Don Arbor’s ‘softly dramatic and honey-warm’ voice recalls Don McLean

Reviewed by Brooke Curtis

Don Arbor/Salam Pax (Peace)

While listening to Don Arbor’s Salam Pax (Peace) for the first time, there were moments when I had to check my iPod to see if another Don – Don McLean of “American Pie” fame – was singing. Both Arbor and McLean have softly dramatic and honey-warm voices. I’d be stunned if McLean wasn’t one of Arbor’s influences. However, I don’t think it’s intentional; Arbor is simply blessed with a crystalline croon.

The title track is a moving tribute to an Iraqi blogger who wrote about his daily life in Baghdad, enveloped by war and despair. It’s not a political song which takes a right or left side of the electoral map; rather, it’s a human cry to stop the bloodshed. Musically speaking, jazzy horns and Steely Dan-esque light funk make the grim subject matter go down smoothly. “Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud” echoes the dreamlike folk balladry of Bread while “I Let It Go” recalls the winsome harmonies and spring jangle of George Harrison. Throughout it all Arbor’s vocals seduce and evoke a myriad of emotions.

Published in: on July 24, 2008 at 5:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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Canada’s the Cat House Dogs ironically embody best of Americana

Reviewed by Carson James

Cat House Dogs/That Was Now

The Cat House Dogs bite as much as they bark. These Canadian alt-country rockers have more balls than a kennel of Wilco disciples. The band makes no secret of its yen for vintage Tom Petty. The opening track, “Fine Line,” could’ve fit onto any of Petty’s earliest LPs. Vocalist Todd Sharman has Petty’s nasal whine but somehow makes it sound better. I especially like it when it seems like he is singing through gritted teeth. The Southern-fried folksy singalong of “Sadie’s Theme” reveals another inspiration: the Black Crowes. But how then do you explain the skacore backbeat of “Crook” and the reggae pulse of “Lost Again”? Experiments, man. Even the Rolling Stones didn’t just shuffle to the same grooves.

Ironically enough, it takes a Canadian group to deliver one of Americana’s most commercially accessible releases. “Beautiful Rays” and “Far Away” are car-ready melodic pop/rock with a rootsy undertow; think of a less depressing Gin Blossoms. Perhaps what surprised me about “That Was Now” is how fast it moves. Like its blurry album cover, the record truly zips by. But not after entertaining the hell out of you first.

Tj Sherrill’s ‘High Horse’ has ‘universally appealing’ songs

Reviewed by Brooke Curtis

Tj Sherrill/High Horse

Tj Sherrill is an acoustic folk artist with bite. At times reminiscent of Toad the Wet Sprocket, he writes personal yet universally appealing songs that can be pissed off but often come from the perspective of someone who isn’t taking anybody’s crap. Sherrill establishes this attitude immediately with the title song, which slashes away at an egocentric’s ivory tower. In “Push Me On,” Sherrill fights away against the gloom as his voice reaches new heights of emotional power and his acoustic guitars rock harder than anyone would expect them to.

Producer Brandon Bee gives the album a rustic, almost Americana vibe, capturing the warmth in Sherrill’s vocals without smoothing them while reeling in his dark side, too. The result is a CD that balances hope and hopelessness without being too sweet or too bitter. My favorite track is probably “Happy Soul,” which has me fondly recalling Bourgeois Tagg’s one-hit wonder, “I Don’t Mind at All,” with its winsome melodies.