Yves Villeneuve’s ‘The Chorus Man’ journeys inward with mesmerizing results

Reviewed by Carson James

Yves Villeneuve/The Chorus Man

Singer/songwriter Yves Villeneuve’s The Chorus Man is a journey inward, taking you inside the deeper recesses of the soul, unafraid to peer into and expose the network of emotional anguish within. I do not want to focus too much on the melancholy nature of The Chorus Man; however, a couple of tracks reveal their sadness so openly that it is easy to peg Villeneuve as an angst-ridden storyteller in the vein of Mark Lanegan of the Screaming Trees (their voices are similar) or Mark Eitzel (without the poetic metaphors).

“I’m Sleeping Single in Love” and “Will She Say Hello Again” are monuments to post-Valentine’s Day dejection. Villeneuve’s bleak delivery offers no irony nor cathartic relief; they are honest explorations of busted relationships. For the less lyrically inclined, Villeneuve’s stark, fuzz-toned guitar playing should be mesmerizing enough, quite addictive on “Insane Rumors” and “See River Flow (North).”

http://www.yvesvilleneuve.com

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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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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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Paul Marturano graduates from ‘American Idol’ with Billy Joel-esque CD

Reviewed by Brooke Curtis

Paul Marturano/Bucks County

He may have gotten the most recognition by appearing on American Idol, especially with his “Stalker” song for Paula Abdul, but if Paul Marturano wants r-e-s-p-e-c-t, he’ll need an album such as Bucks County to earn it. Released a year before the American Idol madness, Marturano is no short-lived novelty act on Bucks County. In fact, aside from the lusty “Checking Out the Goods,” this is a fairly depressing, low-key affair. Perhaps Marturano was just getting out of a relationship at the time. “The part of you I fell for/Is nowhere to be found,” Marturano laments on the lovelorn “Strings Attached.” Ouch. Nevertheless, Marturano moves us, finding the hurt that exists within us from past or present experiences.

Deft piano playing that recalls Billy Joel’s soulful shadings and Bruce Hornsby’s incandescent atmospherics lifts each track, even when Marturano is in despair like on “If You Believed in Me.” He tries to be hopeful on “Maybe Tomorrow” but clearly this is a man who has reached the end of his rope. Jazzy bass and percussion add spice to “Someday” and sizzling electric guitars inject “Hello Again” with life and energy. Laughs can be found on “Checking Out the Goods” but clearly Marturano is a real artist and not some American Idol gag.

http://www.paulmarturano.com

Published in: on September 9, 2008 at 8:39 am  Comments (2)  
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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

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

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. 

http://www.donarbor.com

Published in: on July 24, 2008 at 5:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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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