Lorne Entress is an instrumentalist, producer and mix engineer who lives in Glastonbury, Connecticut. He has quite the professional credit sheet, having produced or engineered for Lori McKenna, Big Al Anderson (NRBQ) and Tom Jones, as well as drumming for Junior Wells, Charlie Musselwhite, Susan Tedeschi and Ronnie Earl. Listing more of his credits would take up this whole review, so let’s move onto Red Letter Day, a solo album Entress began in 2019 because he felt “…a bit stifled in having to always adhere to someone else’s vision. I was eager to make my own statement unfettered by genre or fanbase concerns.”
Entress notes that much of his career has been in American roots music, but that he grew up absorbed in the British rock of Badfinger, Thunderclap Newman, Paul McCartney and later XTC. “There's something about those strong melodies and chorus harmonies that makes for repeated listening, so when those British influences pushed to the surface I didn't push back.” Lyrically the songs are inspired by his music and an open mind; Entress wanted to make sure his lyrics “sang well,” and as a producer he knew how to pull out clunky lines that might distract the listener. Entress tracked and mixed most of the album at his own Harmony St. production studio in Tolland, Connecticut with additional work at Sounds Interesting and The Garret. Completed tracks were mastered by Scott Craggs at Old Colony Mastering. Entress enjoys collecting and using old dynamic microphones and also makes good use of analog compressors, plus vintage EQ’s and reverb units.
Right up front, I have to say that this is one of those nearly perfect song-based albums that would have spawned numerous hits in a previous era. To hear songs of this quality and in these “older” styles is a rare treat, and Entress’ long resume turns out to be well deserved. The sound quality throughout is flawless.
“New Things” starts us off with strutting, swampy pop rock that features acoustic guitar, a clean and crunchy rhythm guitar and ace vocals by Entress. He has a high, smooth voice that could sometimes pass for female, and that’s great for music. I also love the Beach Boys ’70s era fuzz bass by Jesse Williams, which I first mistook for a Moog. Sam Kassirer guests on Hammond organ. “Surrender Days” features a thumpy beat and heavy fuzz guitar with carefully layered Badfinger descending harmonies. This is constructed like an early ’70s hit, and though dated (this time with a Moog for sure!) it’s solid songwriting with a highly commercial sound.
“Back To Boston” is classic country pop like Jimmy Webb or even Freedy Johnston, a favorite of mine who actually shows up for guest vocals along with Lori McKenna, Kevin Barry, Christine Ohlman, Mark Erelli and Tracy Grammar. I love the lyrical device of naming different locations (Boston, Costa Mesa, etc.) with each chorus. A Dylanesque organ and pedal steel bring the country feel all the way home. “January Wind” is even more heavily influenced by Badfinger with a “la la la” chorus that reminded me of The Banana Splits’ “Tra La La” song (and I say that as a fan) making this a favorite for me.
“The Rowboat” is an achingly beautiful folk rock lament, thanks mostly to the lush melding of Entress' voice with guest Hayley Reardon, who brings a wholly appropriate Stevie Nicks quality. “Red Letter Day” is similar and every bit as good with the unexpected addition of Duke Levine’s banjo and Kevin Barry’s steel guitar. The choruses shine with a diamond-like luminescence, as they do in most of these songs. “Just Like a C Major 7” is another good song, though just a bit self-referential for my taste. “Hobo Nickel” is a folk-country tale with a spooky edge, which Entress sings in a lower register that suits him quite well. Kevin Barry this time plays lap steel bathed in reverb, and his contributions are worth their weight in gold. “Shawsheen Ride” ends the collection with its first and only instrumental, and it’s just as gentle and haunting as you’d by now expect. Entress plays deep drums and orchestra bells, while the essential Kevin Barry provides lovely dobro and acoustic guitar.
An album like this is impervious to any review, since it is by any standard a near perfect example of musical craftsmanship; all I can do is highly recommend these amazing songs and performances.
Though Ray Norris of Helensburgh, Scotland calls himself an amateur guitarist and composer, he’s been playing for over 50 years and is good enough to remind me of the awesome Leo Kottke, whom he cites as an influence (along with Bert Jansch and Stefan Grossman). He has also performed live both in bands and as a solo artist. His new EP is titled Above The Treeline (that even sounds like a Leo Kottke title!) and it contains five songs, three of which feature drummer Paul De Shriver.
Norris says some of the tunes evolved out of noodling on his guitar, while other melodies were in his head before playing. He notes that the EP has “a very stripped-back feel and sound” and that “jazz, blues and folk / Celtic influences are evident in the compositions.” He recorded using a Taylor acoustic along with an Ibanez Artcore archtop and electric bass at his home studio, utilizing a Fostex MR-8. The album was mixed with Sony Vegas.
The title track “Above The Treeline” beautifully opens the collection using that classic, rolling John Fahey-Leo Kottke style of acoustic picking with sweet themes and melodies interwoven throughout. In all probability this is just one guitar without overdubs, making it an even more amazing track.
“I Get That Old Feeling” is the first of the songs to feature Paul DeShriver along with bass overdubs by Norris. It’s a laid-back, strutting blues instrumental with Norris playing his electric lead lines as if it were a 12-string, similar to Wes Montgomery. DeShriver’s drums are a nice addition, filling out the track without yanking away the spotlight.
“Remembering” returns us to a slower paced, solo acoustic composition. Again, the melodic lines Norris is able to voice while picking his patterns are pleasant and involving, sounding exactly like the cover art looks. “Lopin’ Along” begins in a similar fashion, then introduces DeShriver’s drums and Norris’s bass for a minor key, easy blues excursion. “Tell It To The Judge” is the jazzy full-band conclusion with lots of fun blue notes and a rare instance of Norris recording two tracks of acoustic guitars, creating a doubled harmonic lead line.
All in all, a totally satisfying and compact effort from this fine composer and guitarist, and it definitely made me want more!
Crystal Robins is a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who relocated to Darwin (Larrakia Country) from Sydney, Australia in 2017. Her song “Wildfire” was shortlisted in the Listen Up Music’s Songwriting Prize in 2020 and reached number 6 in the AMRAP Community Radio Charts in the weeks after its release. Robins has performed across Australia for more than a decade with such artists as Wendy Matthews, Daniel Champagne, The Pointer Sisters, Boney M and Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs). Now with her focus on a solo project, Robins’ original songs bring to the stage a sweet upbeat mix of chilled acoustic indie-folk and alt-country stylings with lush harmonies and instrumentation.
This summer she released her debut EP titled Wildfire. The five songs were recorded in Darwin, in the Northern Territory, by local engineer/producer Danny Christie with some interstate collaborations by drummer Andrew Congues in Melbourne, cellist Lucinda Machin in Adelaide and pedal steel player Jy-Perry Banks in Sydney. Other players include Sarah Lynar on trumpet and Aden Mackay on electric guitar. The EP was also mixed in Darwin by local engineer Danny Christie and mastered by dB Mastering in Sydney (Track 1), and Moses Mastering in Nashville (Tracks 2, 3, 4, 5). Robins is also passionate about her day job as a music therapist, and the power music has in the art of healing. She states, “music is a powerful art form with the ability to heal through songwriting and storytelling, and importantly as a way to connect with others.”
The first track is the EP’s title – “Wildfire” is a warm, inviting indie folk number. The piano and guitar Robins plays sounds so soothing and her voice complements these instruments so well. She sings, “The smoke is rising / From these flames I’m fighting / the fire’s always there” that suggest perhaps something within Robin’s life that she’s been up against. Beautiful opener! “So High” offers the listener more beauty and some added instrumentation of a shuffling snare, soft tom and bass beats by Congues and electric guitar by Mackay. Overall, this one has a bit of a faster beat and more gorgeous vocalization by Robins. “What You’re Looking For” has some country twang to it with the pedal steel being played by Jy-Perry Banks and a more forceful beat on the drums. There’s a trumpet playing here as well towards the end by Sarah Lynar, which I thought was a nice addition.
“Stranger” has an interesting arrangement with the verse parts being slower and the chorus ramping up a faster tempo. A lot of instruments are active here – pedal steel, piano, acoustic, drums – giving this tune a rich, full sound. The last track is a reprise of “Wildfire” only played live at the Darwin Entertainment Centre, in the Northern Territory of Australia. I thought this song was done well live and the pedal steel addition was nice to hear, too. But I think I liked the keys and piano more on the first track. Instruments aside, it’s the melody that captured my attention and how beautifully this song flowed.
If you like indie folk songs in a singer/songwriter style, complete with great pop melodies, a beautiful voice, great instrumental chemistry and production, check out Crystal Robins’ Wildfire.
Maddie Swinger, recording as ketseleh, set out to record "pop music with depth," which is no small feat when breaking through the noise of Ariana Grande, Doja Cat and anything remotely molested by the Max Martin algorithm. Yet, when the prose on the Marion EP Bandcamp page eclipses the IQ of the entire genre in which Swinger professes to operate, it would seem unreasonable not to explore her “vignettes.” Said differently, the lyrics are crafted to impress. In which case, she’s forgiven for her (self-admitted) dalliances with Björk’s back catalog, even if we can all acknowledge the awesomeness of “Hyperballad.”
The quartet of tracks are as brooding as Swinger’s haunted mien on its cover. Nary a guitar or real drum sully the effluence. While precise inspirations are eschewed, she claims to have listened to “music of the ‘90s-early 2000s” which, when reconciled to this album, seem definitively post-post grunge. And lest that conjure uncomfortable reminders of frosted tips, Woodstock ‘99 and Brian Dunkleman, rest assured that Marion EP exists in its own non-derivative universe; one colored in three-dimensional anxiety. Shades of Fiona Apple mingle with Au Palais, as ketseleh — the so-called “machine” behind the sounds — seems programmed to mesmerize.
“Marion,” the opener, is a study in nuance. Pretty but not predictable, electronic but not soulless, lo-fi but hardly muddled, the track blooms over a serviceable beat. Swinger’s voice, an instrument in and of itself, seems to float above the fray. At its peaks, the song could explode into a lush euphoria, but these urges are tempered to good effect and, if anything, lessen the burnout over multiple listens. The stripped back “Be Seen,” which sounds perfectly funereal amid somnolent piano, plays it straighter. Alas, its repetitive structure may prove tedious unless one were commencing a Quaalude addiction.
“End It All,” the strongest track, is either a sing-song-y paean to suicide or a cheeky metaphor. Alternatingly thin and bright, Swinger makes good on the dichotomy she so clearly advertises. This is, perhaps, her best “far cry into the void,” where even slight changes in vocal pitch shatter the time-space. Sure, she could push things further, but discipline dodges cliché (and nobly evades a radio ready chorus). By the time one arrives at “Whose Hand Do You Reach For?” the desolation is more a familiar friend than an incongruent force. A deconstructed “Moonlight Sonata” even bleeds through. And since Beethoven hasn’t dropped a tune in nearly 200 years, this is probably the closest we’ll get to Romantic Period throwbacks.
Overall, there’s much to admire on Marion EP from the album’s DIY aesthetic to the openness in sound and texture. It may be a stretch to truly call it “pop,” but then again, the dynamics of said genre are always shifting. Swinger just operates on its fringe, outside the range of #wap hashtags and Twitter feuds. So it’s a shame that her ethereal vocals too often get lost in the mix. There’s deep lyricism here. And maybe, if we all strained to hear it – as this listener did – we’d plumb the depths of her lullaby. Or maybe it’s all just theater; a lucid dream.
No matter the case, it deserves a listen.
Late Summer Drive is the debut release from the Canadian duo of the same name. The group consists of Vito Schiralli (bass/rhythm guitar/programming) and Bobby Boutros (lead guitar/saxophone) with Schiralli handling all the recording and mixing. In the studio, the sound was fleshed out by David Paul Neil (drums), Steven Lee Rachel (double bass) and Phil Ashley (violin/alto sax). Guest vocalist Drea and rapper Frantik added their talents in a few featured parts as well.
The band call their style “funk, jazz and chill-hop infused rock music.” Their compositions stemmed from long jams that were cut down and then built out into the tracks heard on Long Summer Drive. Clearly, the jams have a minor-blues flavor to them, as each of the first four cuts has that orientation, albeit with slightly different feels. “Mencomot” sets up as a funk track with horn parts. “Lucid” takes a hip-hop approach and adds Frantik’s rap over the top. “Glossolalia,” in a nicely creative turn, works in some reverse-synth techno sections between minor jazz-standard passages with Boutros’ distorted guitar leads fitting in well.
I am big fan of minor blues tracks, but “Bittersweet” misses the mark entirely. Late Summer Drive includes an effected, distorted vocal that’s supposed to sound sultry, I think, like a lounge singer at a smoky jazz club. Instead, it comes off creepy, like someone calling in a ransom demand for a patron locked in the basement of said club. Further, Boutros’ guitar solos here come across more like blues-scale warmup exercises instead of fluid, purposeful, melodic lines.
Taken as a whole, there are some good ideas across these four minor-blues tracks, but they’re not fully developed. This could go one of two ways: they could be distilled down into one large suite, or, if these are conceived as four separate pieces, the ideas can be fleshed out and tightened up. Maybe this goes against their jam-band ethos, but the middle ground here on Late Summer Drive is inconsistent.
The band does tighten things up on “Komorebi” though, and it’s the best cut on the album. It starts as piano-driven, dramatic, Pink Floyd-eqsue epic, then weaves in Drea’s vocals and works its way up to a terrific breakdown section with a full orchestra slamming away. When the band sets out with a plan, they deliver. The only sticking point for me was some of Boutros’ note choices--they stuck out in places, and it was hard to tell if this was intentional.
Late Summer Drive is a good start for Schiralli and Boutros. They’ve got a strong base to build on, and maybe we’ll hear updated versions of these ideas on their follow-up album. They could call it Mid-Autumn Stroll, and I would gladly spin it.
When the Covid-19 pandemic happened, Vince Colbert, a Denver-based singer/songwriter thought it would be a good time to restart his music career. Previously, the artist had released two EPs and a debut full-length album. When the pandemic hit, Colbert realized that he would have a lot of time on his hands since he had just quit his master’s program due to lockdown restrictions. During his trip to Oregon with his wife got Colbert thinking about his music. As he gave his catalog a good and long, hard look, it dawned on him that many of the songs he previously released didn’t really resonate with him and that he could do a better job making them resound. So, he selected ten core songs and came back to Denver to set out to bring out the best versions of each. This is Colbert’s self-titled album Vince Colbert, a record where Colbert gives fresh insight into a batch of songs that reverberate the most with him.
Vince Colbert starts off with “As You Are,” where a lot of mood and feeling brings in a sound fragrant with atmosphere to the start of this track. Once Colbert’s vocals come in, you can really feel the emotional resonance of the song coming together. The keys are equally expressive, bringing in a melodic pulse. What sounds like a steel lap guitar brings in a familiar folk feel. Traces of a cello also add into the track a weighty mood. More moody strumming on the guitar leans into an acoustic sound on “Michigan.” As the keys sound out on the backdrop, the sound is very folksy. The cello offers an apt underpinning layer. More acoustic guitar chord progressions meet the start of “Landslide.” Once Colbert’s vocals come in, you can feel the minimalistic arrangement really come together. This song only featured vocals, guitar and percussions at first. Next a fuller band backing comes through, producing a fuller and more impactful sound.
More finger-picking on the guitar sounds out here on “Broken Joy.” Colbert’s vocals once they arrive sound very soothing and smooth. Percussion and cello offer up an exciting layer to the sounds. The piano also adds a very poignant element. This is another soaring ballad. A guitar melody opens up this track as synths add in an airy effect on “Hold On.” In a very minimalistic approach, Colbert’s vulnerable vocals come in with a fresh and startling sound. More melodious acoustic guitars make up the sound on the start of “Courage.” Colbert’s vocals are solely accompanied by the guitar. The sound here is sweet and compelling. I thought this simple execution really pointed to an emotionally powered sound. This song was more in the acoustic ballad vein.
On “Stranger In My House,” keys and guitar are the first instances to this atmospheric and soaring ballad. Colbert’s vocals are very expressive, coloring the mood of these tracks with more emotionality. The background vocals really added more flavor to this track. On “Porcelain Vase,” some monotonous keys add a hypnotic quality to the start of this song. Once the vibe settles in, Colbert’s sparse vocals are brimming with a chilling and haunting vibe. The simplicity of the execution will grow on you the more you listen on. A lot of mood and feeling could be felt in this track. More melodies come from the acoustic guitar on “Outlast The Sun.” The vibe is very shimmering and inviting on this closer.
I thought Colbert really does a good job in this new rendition of his past releases. He adds a full band backing, in addition to the cello and other instruments to give a fully embodied sound. I thought Colbert’s voice worked well for the ballad form and as his vocals take flight on these set of songs, he paints a poignant picture packed with emotion and mood. You can tell that Colbert draws from his personal experiences in how these songs are realized and you can see this in his performances where Colbert is unafraid to be vulnerable and unguarded before audiences. It is this up-close-and-personal persona that will really draw audiences as his intimate delivery makes it feel like he is in the very same vicinity as you. I thought this album was very well done. With such craft to songwriting, excellent delivery and execution, it looks like Colbert is well on his way. This is a great new beginning and I look forward to hearing more music in this vein.
Madeline & The Bad Hat is the solo project of singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Madeline Balser. She has traveled playing her songs and recently released Finders, Keepers.
“Patience” is the opener and you are greeted with a slower moving song. There’s some strummed guitar, subtle percussion and lead guitar. The focal point is the vocals which were the most enjoyable aspect to me. She has a soulful approach and great voice in general. It drips with emotion.
“Two Senses (Too Well)” is a more full arrangement with drums, bass and what sounds like synth horns. It’s well written and again the vocals were the strongest aspect for me. She shows some range here and the melodies are catchy. There are some minor issues with timing but that seemed ok with this style.
“Appetite” is a great song but almost felt like the drums were a distraction on this song. “Novelty” might be the highlight. The instrumentation was probably the best here with piano, drums and bass leading the charge. “Finders, Keepers” is a somber but heartfelt song while “I See Blue” is lush and sort of shows a different side to her vocal approach.
As a producer myself I think the next logical step for the artist is to record with professional engineers who can take the recording quality to the next level. This felt like a clear case where the artist is bursting with talent and having engineers help with some of the technical aspects and maybe a producer assisting with instrument color and tone would be the final part of the equation.
Overall, I really thought there were some great songs and her vocals were exceptional. This felt like a solid start and I look forward to hearing more from the artist.
Stephen Jaques is a musician who I’m guessing grew up with classic rock. On his recent release Soul Hydraulics you can hear elements of The Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Neil Young and other like-minded bands.
The songs instantly had a sense of familiarity but I don’t say that in a negative way. It's more like going home for the summer when you’re in college where you say hi to old friends, drive past your high school and have an overall sense of comfort. The feeling starts with “Come to me Marie” and this song in particular has lyrics that feel nostalgia for a small American town.
I would say this album is full of nostalgia from head to toe. Some of the songs like “Yellow Flower” reminisce about old loves, bike rides and innocence. It’s sweet and tender. There are some more upbeat numbers like “JetFighterMan” which revolves around military service and people you might know who served.
“Tidal Wave of Goodbyes'' and “Toll Booth Lady” were both solid songs. One of the highlights was “Offshore Oil Days'' which is a combination of the warm nostalgia and sort of a hopeful sentiment.
Jaques is a good songwriter and I thought the production for this album was exceptional. They really nailed the aesthetic which sounds like organic instruments played by humans in a finely tuned room meant for recording.
Overall, this is a solid album and fans of some of the aforementioned bands will surely appreciate this release.
Ben West is a singer/songwriter based in Seattle, WA. He creates memorable melodies on the acoustic guitar while using his powerful timbre to draw listeners in. He is accompanied by Drew Stergion on electric guitar and lead acoustic who also lends his voice to duets and harmonies throughout the songs on this four-track EP Leo Ego. This is a captivating partnership as the dueling guitar rhythms between West and Stergion produce many an arresting soundscape. I felt like there was a lot of ambiance and mood behind these tracks as both West and Stergion’s contributions weave a sound brimming with emotions and atmosphere. It really feels like West is really singing his heart out as he throws himself into these songs.
Leo Ego opens up with “Wet Cement,” where the guitar melody that starts off this track is reminiscent of some heavy grunge. Once West’s vocals come in, this grunge feeling continues. As the guitars and bongos highlight this song, the emotionality behind the vocals and lyrics is compelling. The intensity of this track doesn’t wax or wane but only grows more powerful. West really delivers on all counts. On the title track “Leo Ego,” right from the start you can feel the exuberance of the vocals. The music that accompanies the vocals are the same frequency - definitely a cathartic song.
Slowly as some finger-picking on the guitar is realized on “Puzzle Piece,” the melody becomes even more evolved. Some acoustic guitars also highlight a very island and reggae flavor. This seemed to be a very contagious jam perfect for enjoying your time at the beach. Later on in the song, the vocals are spewed out in a fast-paced fashion that nearly sounds like a rap sequence. A peaceful melody on the guitar then leads to a foot-stomping country-bent anthem on “Free.” I greatly enjoyed the energy of this piece and the overlapping vocal harmonies. This felt like a heartfelt way to close the album.
As a self-taught musician, West takes this DIY process to the next step by writing all the songs himself. Inspired by singer/songwriters of the ‘60s and ‘70s such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and Carole King as well as more contemporary acts like John Mayer, Jack Johnson, Ray Lamontagne and Iron and Wine, West adds his voice to these legends and offers his own take to the acoustic, indie folk and singer/songwriter genres. At the core, these tracks are all about West and Stergion on their guitars with vocals. Through this simple formula a lot of color and emotional resonance is able to come through. I thought this would be perfect for the coffee shop or open mic crowd. Something a small, intimate crowd could really appreciate.
There was just something so up-close-and-personal to West’s performances that says this. This is a good introduction to his music. West is planning to record a full-length album called No Hard Feelings in the spring of 2022 and if Leo Ego is any indication to his sound on his future release then we certainly have a lot to look forward to! Be sure you stay tuned for any further updates.
Every week we mention a couple of artists that are worth your time to check out that were not featured in our weekly reviews.
Artist Album Rating
Orchestra Songs From the Future,
Songs From the Past 3.9
Lonan Forever Has Flown 3.8
Souvineer Snowglobe 3.9
Luke Baldry Moment of Clarity 3.7
Cinematic Flares The Fold 3.6
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