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
With decades of experience in music, Nick Day is a musician and composer writing primarily for guitar, solo voice, choral voices and sound textures. One of his recent releases The Testament of Will contains an interesting concept.
He explains that “The Testament of Will forms the first part of a series of multi arts productions entitled 'Moving Under Skies.’ The work explores and charts physical, social and psychological changes over the course of a human life. The idea was inspired by the 'Alice' books of Lewis Carroll.”
“Human Geography” is the first song. It’s unequivocally very unusual but intriguing. The song starts with a meditative lush soundscape. There are notes that blend and bleed into each other. I could hear bells, ghostly vocals, harmonies and perhaps pads. There are distinct vocals that come in but this isn’t a typical lead. It sounded a bit like a chant you might imagine happening at a Knights of Templar Meeting which summons ancient spirits. There is a significant change when the guitar comes in which brings a sense of levity.
The second song “Out in the Wash'' starts off a bit more traditional with female vocals and acoustic guitar. That being said it also transitions into a big sounding part which sounds borderline religious.
“Night Terrors” was a pretty incredible song with incredible vocals. There are multiple vocal harmonies which are female and male this time. This song was even more religious sounding and felt ancient in a sense. I kept imagining this being sung in a beautiful cathedral somewhere in Europe.
“On Chequered Lawns” utilizes the space between the music just as much as the sound of it. I loved “Fauna” which is a shorter song at three minutes but has some great guitar work and I thought the percussive elements were a nice addition to add some energy to the experience. He closes with the title song “The Testament of Will” which is the most beautiful song with more vocal arrangements that are pretty incredible.
This is definitely one of the more unique releases I have heard in recent memory. It may take some warming up to but once it clicks it’s really captivating. Highly recommended.
I always enjoyed surf rock. It’s music that can make you dance, bring you some joy or is nice background music for a get together. The genre gained popularity decades ago but the flame never really extinguished. We have heard tons of surf inspired music in movies, for instance most of the movies from Quentin Tarantino. As the decades passed there weren’t a whole lot of overhauls to the genre. People credit the original pioneer of the sound to Dick Dale as to where it started and since then myriad bands have joined in to make sure it doesn't go away.
Little Kahuna is one of those bands. They recently released a twelve-song self-titled album Little Kahuna and suffice it to say if you enjoy surf and like-minded genres I don’t think there is any doubt you will enjoy this.
The band keeps it fairly steady with these twelve songs. They begin with “Stealthy Jaguar” (great name) and “Bond Girl.” Both of these songs implement some of the criteria you need for this genre and they sound great. I especially loved the second half of “Bond Girl.”
A genre that bleeds into surf is spaghetti western and that is perhaps most noticeable on “Winter Water.” I was visualizing the lone cowboy coming into town and sitting down at the local saloon.
As the album progresses there are slight twists and turns but for the most part the band sticks to a surf aesthetic. I preferred the faster high energy songs like “Road Trip” and “D.D.” The other standout to my ear was “Bossa Du Sol.” I think the name itself is a give away but this song seamlessly blends elements of Bossa Nova. The horn work was fantastic
I can’t say this album is pushing surf into new territory or is experimental but what I can say if you are a fan of the original sound I suggest adding this album to your collections. Surfs up!
Charcoal Heather is a band originating from Prince George, British Columbia. The young members formed in 2019 and released an eight-song self-titled album Charcoal Heather. Like the rest of us the band was affected by Covid and was unable to gig so they decided to make an album.
The music feels pretty straightforward to me. It’s a rock album blending a number of sub genres like classic and prog rock. The band gets going with “Bottom Of The Ocean” which revolves around strummed chords, an inventive drum beat and a dynamic bass line. I was reminded of a band called The Decemberists at points. It’s one of the better songs on the album with a solid hook.
“Secrets” had more of a classic rock vibe and even with a tinge of ’80s rock but I think that was mostly because of how the lead guitar part was played. I did however feel like I had a classic movie montage here. “Shining Lights” has the best hook yet. The verse sounds a bit like the song “Jessie’s Girl” and that was fine by me. They have some more success with “July” which contains some classic 101 rock moves.
“James Dean,” “Clara” and “August” have their moments as well. They end with a ballad called “September” which has more of an Americana vibe.
I think the band is probably too young to have grown up with some of the influences I was hearing but I’m glad they are keeping the style of rock alive and well. The band is off to a good start in general. I thought the songs were well written and heartfelt. My only critique is to try avoiding too many rock cliche moves in the songs and chip away at finding a signature sound.
This is a solid release and I look forward to hearing more. Take a listen.
Matthew Dunn is an artist from Cardiff, Wales who has a familiar story. The artist explains: “After playing guitar and bass in bands from school until my twenties, I started a family and music took a back seat. During the first covid lockdown I started to write and record as something to keep my mind occupied and decided to release the songs to get some feedback.”
Dunn released a twelve-song album entitled This Is Our Future Now. This is primarily a rock album but he flirts with a number of different styles and approaches. The album starts off with “Metropolis” which is an accessible pop/rock song. It’s a big sounding song with reverb laced lead guitar, a steady 4/4 beat and a steady bass line. The vocals are really the focal point in this song.
“False Promised Drug” is a more funky but still a big sounding rock song with an accessible hook and a couple piano lead breakdowns. “We Will be the Words on Your Walls” slows down the BPM slightly and this song has a ballad-like quality to my ears.
The pace picks back up with “This is Our Future Now” and we get some warm emotive rock with “Collecting Enemies.” “No Love Lost” is the first shift in energy. This song starts off intimately with acoustic guitar and vocals. The song does build however with piano and although it doesn't have drums it is one of the more powerful songs on the album.
As the album progresses I can’t say there were any surprises but I can say that songwriting and delivery was consistently good. Some of the other highlights to my ears were “We're Falling to Pieces,” “Music from the Welsh Mines’ and the sincere and heartfelt closer “Hey Bliss.”
This album isn’t pushing boundaries but is cohesive, well delivered and accessible to a broad demographic. The album was recorded at his home studio and sounds good and balanced.
Overall, I thought this an enjoyable rock album showcasing some of his skills that have laid dormant. I’m glad he was able to get these out there. Recommended.
Strike Up The Banned is located on the Isle of Wight, UK. It’s a one-man project and he just released More Welly which is a twelve-song album. According to the artist, “Strike up the Banned is a name that came about after difficulties with distribution companies.”
“Be Lucky” is the opener and revolves around melodic guitar parts and spoken word. There’s no hook or verse. It was interesting but it did feel long to me. “Dancin' Gene” is more upbeat and lively. I thought the spoken word and music worked really well in this case. The juxtaposition between the dramatic vocal delivery and more dance inspired music worked really well.
“The Ghost of Mickie Most'' sounded like it was influenced by Industrial music. I was getting NIN vibes with this song. The spoken word continued and I was warming up to it. There is also the airy and atmospheric rock of “Ice Cream Girl” and the electro singer/songwriter vibe of “Time Travel.”
There are more styles and genres the artist flirts with including the funky lounge vibe of “Binfield Corner.” One of the highlights was “Darkbird.” This song also was one of the most poetic with some great lines. The artist says “Darkbird sees all who live. And those now passed away. His song is for the ears of Aker. Each night, ‘till the break of day.”
As the album progresses, I thought there were some highlights including the dance worthy “American Dogz,” the lush and serene “Key to a Thousand Locks” as well as the closer “The Lost Heroes of Albion.”
I will say I’m usually not a big fan of spoken word but the artist in this case has a great voice for it. In fact, I thought he could easily be a narrator in a film.
This was an engaging release that flirts with a lot of genres and ends up feeling original and unique. Take a listen.
Tyler Boney (vocals/guitar), Matt Angelides (vocals/bass guitar), Dan Shade (drums) and Eric Ahern (lead guitar) are Butternut. They only formed in 2019 and recently released a four-song self-titled EP Butternut. They mention: “This EP is the sound of a new band coming together and finding out what we want to be. There are recording experiments, and different recording environments that give each song a feel of its own.” I would say that’s how I felt listening to these songs so it’s good the band sort of understands where they are at.
“I Woke Up” is the first and also the highlight. This song is very similar to power pop that was very popular around twenty-five years ago. I was in high school at that time and have vivid memories of this type of sound popping up on MTV. This song does sound influenced by the band Weezer. The song is like a stream of consciousness. I thought the best part was the memorable hook. There are some minor issues with timing but for the most part they sound like a raw live band.
“I Used to Love You” is a little more somber but again a very power pop influence. The band Weezer certainly came to mind again when they started rocking out. Truth be told, the lyrics reminded me of the heartbreak songs that Rivers Cuomo would write.
“Never for Nothing” is a little more Americana sounding. It revolves around a couple jangly chords, a driving beat, a steady bass and solid vocals. They lose the drums on “Crying Fools and Bleeding Hearts.” The song contains strummed acoustic guitar and vocals.
As an engineer and producer myself, I would say this sounds like a standard home recording. I heard the common issues I usually hear. On that note they did a solid job capturing the songs and giving us an idea of what they are capable of.
The band can write a good song. They don’t have a signature sound but as they mention they are still figuring all that out. I would say this band is currently showing some potential and perhaps more importantly seem to be having a good time doing it which in my opinion is the most important thing. There’s some talent here and I look forward to hearing more as they evolve.
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