ready to give in to their desire for one another. Stylistically, the song sounds like a folksy love ballad from Heart or Fleetwood Mac. The words to “Just Do” suggests one lover giving in to the other because the love between them is so great. However, I’m assuming the line “If you want to crash my car / And just leave me dying / And go get ice cream / Just do” is metaphorical, not literal – because, that’s messed up. The song’s style gives the listener yet another side to Magliano’s wonderful talent.
“Penthesilea” offers passionate lyrics about love making, no doubt. The style and arrangement to this one is straightforward hard rock with plenty of epic guitar hooks and drum beats that tap into the spirit of Zeppelin. The last and longest song on the album is “Four Horsemen” – a reimagining of the epic end-of-the-world story based on the book of Revelation found in the Christian bible. The song is chilling with haunting backup vocals and a gothic-old world feel that truly gave me the creeps, but I mean that in a good way. And just when I thought Magliano’s voice couldn’t get any deeper – wow!– she has fabulous control of her voice.
To sum up, Come Madness First did not disappoint and I thought it offered many musical styles, making for one hell of a cohesive debut. I hope I can hear more from this gifted band and Maria Magliano very soon.
Duncan and the Seven Braids was born of many different jam sessions between friends in Providence, Rhode Island. Since the line-up was finalized, the band started to hit the local jam scene. After playing shows and writing songs, a recording session was in order. Little Boy Lost was the result of these sessions, released for listeners everywhere to enjoy in mid-November 2018.
“Sky Observers” is the third track on Little Boy Lost. The sound of the song quickly bounces between a long lost Dinosaur Jr. track and a Counting Crows tune. The lyrics can be clearly heard, allowing the listener to partake in the narrative of the song, and not just the flowing tones of the instruments. The track is excellently structured to take the listener on a ride that spans for miles from the starting fade in. “Mary Jo” is the fifth track on the album. The start of the song is given an extra shot of energy from the drum hits that happen behind the quickly strummed guitar chords. When the bass joins the others, the song kicks into motion.
Another narrative track, the story tells of the titular girl. The smaller details of her are being sung loud and proud while the band behind the words adds an extra flair to part the clouds and truly put the spotlight on Mary Jo. “New Recording 10” was recorded on an iPhone during a rehearsal. A cover of well-known Beatles B-side “Don’t Let Me Down,” it is executed nearly perfectly. Some of the sound is a little muddled, however the energy of the performance is captured brilliantly. It is a raw picture of who Duncan and the Seven Braids really are.
Duncan and the Seven Braids describes themselves as a jam band, however there are elements of more contemporary rock and power-pop that often bubble to the surface. This combination of genres leaves a wonderfully smooth sound for the listener to enjoy. Little Boy Lost carries a genuinely upbeat feeling, never feeling like it is being forced or faked. The band is genuinely happy to be playing these songs with each other. While the exact energy of a live show can never be perfectly translated to a recording, the enjoyment of the band playing can be felt through the music. Each second of the songs are bursting with positive energy. Fans of the jam scene will be delighted with this taste of Duncan and the Seven Braids, fans of other genres will find relatable lyrics, and catchy musical hooks to get lost in. Little Boy Lost is an album that everyone can find themselves in.
As the saying goes, “breaking up is hard to do.” And back in 2012 the Philadelphia band The Disgruntled Sherpa Project, that may have been actually disgruntled, broke up. Then the band reformed two years later and went directly to the studio to write and record Blessed Geography. Fast-forward to now and the band whose lineup consists of Joe Boylan (rhythm guitar/slide guitar/banjo/harmonica/organ/keyboard/vocals), Walt Mamaluy (bass/ percussion/ vocals, Reginald DeJesus (lead guitar/vocals), John Vasudevan (drums/congas/ shakers/tambourine) and Matt Jules Rhine (piano/keyboards/vocals) has released High Tides and Muddy Waters a much harder edged and rugged record than anything they’ve done in their lengthy career.
The Disgruntled Sherpa Project returned to the familiar environs of Red Planet Studio to record this record in one long ten hour session in the studio’s live room. It’s an amazing feat, to me at least, because after spending just a few hours straight with any one person I am ready for some alone time. But that’s not the case here as the boys sound as together as ever bringing bright and electric rock songs with the old familiar down and out lyricism they’re known for and have made a record that encapsulates what it’s like to be a person living in today’s world.
The opening track “One Foot in the Grave” is a rambling rocker full of dead pan lyrics, “I took so many drugs that I should be dead” and “I was drinking in a bar with a midget / He said man you've had enough I think you should quit.” This rolls into the banjo and fuzzy guitar fueled sing-along “Your Heroes Are All Dead And We're The Ones Who Killed Them” which also sees the rest of the band chiming in perfectly hitting all the marks and checking all the boxes which is the real power behind the project.
Later we see more of this as the band, acting as a brute force of musical nature, ramps it up on tunes like the nuanced rocker “Everybody Leaves” which builds to a fierce fugue and then winds down to end quietly. The live aspects of these recordings only adds to the fact that these guys know when to step in and step out. And when they are focused on being “one” as a band they can churn out some pretty punchy and awesome tunes like “The Beekeeper and the Elephant” and the one hell of a good time that is “All is Happiness.”
As a title High Tides and Muddy Waters may conjure images of doom and destruction but the record’s feeling is just the opposite. It is the result of band members weaving their respective instruments in and out of one another in a small space and ending up with a tapestry of songs which will leave listeners moved.
The Santa Barbara, California alternative Americana-country duo Smittee & Bray have been bringing their eclectic brand of music to the greater California area for the past two years. Their latest EP is the five song Never Let Go. Its songs written by Smittee over the last year and represents a moving away from his previous records which were steeped in a more electric guitar focused country twang. The record showcases both members’ talents with Smittee singing and playing piano, guitar, bass, drums and tenor banjo, and Bray playing guitar, dobro, harmonica and banjo. With all this together they have the perfect makings for a slow rolling and reverential folk rock record and that’s pretty much what Never Let Go is.
The opening track “My Old Friend” is a fast and furious folk soaked romp that leans toward the quirkier and, well at times, wittier and funnier facets of folk music. The song with its rhythmic banjo and guitar amped up along with sing-song backing vocals make it rather embraceable if even at times a shaky opening. Then they launch headlong into one of those sad and sappy ballads that are so prevalent that it seems they should come with a single page of instructions on how to put them together. Despite its parallels to so many other slow sad country songs of this type it still has enough oomph to make it enjoyable. Then they launch into the equally parallel “Ramble With the Wind.”
But then comes “Take Me On” a do it yourself country rambler which again delves into that silly almost slapstick mockery that country and folk of this kind can sometimes be. However when the formula works it works and it works for the duo here because their talents really seem to lie in the realm of not trying too hard to write something they assume will be meaningful.
Never Let Go is for the most part a collection of songs about people with problems which is far more fun to listen to when those problems are not your own. Will it hold up in the nationwide museum of country and western folk? Not likely but as a passing breeze comes along to cool you off and then moves on, you’ll likely be thankful for a time that you heard this record.
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