The Crossroads Band play blues-tinged roots rock that is ‘easy to love’

Reviewed by Kyrby Raine

The Crossroads Band/Crossroads

The degree of affection I have for the Crossroads Band is something that is difficult to rate. This is a group that is easy to love, writing and producing blues-tinted roots rockers that not only display prime musicianship but stellar lyricism and friendly, heartfelt vocals. This is the kind of band that you’d see at summer festivals, jamming beneath the heat of the sun for whatever the size of the crowd. Vocalist Tony Merando is almost like a chameleon, shifting tone and style depending on the genre and primary emotion of the tune. On “I’m So Glad,” Merando echoes the crystalline blue-eyed soul of Paul Carrack while his group generates a sizzling Southern-rock groove that Lynyrd Skynyrd would’ve saluted them for.

Guitars are at the heart of the Crossroads Band. They boil to a fiery rhythm on “Free Man,” starting with a gently rocking pulse that gradually increases steam. Man, this group can honestly smoke! “Stranded” is pleasantly engaging Americana in the jangly Wilco vein. Even the relatively mellow numbers like “Oh Mama” and “Time Slips Away” show a band that never sleeps at the wheel.

http://www.crossrdsband.com

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Published in: on October 9, 2008 at 5:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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Dianna Cristaldi’s voice is ‘sometimes husky, haunting, sensitive’ on new CD

Reviewed by Brooke Curtis

Dianna Cristaldi/Dianna Cristaldi

You won’t find that many modern country albums with the kind of compellingly personal songwriting and evocative, beautifully crafted music that is on Dianna Cristaldi’s self-titled latest effort. Cristaldi unites folk, roots rock, and the blues into seamless slices of life. Her voice – sometimes husky, haunting, sensitive – doesn’t stay in one gear; it shifts with the varying tones of the song, the up and down emotions of the lyrics. On “I’ve Got Nothing Left,” Cristaldi sounds as if she’s been through the most serious heartache possible and is as drained as the tune admits. “From the hollow, I look up in pain/I am not strong enough/There’s nothing left to gain,” she sings with moving passion.

Many of the tracks here are slow and take repeated spins to grow on you; however, the finest LPs are the ones that reward with multiple spins. “Bye and Bye” is a heartbreaking meditation on dying and acceptance with Cristaldi trading verses with Bethany Cristaldi Wurster. Part Gospel, part country duet, it is the highlight of the whole CD, and like the rest of the record, it will stick with you long after you’ve stopped playing it.

http://www.diannamusic.com

Published in: on September 23, 2008 at 1:55 am  Leave a Comment  
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Compelling storylines illuminate Chad Kichula’s new EP

Reviewed by Carson James

Chad Kichula/World Shaker

Chad Kichula arrives from Canada with a major fixation on Bruce Springsteen, at least on the title song of this three-cut EP. With a voice as heavy and deep as the Boss himself, Kichula narrates a tale of outlaw adventure and individual freedom taken from the Paul Newman classic Cool Hand Luke. Kichula’s bluesy singing gives the track an even more compelling storyline, one that can be appreciated even without the context of the film.

“Gotta Hold on Me” is probably less personal but it is still a catchy B-side even though its lyrics aren’t as substantial as the single’s. “Another Love” is laid back and lush, Suzanne Parovsky’s strings illuminating the hushed atmosphere of Kichula’s romantic longing. Having not heard Kichula’s work before, I don’t know if this EP is a creative evolution from his earlier material or simply a continuation of it. One thing is clear: I will definitely survey his future.

http://www.chadkichula.com

Published in: on September 22, 2008 at 8:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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Singer/songwriter Jimmy Hasser out-Dylans Bob Dylan on ‘The Big Picture’

Reviewed by Jack Richter

Jimmy Hasser/The Big Picture

Bob Dylan is dead.

At least, that’s the headline I keep expecting to read after listening to Jimmy Hasser’s The Big Picture.  I realize that sounds morose, but I mean it in the best way possible. It’s not that Hasser butchers Dylan, but instead the opposite. He plays the part so well, that he must have invoked Dylan’s spirit then recorded the album during the séance.  You read it here first: Bob Dylan is certainly dead.

From the onset of The Big Picture, the similarities to Dylan are obvious.  The trademarks are there in spades: bright harmonicas, meaningful lyrics, and story-telling vocals. Boasting a track listing of 19 songs, The Big Picture could almost be nicknamed Brunette on Blonde — almost.  There’s the occasional song which brakes the mold, but keeps the spirit of classic rock and folk music alive nonetheless.  “How You Know It’s Love,” for example, touches more on Rod Stewart than it does Dylan.  All in all, this record is highly recommended for people longing for the freewheelin’ tunes of the ’60s.

http://www.jimmyhasser.com

Published in: on September 14, 2008 at 8:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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

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

The Green Mountain Rebels take on Americana with a bluesy grit

Reviewed by Brooke Curtis

The Green Mountain Rebels/If It Don’t Shine

The Green Mountain Rebels hail from Wisconsin which, to my knowledge, hasn’t actually been a wellspring for Americana. Or even rock and roll. (What’s in Wisconsin anyway?) Being outside the hip indie supermarkets of the U.S. has enabled the Green Mountain Rebels to do their thang, tossing together various past and present outlaw musical styles without a pinch of hesitation. The Rebels are certainly rebellious, faithfully rooted in classic country and roots music yet unafraid to toss their blues and punk aspirations into the mix.

The title cut and “Sunrise (East Winds Gonna Blow)” have the guilty fingerprints of listening to the Doors too much. And it actually makes for a pretty exciting development because I’ve never heard the Doors with a Southern rock edge before. The wonderfully titled “Shotglass on the Dashboard” is lusty and intoxicating while female vocalist Elizabeth Christianson on “Sweet Salvation” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll Son” adds sexiness and longing to this cowboy ranch.

Thanks to the Green Mountain Rebels, if anybody asks me about Wisconsin, I can think of something besides the Packers.

http://www.gmrebels.com

Published in: on February 11, 2008 at 1:13 am  Leave a Comment