Steve Pichan’s socio-political commentaries have non-partisan bite

Reviewed by Brooke Curtis

Steve Pichan/Am I Here Already?

Somehow singer/songwriter Steve Pichan is able to write socio-political lyrics without being preachy or partisan. A big round of applause for Mr. Pichan, please. If Am I Here Already? were to be summed up in a single description, it would be, “Probably the only Neil Young LP that could be appreciated by both Democrats and Republicans.” Pichan slices into news media credibility on the pointedly catchy “NY Times,” slamming the legendary newspaper with the lines, “In the Times, New York Times/Can’t read anymore today.” On one hand, conservatives will appreciate Pichan’s disdain for the paper because of its reportedly liberal bias, but the left-wing set will agree with him as well as Pichan is really attacking the media’s obsession with violence and real-life horrors. The timely “The Line (Voter’s Lament)” takes a non-partisan punch at America’s distrust over politicians.

If all this sounds weighty and too serious, Pichan sends his messages through indelible roots-rock hooks a la not only Young but John Mellencamp, Jackson Browne, and Bruce Springsteen as well. The gorgeous, evocative “Somewhere” glides with dreamy acoustic riffs and warm, contemplative singing. “Iron Man” has the tough exterior yet fragile heart of a lost Springsteen jewel. “Here Already?” seduces us with spellbinding riffs and a sultry groove.

http://stevepichan.com

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Singer/songwriter Andrew Portz summons ghost of old Tom Petty

Written by Carson James

While many Americana artists openly cop vocal signatures and guitar riffs from Johnny Cash or Hank Williams, Sr., singer/songwriter Andrew Portz jumps further into the timeline of alt-country ancestry. There’s no denying the influence of vintage Tom Petty on Portz’s rejected snarl and speaker-busting jangle. When Petty first appeared in the late ’70s, his roots-rock angst was an anomaly in a rock & roll scene ruled by disco on top of the charts and punk overthrowing the underground. Perhaps it’s fitting that one of his spiritual kin is breaking away from predictable Americana staples and embracing the unfashionable Petty.

Carson James: Would you describe your lyrics as personal? If so, are you writing about your own experiences here or that of others?

Andrew Portz: When I write songs, I like to weave together personal experiences, fiction, and history in an abstract way. “Three o’clock in the mornin’/Staring at these records on my wall” is what I was actually doing when I wrote “Rollercoaster Ride.” The rest of the song is just lyrics that I thought sounded cool, and I really do dig rollercoasters.
 
James: Do you write the words down first or do you come up with riffs initially and then add lyrics on top of it?

Portz: I just write songs the way they come to me. I usually hear a melody and a lyrical hook in my head, and I start to work with that. I wrote “I Can Hear You” in about 20 minutes starting with the opening guitar riff. When I wrote the song “Blue Lake California,” I came up with the melody along with lyrics that I dropped because they didn’t fit the sound of the song. The story of “Blue Lake” came to me much later during some time I spent there recording the early demos for the CD.

James: Some artists I’ve spoken to in the past believe that the environment they’re in can have an influence on their words. Has this ever happened to you? If so, can you provide examples from your record?

Portz: I think your environment can influence the words as well as a song’s feel. I wrote “Road Trip” sitting around a campfire, and it has that sound to it. We went into the studio and tried to recapture that vibe with the banjo and harmonica.
 
James: What song on Blue Lake California has the most meaning to you and why?

Portz: “You and I” has a lot of meaning for me. It was the first song I ever wrote that made me feel like, “Hey, I can do this.” I wrote it years ago for my wife. It’s a song about everyday people and what they go through in their relationships.
 
James: Is it harder to write sad tunes than happy songs? Or is it the other way around?

Portz: Some people drink, some people get stoned. I write songs. That’s my way of dealing with the down and outs. When life kind of gets good it’s a lot harder for me to write.

http://www.andrewportz.com

Christian album from Michael Himes has echoes of James Taylor, Dan Fogelberg

Reviewed by Brooke Curtis

Michael Himes/Forgetful Masterpiece

Singer/songwriter Michael Himes doesn’t seem like a newcomer at all. Blessed with a heartwarming, fragile voice a la James Taylor and Dan Fogelberg, Himes’ focus is on spiritual themes, conveying his love and loyal heart to God in track after track. However, unlike some of the new Christian artists on the radio today Himes doesn’t overwhelm his songs with too much studio gloss or use canned backbeats. While Himes’ religious convictions may be the primary motive for his songs, he doesn’t neglect the high standard of musicianship which should play an important role in every style of music.

“Everlasting Light” opens up with plush acoustic riffs that are suddenly elevated with incandescent electric guitars and sun-sparkling keyboards; the overall vibe is reminiscent of Coldplay albeit with Christian sentiments. Himes’ vocals are sweet and crystal clear throughout the CD, reaching uplifting emotional peaks on “For You My King” and “To You,” wherein his singing truly soars. “World Revolving” touches upon country, adding flavor to Himes’ folksy leanings. Horns give spice to “Thank You Lord” while violins stream prettily through “From Above.” Production is crisp and professional; you won’t be able to tell that this was self-produced and independently released.

http://www.michaelhimes.com