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

Advertisements

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

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.

http://www.tjsherrill.com

Dan Weintraub specializes in morose introspection on ‘The Gap Between v2’

Reviewed by Brooke Curtis

Dan Weintraub/The Gap Between v2

“I may be old/I may be fat,” sings Dan Weintraub, and with those hilariously revealing lines he has totally won us over. Far too many of today’s acoustic-pop artists are so focused on whoring themselves to suburban housewives and teenage girls that they’ve forgotten the folk roots of the genre. (Sadly, it has happened to country music as well.) This is lyrically driven style, and the words should not be nonsense. Weintraub writes candidly; you almost feel that you’re trespassing into the forbidden territory of someone’s mind. On “When I Was,” Weintraub cleverly observes how people often view the past with rose-colored glasses, letting sentimentality and nostalgia disguise the biting reality of truth. So “When I Was” isn’t about what Weintraub used to be; it’s merely his original perception of himself.

The Lou Reed-esque “Too Many Lindas” jumps to the shuffling riffs of the Violent Femmes’ “Kiss Off” while “Just Before You” aches with the morose introspection of American Music Club and Buffalo Tom. This is quiet music with loud emotions. Don’t let the softness trick you. There is turbulence beneath the cozy embrace of Weintraub’s acoustic riffs.

http://danweintraub.net

Tasteful and bittersweet guitar playing make Steven Palmer’s ‘Morning Road’ glow

Reviewed by Brooke Curtis

Steven Palmer/Morning Road

The title is apt because, if you’re traveling for an extended period of time, Steven Palmer’s Morning Road is what you want playing in your car. There are miles in Palmer’s voice; you can almost see the scenery that his mind has captured through the decades of his life. I love how the title track recalls Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” at one point. Is it intentional? Perhaps or maybe unconsciously. Nevertheless, it fits the mood and meaning of the song.

Palmer is no hotshot acoustic gunslinger; this is a man that, if he had started recording albums such as this early in his life, we might be looking at him differently, such as an icon in his autumn years. Palmer’s songwriting and guitar playing are tasteful and bittersweet; each cut is crafted with feeling and poetic flair. The tropical “A Simple Man Needs a Simple Plan” invigorates with a summer glow while Palmer’s cover of Charles Johnson’s “The Dill Pickled Rag” has some stunningly beautiful crystalline riffs. Lovely.

http://www.spmusic.ca

Orchestral touches power Laura Pursell’s new album

Reviewed by Brooke Curtis

Laura Pursell/Somewhere in this Room

Singer/songwriter Laura Pursell has never been on my radar before but she certainly will be after hearing Somewhere in this Room. Unlike most solo projects, this seems to be more of a collaboration between her and her producer Andrew Bonime, who arranged and co-wrote these lovely songs. In other words, this is no mere folk or acoustic confessional, stripped down to its basic ingredients. Bonime has gifted Pursell as massive lens in which to shoot with. This isn’t just a record a with a girl and a guitar but a girl with the power of an orchestra behind her. Violins, cellos, violas, French horns, saxophones, oboes, and organs complement the basic guitar/bass/drums set-up. Actually, complement is an understatement; they elevate these songs to another level.

Those who prefer the less-is-more standard of today’s pop craftsmanship might be puzzled by all the added instrumentation here, but Pursell and Bonime are reaching for the artistic heights set by the jazz and soul artists of the past when having a Big Band behind you was considered cool. It certainly is a breath of fresh air, and not everything on Somewhere in this Room climbs to such mountainous extremes. The softly melodic “It Might As Well Be Magic” bridges together folk and smooth jazz with subtlety and technical precision while “Skywriting Neon Lights” is reminiscent of Heart’s vintage mellow-yellow dreaminess. The rainy-afternoon melancholy of “My Heart Knows You Were Here” plumbs the depths of Pursell’s heartbroken emotional state after a friend’s suicide. It’ll leave you knocked to the ground.

http://www.somewhereinthisroom.com

‘Daredevil Angel’ creates ‘waves of emotion and ripples of vivid imagery’

Reviewed by Carson James

Matthew Alexander/Daredevil Angel

There are times when I found myself daydreaming while listening to singer/songwriter Matthew Alexander’s new album, Daredevil Angel. Credit that not to disinterest in the music or the lack of an attention span but to the mood-spinning qualities of his guitar playing. Alexander is no bland strummer; there is artistry in the way his fingers work the strings, creating waves of emotion and ripples of vivid imagery. On “New York City Backwoods,” Alexander’s guitar playing is absolutely spellbinding, weaving a network of melody and texture that grips the ears and refuses to let go.

You can categorize Alexander as a folk artist but that term has been thoroughly abused over the decades. It’s gotten to the point that anybody who is unplugged is labeled folk, giving birth to a small population of acoustic dullards. Alexander actually puts thought and feeling in his compositions; they switch tempo and evolve, providing full color to Alexander’s straightforward songwriting. “Didn’t Happen That Way” is robust, propulsive roots rock a la John Hiatt while “God Must Be Lonely” and “Nancy’s On My Mind” shine with the starry-eyed melancholia of James Taylor.

http://alexandertunes.com

Vonnie Scott gives Christian rock the grit of classic Heart and Janis Joplin

 

Reviewed by Carson James

Vonnie Scott/Beckon Call

Singer/songwriter Vonnie Scott may sound like vintage Heart, Janis Joplin, and Melissa Etheridge at times, but lyrically she is in another zone. What may not be immediately apparent, if you just absorb her music on the surface level, is that Scott is a Christian artist. Songs such as “The Well” and “Rest in You” instantly recall the Heart of old, especially the tough-girl grit of Scott’s vocals, but the words are definitely of a spiritual nature. And with so many Christian artists mining the same secular modern pop/rock influences for a larger audience, it is certainly welcome. Consider Scott then an alternative to the usual Christian alternative.

“The Well” is propelled by sharp acoustic riffs and robust drumming; however, the focus becomes Scott’s powerful pipes, knocking over speakers with its big rock kicks. If you’re going to sing for the Lord, raise your voice. On “My Essence” and “If I Touched You,” Scott shows that she is able to plumb the subtleties of human emotion, declaring her spiritual faith with the dreamy softness of a candlelit prayer. Beckon Call is highly recommended to fans of contemporary Christian music as well as those who miss the rootsy FM sounds of the ’70s. 

http://www.scottiemusic.com

Trace Bundy’s ‘Adapt’ is the ‘perfect spring record’

Reviewed by Brooke Curtis

Trace Bundy/Adapt

Just sit back and let the music of Trace Bundy inside your subconcious, feel every pluck of his acoustic guitar. People who yearn for moments of peace and meditation will sometimes find solace in New Age music; however, that does little for those of us with a passion for guitars. Bundy is one of those chill-out musicians who mastered the Riff. The rootsy, sometimes funky instrumentals on Adapt are both soothing, especially the cinematic title cut, and thrilling, namely the wonderfully named “Dueling Ninjas.” But much of it falls under the mellow side of life, and even the hardest of rockers will find succumb to Bundy’s unplugged wizardry.

This is a CD that rewards repeated listenings. The blissfully romantic “Stone’s Serenade” generates the warmth of a tight embrace. “Canon” has sublime strumming while “Acoustic Ninja” moves with a profound melancholy, opening with a funereal vibe and generating sadness as it proceeds – it’s very moving. Adapt is the perfect spring record, capturing the sun glow and peaceful nature of the season.

http://www.tracebundy.com

Published in: on March 5, 2008 at 5:10 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Jenny Gunn combines quirky poetry with left-of-center folk

 

Reviewed by Jessica Shearer

Jenny Gunn/One Thousand Words

Jenny Gunn can be best described as a poet with a guitar. Although her songs are melodic and catchy at times, she is not a pop musician. In fact, it may even take you a couple of spins to really appreciate her quirky songcraft. Given the lack of adventurous female singer/songwriters lately (blame it on the music industry that continues to ignore most everything that isn’t male and angst-ridden), it might be hard to compare Gunn to anybody in the indie scene at the moment. Well, that’s certainly welcome considering how much we are in need of original talent.

Gunn has her own vision, one that doesn’t compromise to, or perhaps even mesh with, commercial ideals. On “Daffodil Girl,” Gunn sings, “The powers that be say/Conform/Follow the norm,” and from the beginning Gunn is standing her ground. Robbie Anderman’s flute gives “Daffodil Girl” a soothing quality that softens the edges of Gunn’s pointed lyrics. “REM Man” is not about Michael Stipe but rather escaping through dreams; its downtempo guitars, however, could’ve fit onto R.E.M.’s moodier fare. The spoken word piece, “Bigger Faster Stronger,” has Gunn continuing to push the envelope of folk music.

It’s an acquired taste, but One Thousand Words does stay with you and is refreshingly left of center from what you normally hear on the radio.

http://www.jennygunn.com

Published in: on January 27, 2008 at 2:33 am  Comments (1)