Popular music has become so beholden to genre distinction it is difficult for truly original artists to get their music heard. I think it has to do more with branding than anything else. The consumer’s attention has become so fragmented and so bombarded with information from smart phones and computers that music promoters have to be very careful how they place an artist’s music for fear of categorizing them improperly. It is challenging enough for artists with lyrical content but for artists who practice in the instrumental world, as my friends in New York say, fuggetaboutit. Instrumental artists have a doubly difficult time because the powers that be tend to brand music without lyrics into the genre known as “jazz”. Stupid, right?
Jimi Hendrix did it, so too did Tommy Bolin and Eric Johnson does it all the time. Musicians, specifically guitarists who don’t need lyrics to express mood and emotion through their music. I am reminded of the Hendrix album, ‘Nine to the Universe’ that was one of the notorious posthumous releases produced by Alan Douglas in which he (Douglas) hinted Hendrix was going in a “jazz” direction. I am also reminded of the Billy Cobham solo album ‘Spectrum’ in which Tommy Bolin formerly of James Gang and Deep Purple showed his “jazz” credentials and critics still don’t know what to do with Eric Johnson’s music.
Eddie Arjun Peters is not a new comer to the music world but an artist to whom I have recently been introduced. His three-piece group Arjun has been together since 2003 releasing music that can be described as a true hybrid of improvisational jazz, rock and blues. The group features Eddie on guitar, Lamar Myers on drums and Andre Lyles on bass. Arjun is set to release the final album in a trilogy on July 29. The album called ‘Gravity’ follows ‘Space’ (2013) and ‘Core’ (2014) to round out the threesome. The new album is tight and the production is first rate. Arjun is joined on one track by Jeff Coffin (Dave Mathews Band) and on another by Cory Henry (Snark Puppy). Throughout this record, Arjun creates a subtle mix of jazz, blues, rock and soul and is well worth the price of admission. I would also recommend that while you’re at it, pick up the first two releases in the trilogy; it makes a great set and a few hours of pleasant listening.
I probably listen to more new music than just about anyone my age. Each and every week, I scour several websites dedicated to promoting new and unsigned bands. One thing always is true about a band of some interest. It is difficult to quantify because it is not easily discernible to the casual listener. It is difficult to identify and even more difficult to measure. It is chemistry. What? That’s right, personal chemistry between the band members which translates to passion in their music. Many famous bands featuring world class musicians have gotten together but nothing came of it because the individuals had no chemistry. I am reminded of a venture that was tentatively called XYZ featuring members of the band Yes along with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin after both bands broke apart. With that kind of pedigree, you would think it was a home run but alas, never got off the ground. I was not at those sessions but I am willing to bet the reason they did not work was, in part, there was little chemistry between the players (not to mention the legal logistics and contract obligations from the principals). Then I look at a band like The Ramones who were arguably raw and somewhat unskilled musically but they had more than enough chemistry to carry them to fame.
I can always tell when a band possesses the kind of chemistry necessary to propel them past the first level of success in the music business. It is not a quality that is easily identifiable but one can hear it in the music. A young band out of Belgium seems to have “it”. The 5 AM based in Aarschot, is set to release their debut album in late May and already have a substantial following in Europe without an album or even a single having been released. That, in and of itself speaks to the chemistry evident in the band. I have not seen their live show but have seen some of their youtube videos and can tell you that their interaction on stage and even their body language emits a positive vibe.
I was first drawn to the band by a song called “Lights Closing Down” which is on their debut album ‘Free’ due to be released in late May. The song is a slower tempo than the band’s usual groove and is reminiscent of some of U2’s mid period work (Zooropa). “Way of Life” is another slow track I enjoyed immensely. Make no mistake; The 5 AM similarly does up-tempo material very well. The title track “Free” is a hard charging but controlled number bound to win fans the world over. If this, their debut album is any indication, The 5 AM out of Belgium is destined to attract a lot of attention and I look forward to hearing more from this band.
Have you ever heard music that conjures up definite images and those images won’t go away? I guess in the end, that’s the goal of all musicians everywhere. Creating an image in one’s brain that just won’t go away. Listening to the new EP from Everpresent, I can see a dark scene in a movie of a rave or a dance club with hundreds of people grinding to the beat. In that scene, I hear this music.
Everpresent is the musical project of Matthew Cahoon from the Boston area. Cahoon is a composer, percussionist and keyboard player and conceived Everpresent in 2002. Cahoon calls his music a “unique blend of dark pop and electronica” and he would be correct in that assessment. To date, Cahoon as Everpresent has released a steady stream of material which includes 3 full length albums, 3 EP’s and a maxi single. His newest release is an EP called “Omega Point” released on October 15 of this year. The record was co-produced by Steve Catizone who also produced Everpresent’s debut in 2002. According to Cahoon, “The new sound is brighter, funky, modern, mystical, yet very direct, and designed to get people moving on the dancefloor, while still promoting self-reflection”.
The music is well suited to a dark smoky club setting with bodies writhing to the sultry beats ever present on the record (no pun intended). The music is dark and electronic in nature and is not the kind of music I would listen to casually but I would certainly want to hear in a club setting. Cahoon draws from the tradition of the eighties when clubbing was the thing to do and has given it a darker turn. Think of it as if Madonna were a grunge artist. The music is still accessible and keeps a good beat but has a much darker side than the material girl ever conceived. For this genre of music, “Omega Point” is a solid effort and worth a listen if this is your wheel house.
Reviewers in the modern age are at a distinct disadvantage. Rock and roll is a spectator sport and some bands were just meant to be seen live. In other words, their music is difficult to translate to a digital download or even a CD for that matter. Jaggermouth is a five piece band from Charlotte, NC who I wish I could see live before I write this review. In listening to their sophomore release “Synthetic Me” I hear flashes of true brilliance in a sea of monotony. Many of the songs on the album sound eerily familiar and are not distinguished enough to be truly innovative. I am sure that played live, the songs have infinitely more personality and greater interest. As I said, however, I hear flashes of brilliance even in these tedious compositions.
The bio of the band talks about how they pulled themselves out of the slums of Charlotte to create “catchy melodies, witty lyrics, driving rhythms, and survival of the fittest attitude”. Great verbiage for a band bio but how much of that story is true and how much is designed to put a context to their music? Jaggermouth does bring together a group of talented musicians who truly do rock the house down. Nic Pugh and Nick Martinez front the band with dual guitars who play very well off each other and keep the band focused. T.J. Banks and Jake Porter form the rhythm section that keeps the band anchored and Matt Wheeler’s vocals, though sometimes homogeneous, do provide an interesting counterpoint to the wailing guitars and driving rhythms.
I hear a lot of influences in this band ranging from Ted Nugent to The Black Keys. What I don’t hear is a truly original take on the songs they have written. I get the angry young man aspect of their “out of the slums” story but I would rather hear an honest and authentic composition born from this upbringing rather than a forced representation of who they think they ought to be.
I will state right off the top, I am not a huge fan of heavy metal. I can tolerate it if it is good but there is too much of it that is derivative and just bad. The heavy metal scene is huge in Europe and there are smaller pockets of it in bigger cities in the US. An interesting thing has happened to heavy metal music here in the states in the past decade or so. Many of these so called heavy metal bands have been influenced by the grunge movement of the 90’s and something interesting has emerged. A heavy metal hybrid that is a little more controlled and more melodic that one would expect. Yes, the guitars are still loud and the beat is pounding but the tempo is a bit more reserved and more emphasis is placed on the vocal arrangement and the lyrics in general.
Houston, TX is one such US city that has an active and vibrant music scene that incubates a certain brand of this heavy metal/ grunge hybrid. One particular band emerging from this sprawling metropolis is Daylight Down. The nucleus of the band was formed in 2012 but was not fully fleshed out until 2014. According to their bio, because of the health issues with their lead vocalist, David Crain, the band almost didn’t happen at all. Crain has overcome his health problems and Daylight Down lives again. If I had to make comparisons, I guess their sound is somewhere between Seether and Audioslave. Certainly in that vein.
The material Daylight Down has released thus far shows promise for a band that has had fits and starts but according to their website, they are currently in the studio working on a full length album for release in the near future and we hope for a continuation of their progress.
Agnieszka Olszewska - Kaczmarek, a mouthful I grant you, is a singer songwriter not from Peoria, IL. Actually Agnieszka is from Warsaw Poland and for the US audience in Peoria, goes by the band name, Back to the Ocean. Make no mistake, Agnieszka is the heart and soul of the band and is as talented as her name is difficult to pronounce. I find it refreshing that the rock and roll traditions of the past half century that were born in the UK and the US have now filtered to other parts of the world and those countries are now creating rock traditions of their own. I have recently heard some great bands from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Russia, Greece and Poland and just can't help but think that one of these bands might really break through and breath new life into the faltering rock establishment.
Back to the Ocean released their debut CD in 2010 and based on the strength of that release, Agnieszka was able to continue to write songs and has been nominated numerous times for her songwriting excellence. Her voice is haunting and captivating with a quality somewhere between Tracy Chapman and Melissa Etheridge . The tunes on her most recent EP "Rain" fit squarely in the folk or electric folk genre but her newest song 'OMG' is more of a departure. The song which she says is dedicated to Jodie Foster, complete with a video referencing Silence of the Lambs imagery is more of a punk rock anthem with rapid fire guitar parts and a driving punk rock beat.
The band is currently touring all over the world in support of their recent release. Back to the Ocean is poised to invade the US airwaves and for that matter, the world's airwaves and hopefully with gather enough momentum to keep this talented band busy for many years to come.
I am not sure why the phenomenon exists but certain areas of the country give birth to bands with a similar sound. Many bands from LA for example are typified by an underground funky sound that relies heavily on the interplay of bass and drums. Bands from Austin have a similar personality rooted in the Texas twang of the past and bands from the industrial northeast are often times easily recognizable. The bands from the northeast are identified by gritty guitars and commonly use horns to great effect in their music. Bands like Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band and artists like Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and Bon Jovi are easily grouped into this clique.
The music tradition of this region is deep and I suppose heavily influenced by shared experiences. The Dave Goddess group rises from this rich tradition and carries the mantel into the 21st century. Their debut release in 2010 set the stage and they are back with a four song EP released in late 2014. The EP is called "Blown Away" and the title track immediately identifies them with their better known counterparts. The tune starts off with a gritty guitar riff and a bass line that is unmistakable. Right after the bridge, the wailing sax solo leaves no doubt that this band is here to party. The song employs familiar themes "the devil is in the details", and invokes "the promised land" and the band is clearly comfortable channeling Bruce and his disciples.
Dave Goddess has the chops, the voice, the riffs and the forebears are undeniable. Unfortunately, we've been there and done that. Not to say that The Dave Goddess Group isn't a kick ass party band that can keep you rocking until the wee hours of the morning but in terms of wide national appeal, the band emerged 20 years too late.
My first introduction to the band Indytronics was a cover of the 2005 Mattafix hit "Big City Life". I'll be honest, even though the song was a number 1 hit in Germany, Italy, Austria and several other countries it never made a dent here in the US and I was unfamiliar with the tune. What I will say is that song was a great introduction to the band. Indytronics is a four piece unit hailing from the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. As late as October of 2014, this group of musicians from the Ukraine performed and released music as the band Bonehouse but have been re-christened as Indytronics for their April 2015 release "Scintilla Wave"
The band is billed as a post punk revival indie band and the music is heavy industrial in nature. Songs are well constructed and the production is actually very good but nothing I heard on the new record rivaled the cover tune that was my point of entry. Being of curious nature, I went back and listened to some of the previous offerings under the Bonehouse moniker and I hate to say that the new identity has not necessarily had the positive effect that the band I'm sure had anticipated. A couple of tracks on "Scintilla Wave" do seem to capture the earlier magic most notably 'Mark Your Ships' and 'Public Eye'.
Kiev, for those of us who are unfamiliar is a city roughly the size of Chicago or Houston so the band's influences are big city in nature and that is partly evident in the music itself. It has a certain sophistication and a certain dystopian quality. I have no doubt about the band's talent and eagerly await more offerings from them. I will be interested to see the progress they make with their new identity and hope they can recapture some of the magic they brought to the cover tune that so captivated me initially.
I have said many times before that truth, originality and authenticity are the corner stone of any great art form. The arts have a tendency to expose the insincere and the charlatans. The public knows when an artist is real and when they are putting on a front. An indie artist emerging from the heartland of the US has struggled with identity and has emerged at a place of truth that is evident in the music itself. Devin James Miclette was an adopted child at 4 and for years endured issues relating to what is termed non binary gender. Devin who now goes by the moniker Ivory Black seems to have come to terms with their gender identity issues and trust issues and has emerged as an original voice on the music scene.
Ivory Black has released a new EP called "Ready Get Set" that is sure to appear on a lot of critics' "best" list at the end of the year. The record is real, original and screams of authenticity. This young "person" has accepted themselves for who they are and writes about it in ways that are not "in your face" but more subtle and passionate than this reviewer has heard in quite a while. All too often, another component, in music at least, is adversity. Artists tend to use life's hard knocks to mold their art not only for their purposes but also for the benefit of their audiences. Art and particularly music can be a tremendously healing exercise and Ivory Black has channeled his adversity into songs that no doubt will help him and hopefully others.
The songs are intelligently well written and the arrangements are reminiscent of a Midwestern modern version of Nickelback or Three Doors Down. The EP only contains five songs but based on what we hear so far, we can't wait to hear more from this exceptionally talented artist.
Sonnet Cottage is an alternative folk band from Northern Virginia. The "band" is actually sisters Torey and Rachel Russell with help from guitarist Buddy Speir. They released their debut album, "Another Time" in 2012 and are back with a new album called, "Half Written Story". It is evident from listening to the music that the influences are deeply rooted in classical, folk and jazz music. The songwriting is pretty straight forward and the overall effect of the arrangements is an "ethereal" sound which gives it a nice quality, different from a lot of the Americana or so called alt-country bands populating the landscape these days.
The album starts off with the title track that at first sounds like they borrowed a few licks from Coldplay but settles quickly into a dreamy, melodic statement of purpose. The girls have worked hard on blending their vocals and each has a distinct sound that compliments the other. For my taste, the production on this track is a bit busy and muddled but by the second track, the record has settled into a better groove and production that is a little simpler and emphasizes the vocals a little better. Let's face reality. The songwriting is adequate and sometimes interesting but the best thing this band has going for it is the sister act and the vocal arrangements. The subtle harmonies and interplay between the principals is what sets this group apart from the rest.
Sonnet Cottage has been nominated this year for folk artist of the year and "Half Written Story" is nominated for folk album of the year by the International Music and Entertainment Association’s IMEA Awards. Quite an achievement for a band with just two albums to their credit. The Russell sisters are in their zone and we expect great things from this duo in the future.
Uncle Duke; a.k.a. Rob Penland is the producer and host of "The Mad Music Asylum" a 4 hour weekly syndicated radio show and now a 24 hour streaming internet station.