“The Great Divide” a Straight Shot of Skillfully Sliced Americana

JD and The Straight Shot’s “The Great Divide” begins on the strength of its title track, which is a catchy, folk-rock anthem incorporating a woozy, 60s-sounding build of a chorus. The band’s got an immediate chemistry for melody and harmony on the track, which makes for a unified contrast against the song’s subject matter of growing division in America. 

That’s a topic certainly-not-unfamiliar to the folk realm, and “Dead Men Tell No Tales” stays squarely in that wheelhouse as a grooving tavern sea shanty throwing a wink and a nod to the classic murder ballads as much as Davy Jones. The Straight Shot’s swivel of vocalists add to the unsettling nature of the track as baritones dwell uneasily against the sultry storyteller like a dark fog heading down to run amok on the innocent scenery below. 

“The Great Divide” functions at its best when it settles comfortably into those rootsy, Americana elements that attack with an acoustic edge. “Invisible” feels like another retro return to an almost Crosby, Stills, and Nash vibe on a classic music revue show, while “Anything But Love” evokes James Taylor within its opening six-stringed pluckings. The music’s arrangement is a well-honed, close up affair, which adds to the intimacy level a record like this needs in order to hit the right notes. JD and The Straight Shot sound as though they’re sitting just around your headphones, different voices arcing and waning in a songwriting circle of different motions and ideas. 

“Walkin On A Wire”, other than reminding me of the Richard and Linda Thompson song, brings to mind latter-day Mark Knopfler and Elvis Costello tacked to a backwoods backdrop. While covers of “Happy Together” and “Jessica” are faithfully interpreted with just enough flair to bring this album home on the band’s own terms. And while I recently learned the JD in JD & The Straight Shot is New York Knicks’ owner James Dolan, I chose to leave that until the end of this review because of that very thing: letting this album speak on its own terms. And in this non-basketball realm, “The Great Divide” does very well in accomplishing that.

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The Inoculated Canaries “Who Are You” A Crunchy Good Time

The Inoculated Canaries are a four-piece rock outfit from New York City with influences they describe as including Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, The Black Keys and Pink Floyd. That Whitman’s Sampler of artists is certainly on prominent parade in the group’s straight up, grass-fed approach to the rock-n-roll realm’s thumping beats and six-string gymnastics. And I found the same to be true with the music we’re talking about next.

As I listened to TIC’s recently-released single “Who Are You?”, I found my mind drifting to that crossover cocktail mixture of famous bands and melodies I mentioned a moment ago. The Nirvana aspect jumped out particularly hard in the case of this track. Not because “Who Are You?” embraces its grunge roots so much as its gleeful joy as an energetic 90’s alt-rock sendup. Sublime’s “Jumper” also came to me in traversing the song’s opening strums, which adds to the single’s overall level of ear-worming foot-tap.

Lead vocalist Mike Rublin adds to that effect with a vocal tone somewhere between Sublime’s Bradley Nowell and the gentle hiss of the Smashing Pumpkins Billy Corgan. That’s a compliment both to the riff-ripping enthusiasm of the era and TIC’s adaptation of it. Because in the end no matter the bands you listen to or emulate its about making the work your own signature in the world, and that’s the case here. “Who Are You?” joyfully chews at the scenery in its lyrical search for identity, while simultaneously not taking itself too seriously in the pursuit of a group growing in its sound.

You can also check out the band at theinoculatedcanaries.com!

Host Bodies New EP a “Diamondfruit” in the Rough

I love when its time to write reviews about up and coming talent in the music world. I’ve never asked around to get an opinion, but I’ve always been on the fence about whether to write about whatever music I’m listening to (popular or not), or to purely focus on that independent landscape. There isn’t exactly a binding contract stopping me from both I suppose. But, I enjoy it just a bit more when I get to try in-my-tiny-little-blog way to help someone get their art out there by using my own form of creation. So with that being said, let’s talk…. Diamondfruit

James Collector and Nick Hess are the San Francisco-based musical outfit Host Bodies, and together with Ryan Kleeman and Count Eldridge have created a new EP called (as you may have guessed) Diamondfruit. It’s an entirely instrumental creation, which isn’t a style I immerse myself in as often as I should. This was a nice way to be reintroduced. Music without words can speak just as loudly as a set of lyrics if the creators assemble it properly. Diamondfruit paints the scenery of its seven tracks with easily nimble fingers that leave plenty of room for the crafting of the melody. 

“Stories” is a ghostly, woozy sway of an opening track that quickly sets a mellow mood with a Portlandia-sounding intention that slowly twists shape. Guitars fade in and out and grow and diminish with a relaxing hypnotism that doesn’t evoke sleep so much as… satisfying balance. The moment they start to drift in on the back of an organic acoustic arpeggio brings the space of this track just a little bit closer to Earth. 

“Wildcat Beach” meanwhile returns more to the electronics of the constellations as it feels like the scene implied in the title, standing in the white dunes staring at the expanse of an infinite universe above. Guitar and drum kick in another layer to the party and spiral out with thematic elegance before spinning left into the ukulele strings and jittery zip of “One Under Won Over”. The pace and tempo of Diamondfruit never seeks to break the speed limit, but here you’ll go farther riding with the groove than speeding to the finish line. 

The first line of a description for Diamondfruit calls it “a dreamy electronic EP that finds calm and clarity amid hectic times”. I quote that line because by the time “A Humble Student” and “Outro” roll around and hit the final fade, it feels like there’s just a little bit less stress in the world. Fewer harsh vibrations and more reminders of the truth to power earnest, thoughtful music can bring.

For more on the band visit hostbodies.com, and to listen to Diamondfruit for yourself, click here.

Stellar followup is no “Fiction” on new Babcock EP

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When I was first introduced to Stephen Babcock through his prior record Said & Done, I could sense his developing potential. The kind of young musician beginning to reach out and establish himself as he found the basis of his sound and where it might possibly stake his career.

Said & Done felt like the initial foundation of that structure, built on charming acoustic-laden fixtures. Now, Babcock’s new release Fiction feels as though the walls of that metaphor are starting to build up and take on a greater shape. Not that it isn’t without its fair share of familiar moments.

The folky Dawes send-up of album opener “Atlanta” and folk-rock of “Seersucker Dress” could certainly slot in easily alongside tracks from Said & Done. I think the major difference for Babcock on this album though, is more experience. As with any talent, getting to constantly learn, hone and repeat your art is always the best medicine. And you hear those results both in the familiar, speedway-chugging, Paul Simon wit of “Atlanta”, as well as the real left turns that start coming in with tracks like “Darlin” and “Good Things”. The first gets off the ground on the wheels of a boisterously racing Hank Williams-style hoedown, while the other is a smoky, organ-accented blues take that rewards Babcock handsomely for reaching outside the box.

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In fact, “Good Things” final, guitar-searing crescendo may be the most head-turning moment of the whole record. Its the kind of hallmark standout that takes a good song and makes it great, while hinting at greater vision along with it.

Closer “5A” settles back into what Babcock does best without ringing of repetition or ground retread. If the first four tracks of Fiction weren’t enough to have you at least humming a chorus or harmony the first listen in, the earworming lines of “5A” will handle the rest.

Now ordinarily this would be the line where I’d riff a closing pun about how Babcock’s talent is no Fiction, but since I already did it in the title suffice it say: put this album in your summer playlist. You’re gonna have fun.

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Find Stephen online at stephenbabcockmusic.com, on Spotify, and where good social media is sold! 

“Atlanta” gives 2018 the right side of folk rock kick

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As we wind down March and meander into April, it seems like a biennial rite of spring to hear new music fresh off the grapevine in 2018 from New York City troubadour Stephen Babcock. His prior album Said & Done was a fresh favorite of mine and a hot topic on this site at about this time in 2016. Now, two years later Babcock’s preparing followup EP Fiction, due out April 6th.

And while my first thought is its been two years already? What’s really important here is the song. On one hand, “Atlanta” continues the best qualities of Babcock’s well-crafted songwriting. Though in this case, it feels as though it hones in more on the Ryan Adams Gold-era as opposed to John Mayer’s Room For Squares. You can sense the growth in Babcock’s craft since Said & Done, tinkering and getting his weapons sharper. The instruments feel thicker here, with variations and new inclusions that show promise for the entire album’s direction. While the rest of the track hooks with the charm of a foot-tapping Southern ladykiller.

If the reason for our slow start to Spring has been because we don’t have enough 2018 summer driving songs to warm things up, lets start with “Atlanta”. That Jason Isbell-y sounding guitar hum that kicks towards the end is worth the miles alone.

Check out “Atlanta” over on Spotify, and Stephen Babcock online at stephenbabockmusic.com! 

Dear Apollo ready for launch with debut release

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(Before you read this review, I would highly suggest reading (or rather listening) to my prior piece before this one on the Ithaca, NY-based band Dear Apollo via my radio segment The Arts Beat. If you haven’t already of course. I feel like it really adds another great layer to this story.)

But anyway, onto the EP. Having recently met both Ben Robinson and AJ Dicembre (the core members of Dear Apollo) for the purpose of conducting the aforementioned Arts Beat interview, I feel like I possess an added level of context for this album review that I don’t normally get to receive. And that really gives it an interesting spin.

For one thing, hearing firsthand how the pair recorded this debut album in separate locations and in many stages via the computer program Dropbox doesn’t ruin or take away from the evident chemistry contained on the EP. In fact, it makes it more impressive listening to Dicembre and Robinson reach through the traditionally disassociated membrane of technology with something that makes every effort to connect with its audience.

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Exploring the thought of that borderline between futuristic feats and the fragile nature of humanity makes opening track “Parachute” a perfect way to set the scene of the EP. Pulsing with synthesizers like the gentle wave of a heartbeat, the song makes the Dear Apollo name feel literal as the emotional turmoil of the lyrics seems to play out over the shiny blue Earth spinning far down below.

Similar terms apply for following song “Won’t Stay, Won’t Go”, which has a David Byrne and Brian Eno sense of chorus in the higher tempo sections before settling into more gradual areas of moody guitar strums and blooping background textures. The wide-ranging influences of Robinson and Dicembre get a chance to play on third track “Your Way”, as vibes initially resembling The National get a folk-bearing twist of The Avett Brothers with the presence of banjo that seems to float up out of the mists. Its arguably the moment the record pauses most to get reflectively introspective, calling to mind Elliott Smith titles like Figure 8 where Smith’s confessional murmurs were met with more fully-fleshed arrangements.

Closing with the infectious bop of pop-rocker “Indestructible” gives the EP’s finish just the hook it needs to bring the listener back to the start, which comes quickly with an overall runtime of just over 10 minutes. Not exactly a lengthy amount of time for either an audition or making a first impression, but Dear Apollo proves themselves worthy of the challenge on this versatile, impactful debut.

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For more on the band, check them out at dearapollo.com. 

 

 

And so we reach, the final number…

Of 2017!

It ended up getting here a bit later than I intended, but below you’ll find my final installment of the Top Five Albums of 2017!

This time Lee and I were joined by another one of our radio crew Michayla Savitt, who added an excellent selection to wrap up this year’s coverage!

My notes…

Julien Baker’s Turn Out The Lights hit my musical landscape like a gradually evocative wave this year. While initially in the midst of a pack of strong releases, Baker broke out further and further based on one simple fact: Lights may be a slow burn of a listen, but once it takes off it is flooring.

Baker isn’t just an artist whose brush is especially skilled at painting in the darker palettes either. Rather, she’s a highly underrated markswoman of a lyricist who hits profound lines in a way that requires listen after listen. If for nothing else but to truly absorb the beauty in what sometimes feels like ultimate despair.

Lights certainly isn’t a record containing the high level thrash of Queens of the Stone Ages’ latest or the righteous rock of Jason Isbell’s The Nashville Sound. It is slower and MUCH heavier (more of the morning after than the main event), but its brutally honest to the bones and Baker isn’t afraid to let her vocals fly out in pursuit of a catharsis to the pain of emotions expressed in songs like “Appointments”, “Shadowboxing”, and “Hurt Less”.

One of music’s great gifts is the ability to make us feel, especially through the rare talents that show up to turn that little bit of skilled craftsmanship they’ve figured out into a shivering, slightly indescribable chill running down your spine. Thats when you know you’ve found something more… something extra you need to slow down for because otherwise you might miss the next best thing.

Welcome Julian Baker. I’m more than proud to close by 2017 on you.

It’s (almost) the end of the year as we know it…

And I feel fine!

Well not really, but when it comes to thinking about the music of 2017 it certainly helps a lot! Once again from my realm on the radio at WHCU, Lee Rayburn and I continue to investigate and compare notes on our top 5 favorite albums of the year.

For this mini-episode Lee and I examine our #4 choices on the year, which was his selection of Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings with Soul of a Woman, and mine with Queens of the Stone Age and Villains. Listen below:

My album comments…

Having been a more recent fan of Queens since coming onboard during the Like Clockwork era, perhaps that made 2017’s Villains a more palatable experience for me than most. With tight production from Mark Ronson and the band’s willingness to openly excavate what they openly referred to as a more “dance-based” sound, songs like the punk headbanger’s ball of “Head Like a Haunted House”, the Zeppelin-y smash of “The Evil Has Landed”, and the gristle-blues stomp of “Domesticated Animals” ring with a clear and decided sense of purpose.

Purists may continue to ruffle their feathers and not be satisfied with this one, but Villains really hit the spot for me this year and made for a great rock record. It didn’t possess any need for grand ambition, rather, it let the best parts of its catchy melodies and snake-like hooks do the talking, and Queens did the rest.

The controversy towards the end of the year involving Josh Homme kicking a photographer definitely took some of the wind out of the sails of my praise and knocked this ranking down a bit, but I still recommend giving Villains a spin to find out for yourself.

Its the final countdown…

…. for 2017! Apologies for the shameless reference to the band Europe, but with the calendar winding its way quickly towards 2018 now it is once again time to bring you my end of the year album list.

And for this year it might just be the most special yet! The selections are only the top five this year instead of ten, but the tradeoff is worth it given that this time I was able to do it on the radio.

Thanks to morning show host Lee Rayburn on my station WHCU we have planned five installments whereby I count down my top albums of the year, while he counts his down as well. To date, this may be one of the best segments I’ve ever had the pleasure of being able to do on the radio, and I hope all of you out there enjoy these as much as I do.

For the #5 slot on the list, we lead off with Buffalo NY’s own Julie Byrne and her latest LP Not Even Happiness, and The War on Drugs with A Deeper Understanding. For more, listen below….

My extended comments on the record…

Like a hollow voice emerging from a lost and restless wilderness, Julie Byrne’s “Not Even Happiness” is a subtle rap of lightning to the senses. It awakens from a gently sliding dream in “Follow My Voice”, trembles with an elegant folk purity that would make Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold jealous on “Natural Blue”, and lifts off to the heavens on the wings of church-like synths and gently traced strings for the finisher on “I Live Now as a Singer”.

Byrne has developed a lot in just a few years, amping up the strengths of her guitar work, sweeping vocals, and beautifully human songwriting with new elements of sound and exploration. Faint passes of instrumentation like harp and flute add even further interest to an increasingly nuanced tapestry on “Happiness”, and just listening to those shifts in tone makes the record a new reward with every journey through.

“Life is short as a breath half-taken”, Byrne sings here, and she makes sure that every moment put out on this record is another well-spent within the art of song.

Tomorrow, we introduce #4!

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