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

‘Seinfeld’ rerun provided inspiration for singer/songwriter Paul Ford

Written by Carson James

Retro rocker Paul Ford is one of those gifted singer/songwriters that, for one reason or another, has been under the radar of mainstream consciousness. A large part of that is because of how segregated music has become. Ford neither fits into rock nor pop, neither commercial nor alternative. In today’s narrowly defined musical landscape you have to wonder how Tom Petty would’ve made it. But, given enough time and exposure, I like to think that Ford could eventually nab a larger audience. Until then, I will remain captivated by his new album, The Moon, in the privacy of my own airspace. For those unfamiliar with Ford, let the following interview provide an introduction.

Carson James: How do you approach your songwriting? Lyrics first, then the music?

Paul Ford: There are so many ways to write songs, and I have several methods of writing. Sometimes a song pops into my head-lyrics and melody completely without much thought or effort. We call those moments “true inspiration.” “If I Were Superman” (from The Moon) was one of these. Other times I will spin a line or melody around in my head for days or weeks, then sit down and try to write. I look at songwriting as kind a puzzle. You start with a thin frame work of an idea and fill it in with lyrics and melody.

James: What advice would you give to people who have just started writing lyrics.

Ford: I would say keep writing! Songwriting is a process. When you learn which processes works best for you, keep doing. It. They are not all gonna be gems. Don’t be afraid of that. The good songs come from repeating the process, changing it up a little from time to time, and just doing it!

James: You’ve been in a number of bands before. What made you decide to go solo?

Ford: Bands are great fun and hard work, but hard to keep together in many cases. I have decided to concentrate more on songwriting and recording my songs. I would also be very interested to hear how other performers would sing, interpet and perform songs I have written. That would be really exciting and quite an honor.

James: Explain the inspiration behind “If I Were Superman.”

Ford: When I wrote “If I Were Superman,” I was laying in bed watching a Seinfeld rerun. It was the one with Terri Hatcher, who played Lois Lane once. I was watching the show, and the song plowed into my head like a lightning bolt. Lyrics, melody, bridge. It was nearly complete when I tried to get what I heard in my head down on paper. It’s in the key of B flat which I very seldom write in, but that is how it sounded in my head.

James: Your album, The Moon, has the cohesiveness of a complete album. When you recorded it, were you conscious of this being an “LP experience” -in other words, something that is greater as a whole?

Ford: Thanks for noticing! I grew up listening to the LP experience as it were. We didn’t mean to do it at first, I was trying to pick the best examples of my songwriting. When we started to put the tracks in order it seemed to have a cohesion to it. If you listen to it in order it’s kind of like an emotional journey through Happiness, Sadness, Love, Loss, Insanity, and Fear. They are all there! I hope the listener will enjoy it!

http://cdbaby.com/cd/paulford

Published in: on May 30, 2008 at 7:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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Kat Goldman’s ‘Sing Your Song’ grows slowly but remains a keeper

Reviewed by Karla Dettinger, Contributing Writer

Kat Goldman/Sing Your Song

Kat Goldman’s Sing Your Song is one of those albums which sneak up on you. For a while, I couldn’t digest the music on here. It’s not that these are bad tracks or even difficult ones. I simply found them too subtle at first, not even making an attempt to really grab me. However, those are the kind of LPs that probably have the longest shelf life; ones which reward repeated spins.

Goldman’s voice is distinct, not really similar to anyone’s. It’s raspy in places and breathy in others. In fact, on the first two songs – the title cut and “Baby You Gonna Fall in Love” – she doesn’t even sound like the same person. On the first tune, Goldman strikes a more pensive yet hopeful tone while on “Baby You Gonna Fall in Love” she conveys a more distant feeling like a narrator. The music is strikingly different, too, switching from a chamber-pop approach to early ’70s singer/songwriter balladry. I would classify Sing Your Song as a record to play at night when you’re feeling a bit introspective and maybe even lonely. 

http://www.katgoldman.com

Published in: on May 13, 2008 at 5:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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Legendary British singer/songwriter Paul Weller ages gracefully on ‘As Is Now’

Reviewed by Mondo Castro

Paul Weller/As Is Now

After five years, talking to mod god Paul Weller over the phone remains the highlight of my foray into music. He was as casual as, say, an old friend who just got back after a long time, reminiscing about his past. In this case, it was Weller recalling his time with the Jam, the Style Council, the third phase of his career, and his then new album Heliocentric. I was nervous as a high school boy on the day of his prom night; Weller warmly told me that he was “just an ordinary bloke” and said that he’s the one who should be nervous. That broke the ice and paved the way for a 45-minute conversation that would last a lifetime. It’s heartening that one of my idols is still creating music that is relevant.

With the cappuccino-jazz of the Style Council behind him, Weller has solidified his place in the pantheon with excellent albums like Wild Wood, Stanley Road, and Days Of Speed.

On As Is Now, excellent tracks liken “Blink And You’ll Miss It” and “Come On/Let’s Go” oddly yet deftly mixes the punk influence of the Jam with the funk and soul flirtations of the Style Council. Weller gives us a curveball, puts out surprises like “Here’s The Good News” where he goes honky-tonk with the piano.

Yes, I may be a fan of the man, but take my word for it, As Is Now is one of Weller’s best albums. Crowned with the beautiful “All On A Misty Morning” and the gritty “From The Floorboards Up,” the modfather further proves that music gets better with age.

http://www.paulweller.com

Published in: on May 13, 2008 at 5:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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‘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

Katie Marie’s ‘Share My Air’ is a mature, sophisticated effort

 

Reviewed by Brooke Curtis

Katie Marie/Share My Air

Katie Marie looks far younger than she sounds.

Her music and her singing display a maturity and sophistication that many twentysomethings do not possess. Because of her youthful age, industry gurus will probably liken her to Colbie Caillat, but to me Marie is closer in spirit to Karen Capenter. Marie’s voice has the fragile beauty and bittersweet grace of Carpenter in her prime. There is honest emotion and soul in Marie’s singing that I don’t hear in Caillat and most of her contemporaries. Musically, also, Marie is less trendy; many of the tracks here, even the ones with obvious ’70s touches, are quite timeless.

The title cut and “Borrow Your Smile” offer radiant, summer-afternoon pop. “Borrow Your Smile” sounds upbeat, but it seems to be about a one-sided relationship, the woman at the mercy of the man’s nomadic nature. I like the clever, subtle sarcasm of the title; she has to borrow his smile, his smug complacency, because all she can find is intermittent affection. “Can I borrow your joy for a day/As you walk in it,” Marie sings with the same deceptively pleasant tone that Carpenter had in disguising the somber undertow of her songs. On “Walk Away,” Marie switches to a bluesy strut that belies her age; it’s a show-stopping moment, one that elevates a very good album into a great one, probably among the year’s finest. 

http://www.kmrecordsonline.com

Published in: on March 31, 2008 at 1:07 am  Leave a Comment  
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Dreamy vocals embellish Char Butler’s evocative pop/rock

Reviewed by Carson James

Char Butler/”My Life”-“Tonight” [promo single]

Taken from her album Secrets of the Heart, the songs “My Life (I Love You)” and “Tonight” glide by with dreamy textures and somewhat ethereal vocals. With its sublime piano and subtle electronica touches, “My Life (I Love You)” is probably too gorgeous and evocative for commercial radio. Do they still play songs as sweetly arranged and fetchingly sung as this? I’m reminded of the Cranberries without the post-grunge guitars and Irish accents. “Tonight” is reportedly a success on Adult Contemporary radio stations, and I can easily see why. The singing is reminiscent of Paula Cole’s without trying to be (it just is), and the arrangements are more down-to-Earth, a warm bed of acoustic guitars as Butler’s soft voice drifts to the clouds. Daydream the afternoon away.

http://www.charbutler.com

Published in: on March 30, 2008 at 8:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Joy Adler’s ‘Postcards’ crackles with passion

Reviewed by Brooke Curtis

Joy Adler/Postcards

There’s certainly no shortage of female singer/songwriters out there, and the number has certainly grown since the mammoth success of Sheryl Crow and Norah Jones. Alas, there are many women who arrive with a catchy guitar riff and a poetic pen but have no voice, either one that is stylistically distinct or technically impressive. Joy Adler is among the few with all of those qualities intact.

Although the songs on Postcards are easily accessible, they seem more personal to me than radio-ready attempts to achieve commercial success. You instantly get the feeling that Adler recorded this CD mainly to express herself and not just to acquire a quick pop hit, which has sadly become harder without a million-dollar record label behind you. Avoiding the bland slickness of Adult Contemporary radio, Adler looks to Americana, blues, and jazz for inspiration. Even the Cult’s Goth-metal landmark “She Sells Sanctuary” is given a bluesy makeover, quite unlike anything you’d hear on alternative-rock stations either during the mid-’80s or today.

Of Adler’s original material, many of them sparkle, some way more than others. I’m partial to the pretty piano compositions like “Our Rapture” and “Your Love Is Everything,” wherein Adler is reminiscent of Tori Amos but with definitely more soul. It’s the passion that Adler equips these tunes with that make them crackle, give them added intimacy.

http://joyadler.com

Vickie Russell evokes laughs, tears on new album

 

Reviewed by Brooke Curtis

Vickie Russell/Next

Don’t be fooled by the smiling, innocuous face on the cover; there’s a wicked wit hiding beneath the pop country flavors and Adult Contemporary hooks on Next. More specifically, the title track which is about searching for Mr. Right and, well, sometimes ending up with Ms. Wrong. “Big, blonde and built/You thought he was a steal,” Russell sings playfully. “Then you caught him dancing/In your panties and heels.” Pretty funny stuff, and the kind of song which could leap onto country radio with its hilarious lyrics alone. (Actually, knowing the market quite well, it’d probably take a cover from a popular country act to get it onto the proper airwaves, which is too bad.) That tune alone is worth having this CD. Every woman should be able to relate to it, the frustrations of the dating scene wherein each seemingly good find turns out to be a bust – or even an arsonist.

Nevertheless, I don’t want to peg Vickie Russell as a novelty singer, either. “All the Time” is a moving tale of romantic reconciliation with a sad beginning and a happy ending, breaking away from country music’s soap opera formula of napkin weeping. Russell strays from her country roots, too. The piano-driven, cello-colored “Painted by Monet” showcases some elegant artistry while “Tell Me from Your Heart” recalls early ’80s AM radio Adult Contemporary. On “He’s Your Man Now,” Russell manages to be both humorous and melancholy, simultaneously missing an old flame while warning his new girl about his faults. 

http://www.vickierussell.com

Published in: on March 22, 2008 at 5:39 am  Leave a Comment  
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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