Exactly when did it become fashionable in pop music to sing torch songs in an almost breathless whisper? I suppose it is an extension of the Fiona Apple school of vocal training. When used properly it can be very effective. Jessica Domingo knows how to use it properly. Each week on my syndicated radio show, The Mad Music Asylum, I scope out at least four independent artists to feature on the indie spotlight. Last week, I was running late putting the show together and I had three artists who had submitted their music to me for consideration. I was struggling to find a fourth artist to fit into the mix when I came across an EP from Jessica Domingo and almost passed it by, not because it wasn’t good enough. It was too good. Rarely, in this day and age do I find a 5 song EP where every one of the songs is a stand out track. Domingo’s EP “Masterpiece” was a pleasure to discover and I am pleased that she chose me to write a review of the EP. After inclusion on the show, I guess she thought I liked it enough not to trash it in a review.
Yes, I will admit, I am somewhat of a music snob. I don’t feel that way because my tastes are very wide ranging and I like a lot of different kinds of music. I will never play for pay on my show because you can get stuck playing some god-awful music. These days, however, it is a little more difficult to find “the good stuff” because there is so much “bad stuff” being released. Domingo’s EP surely ranks in the former category. It is evident from listening to the EP that this young lady has quite a musical education. According to her published bio, she “grew up listening to all different kinds of music” and it comes through in her original compositions. One of her songs was a semi-finalists for the worldwide UnsignedOnly Music Competition 2013 and her song ‘Masterpiece’ won in the Teen category in the 2014 International Songwriting Competition (ISC) out of over 18,000 entries. Not a bad resume for someone not yet 20.
The EP begins with the song ‘Masterpiece’ and it is aptly titled. It is an upbeat pop anthem that could easily be heard on any top 40 station in the world. ‘Music’ is the next track and if Domingo can’t get any traction with it, her “people” need to get it to Corinne Bailey Ray. She would certainly have a hit with it. My favorite track on the album is ‘Everything Just Wasn’t Enough’. It’s the track I chose to feature on my show and shows a maturity in song writing far beyond her years. The other two tracks on the album ‘We Could Be Anything’ and ‘Last Night’ are solid cuts and round out the EP quite nicely. Jessica Domingo is an artist I will follow as I believe she has tremendous potential in this business.
I’m a sucker for good music. I admit it. There I sat at my computer on a Friday evening / Saturday morning at almost one am. (I had nothing else to do but that’s another story). I was just getting ready to hit the sack and thought I would check my email one last time before turning in. Damn. I had just gotten an email from an online site for which I write the occasional music review. He needs a review done as soon as possible. I shoot him back a quick missive that tomorrow morning is the best I can do. Like most people, I tend to see the world from my perspective and what I fail to realize until it’s too late is that he is in Australia and it is already mid-day Saturday there. Too late. So he responds almost immediately with the details and a link to download the tracks and the pertinent information. Instead of turning off the computer and going to bed, curiosity gets the best of me. I click the download link and seconds later, the new album from Billy Grima is on my desktop. Still not too late to bail. I already told him I couldn’t get to it until the morning. What the hell. A quick listen to a track or two and off to bed. Who am I kidding?
The first thing I encounter is the album cover. This guy looks like a cross between James Taylor and Paul Simon. A dead ringer. Alright. A quick preview. The next thing I know, I am eight tracks in to a ten track record and haven’t heard a filler yet. A filler? You know, a song that just doesn’t quite measure up to the rest of the material. Not a one, so far. Grima’s manner and style is confident, energetic and very easy going. His songwriting style is narrative and very clever. His vocal style is familiar yet unique. Almost a Billy Joel quality but not quite as sappy as Joel. The music is probably best classified as Americana which is becoming somewhat of a catch all these days. It’s not exactly folky but very much in the style of a James Taylor or Paul Simon. He is a modern singer/songwriter. Genuine, melodic and a great ear for hooks that are memorable but not at all forced. Sparse use of horns in all the right places that gives this record almost a Chicago blues vibe.
Grima was born in Australia and now makes his home near Toronto. Billy has 3 albums to his credit: “I'm Just Standing”, “A Little Piece Of Heaven” and his latest, “Sugar & Cream” to which I am currently grooving. Like I said at the outset, I am a sucker for good music and trust me, if the record had been a dud, I would have hit the hay, but “Sugar & Cream” is a fantastic record and I can’t wait to feature some tracks on my weekly internet radio show The Mad Music Asylum. The only problem I have is which tracks to play, they’re all so good.
My family roots are in the hills of western North Carolina and North Georgia so I guess you could say that the music of Appalachia is ingrained in my being. Further back than that, the family patriarchs emigrated from Ireland during the famine of 1740. They, along with tens of thousands of families made their way to the US and settled primarily in the Appalachian region from Virginia to the Carolinas. They brought with them a musical tradition based on Irish ballads and English folk songs and utilized traditional instrumentation of the banjo, fiddle and guitar. So it’s no wonder that the music of Appalachia and folk music from the British Isles have many similarities and meld together so brilliantly.
A new band called The Paper Trains out of Southampton, UK caught my attention recently. The band bills itself as a modern Americana string band from the UK and the blend of the musical traditions of the two regions are clearly evident and flawlessly executed on their debut album “The Mule” released in April of this year. What struck me first about this band was not the originality of the songs and how they were able to capture the feeling and spirit of the American South or the perfect blend of guitar, banjo, upright bass and mandolin. A lot of bands these days can do all that. To me, what sets this band apart is the quality of the vocal accompaniment provided by all three principals of the group Simon Fisk, Natalie (Nat) Olden and Jon Brendan. Nat’s voice anchors the arrangements and Simon and Jon fill the spaces and fit in like a complicated jigsaw puzzle. This collection of ten original songs ranges from the rootsy (‘Wednesday’s Child’, ‘The Straight and Narrow’) to the bluesy (‘Cookie Jar’, ‘In Exile’) to the back porch stompers (‘Cannonball Express’, ‘(The Virtues of) Wild Corn Whiskey’).
Even the cover art, Nat in a cowboy hat shooting pool in a darkened pool hall with Simon and Jon in the background with ball caps, decked in flannel with drinks in hand, sets the tone for the record and the tracks do everything to reinforce the mood set by the art. The band is a complete package; a coherent identity, a down to earth perspective and above all, music that supports and ties it all together. I could go on and on about The Paper Trains and how good they are but you cannot get a full appreciation until you pick up a copy of the album and hear it for yourself. In the tradition of Andy Griffith and Mayberry USA, the Paper Trains are a return to simpler times and a truly authentic style of music.
Buy the album
Provided you weren’t too old when Nirvana exploded on the scene in the early 1990’s, you grew accustomed to a little extra edge in your music. A host of bands followed in their wake, each one taking the genre a little further. Now, that rock and roll idiom is well established. Ages Apart is set to push the idiom one step further with their sophomore release S.T.A.T.I.C. Critics call it “active rock” but there are so many genre labels floating around these days it is difficult to know just what is meant by a label. To this listener, Ages Apart has one foot firmly planted in the traditions of grunge and the sound that we associate with the Pacific Northwest, and the hard rock sound of countless bands who try to make your head bleed, banging it against the proverbial wall. Ages Apart has a harder edge but is very controlled in how they present their music. You get the sense from the very first notes of the album that these guys know exactly what they are doing, exactly where they are going and exactly how to accomplish their mission.
Rock music has grown up a lot since the angst ridden sounds of Nirvana and make no mistake, Ages Apart is fully matured. It’s almost like the youth and f-you attitude of the early 90’s has given way to a more sophisticated and more mature sound. The band’s bio says they write “honest music and speak the minds of their fans” and they seem to be fully in touch with not only their past but their present and future as well. S.T.A.T.I.C. is a modern rock record capturing the best of rock’s past and bridging it with rock’s present. The first single from S.T.A.T.I.C., ‘Civil Wars’ sets the tone for the album and you know this is a record you’ll want to listen to again and again. Released on May 19, the new album sets a tone and charts the course for Ages Apart.
As I learned more about the band, I am surprised to find out that they are from Alabama because their sound is more suited to and reminiscent of a major industrial area or a big city. The band consists of Cody Webb on vocals and guitar, Chris Srygley on drums and Will Bradley on bass and the three have honed their sound and perfected the “power trio” formula. I look for big things from Ages Apart in the coming months and years and just hope their next release is as honest and entertaining as this one.
Ages Apart Website
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.