Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Rhett Repko - Thnx For The Ride (2017)

Written by Drew East, posted by bog admin

Rhett Repko’s latest release, an EP entitled Thnx for the Ride, opens with the title song and announces the collection’s arrival in a big way. The recording of the opener has a visceral quality capable of grabbing a listener’s attention and holding it while mixing up styles in a satisfying way. Despite the obvious rock slant of the EP, many of the seven songs feature a strong underpinning of acoustic guitar and ride fiery performances from each band member. “Thnx For The Ride” moves from an energetic stomp into ska-like passages with confidence and the shifts are never jarring.

The EP’s second song, “Please Don’t Laugh”, is a more straight-forward number establishing an early groove, but the band and Repko never sound anything less than energetic and there’s palpable commitment behind each line. The vocals for Thnx For The Ride make good use of harmony vocals without ever overdoing it, but what really stands out by the third song is the emotional tenor of his voice. None of these tracks aim to remake the wheel, but Repko’s singing lives out each one of them for the listener and it makes an impact. “It Ain’t Coming From You” is a great example of his voice’s transformative powers. It’s another great rock track married to a Repko lyric and vocal tinged with just the right balance of bitterness and heartache.

“Maybe I’m Weak” has jolting vulnerability, but there are undercurrents in Repko’s writing for discerning listeners to uncover and his vocal does a nice job, once again, getting under the skin of the song and dramatizing it for his audience in a gripping way. Repko and his band demonstrate, once again, their talent for turning on a dime musically with the track “And I Told Her So”. The song whips through some nifty tempo changes, never breaking a sweat, and lead guitarist Stefan Heuer even unleashes some torrid wah wah licks near the track’s conclusion. This rock song has a sinewy vibe during much of it upping the intensity.

The second to last track “Learn Your Name” has some strong riffing counterpointed by vocal harmonies softening the song’s otherwise lightly abrasive touch. Much of the punch in this song, thanks to its structure, comes from the rhythm section. Drummer Tom Bryant and bassist Dan Gallagher make quite a tandem throughout the entire EP, but this is one of their peak moments.
The EP concludes with “Make Me Right. It’s, arguably, Repko’s most impassioned vocal performance on the EP, befitting its status as closer, and the lyrics contain the same penchant for self-examination powering many of the earlier songs. It brings Thnx For The Ride to a charged ending few listeners will find unsatisfying. You’ll be challenged to not love this release, front to back, as Rhett Repko gets better with each new studio recording.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Joshua Ketchmark - Under Plastic Stars (2017)


Written by Laura Dodero, posted by blog admin

A longtime collaborator and sideman for many important and legendary musicians, Joshua Ketchmark has made his way in the modern music world based on work ethic and talent. It’s little wonder that his first effort at a solo album, Under Plastic Stars, turns out to be such a satisfying effort – these songs are long gestating gems further energized by his obvious commitment to the material. Ketchmark’s work definitely falls in the singer/songwriter category, but he’s much more storyteller than confessional would-be poet. Make no mistake, however – the twelve songs on Under Plastic Stars are noteworthy for their intelligence and often jaw-dropping eye for detail. There are a couple of moments when Ketchmark is definitely appealing to a potential mass audience and Under Plastic Stars needs at least one more uptempo songs at the expense of one of the slower numbers, but this is an album nonetheless full of riches.

“We Were Everything” starts the album off on a bold foot. Rather than going for the gusto and ushering us into his musical world with some sort of brisk, rollicking number. Instead, Ketchmark begins things in an introspective mood and the song throbs with emotion while never seeming too overwrought. The muted percussion and memorable melodies powering “Every Mystery” perfectly frames one of Ketchmark’s songs of yearning and he invokes the required emotions, once again, without ever straining for effect. “Let It Rain”, the album’s third song, is another number when there’s an obvious concern with establishing a musical mood and Ketchmark succeeds spectacularly without ever hamming things up too much. The clear discernment driving his performances is one of the key elements setting him apart from the pack and it comes through in every song.

“Hereafter” is one of the album’s more musically forceful numbers, but doesn’t deviate from the same patient tempos defining the earlier songs. The electric guitar is the difference maker here and Brad Rice’s guitar has an almost painterly touch with its ability to add color to the song. “Sweet Surrender” is, far and away, the album’s best ballad or the closest thing to it and should exert widespread appeal with both devotees and casual music fans alike. The piano is the straw that stirs the melodic drink here and Ketchmark plays off it quite beautifully, but bass player Dave Webb and drummer Kenny Wright make their mark as well. “!7” is another fine peak on the album and its finest character portrayal – Ketchmark shows deft touches throughout that other songwriters simply wouldn’t include and it makes for a more engrossing storytelling experience. “Losing Control” mixes the tempos up a little and it comes nicely as the band gets to unleash at something more than a slow match and they breeze through those respective parts of the song with the same loose limbed precision we hear elsewhere. “The Great Unknown”, as well, shows a more energetic pace and Ketchmark offers up one of his best vocals on the album to close it out. Under Plastic Stars isn’t a flawless effort, by many means, but Ketchmark’s first solo foray is rewarding in every way.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Black Bluebirds - Like Blood for Music (2017)

Written by Daniel Boyer, posted by blog admin

It’s difficult to pin one stylistic label for Minneapolis’ Black Bluebirds. Their album Like Blood for Music has a sharp fatalistic point of view on many of its songs, but chief songwriter Daniel Fiskum imbeds those adult messages in pleasing and recognizable structures sure to win a significant audience. The dominant mode for much of the album is hard rock, but Black Bluebirds never embrace the same tropes we hear from paint by numbers riff rock. Black Bluebirds, instead, employ a stylized vision of hard rock incorporating more acoustic textures than you might expect and a second de facto lead vocalist with singer Jessica Rasche. The juxtaposition of her voice with Fiskum’s intense near drone gives many of the songs a distinct flavor of their own.

“Love Kills Slowly” sets up everything that follows with a keen ear for drama and substance alike. Fiskum and Rasche’s voices weave together with a strong effect and it never sounds too overwrought or affected. The contributions from guitarist Simon Husbands is important, but never mars the arrangement with undue histrionics. The lean fierceness of “Strange Attractor” contrasts well with the opener and shows another side of the trio’s hard rock identity without veering too far from what we hear in the opener. Fiskum has a stronger vocal presence here than we hear in the song “Love Kills Slowly”, but Rasche’s singing hovers just below the surface of the mix and fills the song with her spirit. “Life in White” is the first significant shift in the album’s sound. The incorporation of acoustic guitar into their musical DNA comes off seamlessly and Foskum’s synthesizer lines support the guitar work quite nicely. The light jangle of the six string is slightly offset by the theatrical, declamatory tone of Fiskum’s voice.

There’s a light punk spirit driving “Battlehammer” on, but the sound is predominantly hard rock and the band builds quite a head of steam from the beginning. Drummer Chad Helmonds is responsible for a lot of this, but Husbands lays some colorful guitar over the top. “Soul of Wood” is, arguably, of the best hard rock moments on Black Bluebirds’ Like Blood for Music. There’s no doubt the band is a convincing hard rock outfit and their ability to manipulate their sound in surprising ways sets them apart from the pack. It seems improbable, but the band turns their hands towards a ballad of sorts with the track “Don’t Fall in Love” – the blending of such a deliberate tempo with lyrical piano and impassioned vocals from Fiskum and Rasche alike make this one of the album’s more memorable, albeit unlikely, moments.

The finale, “Legendary”, bears some superficial similarities to the aforementioned tune in terms of tempo, but the similarities end there. Black Bluebirds strip away a lot of the storm of sound we hear with earlier songs in favor of a much more economical, yet cinematic, approach. The song definitely wants to conjure a mood for listeners and invoke atmosphere far more than show off chops to no appreciable end. Black Bluebirds’ Like Blood for Music is a fantastic moment for the modern indie music scene and the three piece shows immense promise for the future. Daniel Fiskum and Jessica Rasche are an unique singing tandem and they’ve only begun to explore their potential together.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Rejectionist Front - Evolve (2017)

Written by David Shouse, posted by blog admin

The sophomore album from the New York City outfit Rejectionist Front Evolve is an aptly titled twelve song collection that shows the development of the band’s musical message keeping pace with its intelligent lyrical subject matter. Produced by World2Be Entertainment, the four members bring obvious passion and expertise to what they do with a dramatic edge tingeing the songs that’s never overplayed. The band has shared stages with a number of important acts, iconic and otherwise, including Joan Baez and Immortal Technique, and for good reason – the same spark setting apart those aforementioned acts is found in their music and casts a bright light for every listener to appreciate. Michael Perlman’s lead vocals and lyrics are more powerful than ever before and the harmonies often making their way into music courtesy of guitarist Lincoln Prout and bassist Tony Tino sweeten the hard rock mix fueling much of Evolve.

“Ride”, the album opener, has an exultant edge Perlman’s voice matches from the first and the rhythm section attack from bassist Tino and drummer Dave Dawson make an impressive impact. It’s an excellent choice for the album opener and the dueling voices vying for listener’s attention are compelling listening, but it’s the way Rejectionist Front manipulates dynamics that leaves the biggest mark on the band’s audience. Evolve’s second track “All I Am” balances a hard swing with some head-down passages of tight riffing to excellent effect. The presence of harmony vocals aren’t as strong here as the first cut, but the band’s songwriting places it just right in the context of this tune. The chorus for “Savior” is a great example of one of the band’s greatest songwriting strength and the transitions between verse and chorus are adeptly handled without a stumble. Naturally, this is a studio recording, but Rejectionist Front sounds like a remarkably live unit despite the obvious overdubs and production work enhancing the performance. There’s a strongly engaging quality surrounding this song that makes it one of Evolve’s best.

“Sign” has a hard-hitting whiplash riff that Lincoln Prout layers with some colorful lead guitar flourishes. This is another emphatic number on an album full of them, but the clenched fist tightness of this tune is notable on a release that never takes its foot off the gas pedal. “Innocent” is a great song further improved by the band incorporating some voice over passages. In the hands of a lesser act, these kind of moves often come off as pretentious twaddle, but Rejectionist Front understands how to make judicious use of such effects. “Flush” has proven to be an effective single from the album with an accompanying video and even a cursory hearing of the song bears out why the band keyed on this song’s potential for mass appeal. On a whole, Rejectionist Front does an outstanding job of crafting accessible yet highly intelligent near prog metal sans keyboards or synthesizers. There’s a more raucous, sometimes bluesy, edge twisting the band’s music a little more than you’d hear from similar acts and it’s one of the distinctive qualities that helps position Evolve as one of the best guitar-driven albums in recent memory.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Chris Murphy - Water Under the Bridge (2017)

Written by Mike Yoder, posted by blog admin

Chris Murphy’s fantastic new recordings blurs genre lines but in a completely different way from most current artists.  By focusing on ol’ tyme musical remedies the singer, songwriter, musician, producer and arranger manages to come up with something fresh in the process.  The resulting album, Water Under the Bridge gets in a time machine and warps backwards to the pre-album rock days.  Sounding truly Americana influenced and untouched by the British Invasion, Murphy (and his compatriots The Blind Blake Blues Band) are almost like the prog-rock version of what they choose to play by breathing a towering complexity into the compositions that crams numerous genres together. 

Though I used the word “crams,” I feel I should clarify my point; at no juncture does Water under the Bridge feel cluttered, unfocused or overweight.  In fact the album’s lengthy 14-cut sprawl becomes neither tiresome nor overwrought during its daunting runtime yet Water Under the Bridge is a challenging listen at every musical intersection and some tunes bottle and shake-up nearly 5 or 6 various styles all at once.  Lead-in number “Moveable Feast” retains its buoyancy thanks to vibrant, madman piano pitter patter and winding violin figures that exhale blues, country, big band, jazz and soul within a single breath.  “Joan Crawford Dances the Charleston” complete an instrumental opening couplet, although this time the boogie’s main theme is implanted and blues n’ soul while sprinkles of moonshining country and western, a little wooly bluegrass and even some rock n’ roll come together to craft an exciting, vocal-free piece.  All throughout Murphy’s dazzling violin/fiddle playin’ practically steals the show; practically being the optimal word seeing as his band compliments his every major movement with sturdy rhythms fronted by upright bass, acoustic/electric/slide guitar and a pocket drum performance that’s not afraid of some tricked-out fills and jazzy cymbal ghosting. 

“Table for Two” trades off shots of crazed piano playing, mandolin, flamenco guitar, banjo, violin, viola and fiddle in a gutsy display of bluegrass bravado that would make The Louvin Brothers proud.  Even the dueling, 2-part vocal harmonies call to mind The Louvins’ classic work.  Dialing down the mood to a dusky blues “Riverboat Blues” is exactly the kind of slinky number you can imagine cheating to cards to during a high stakes poker game on a rickety old steamboat.  Restrained rhythms lead by the busking bass lines and brush-played blues drums collide with intricate violin ambience making for a superb standout song.  The ideas included in this first set of songs lays the groundwork for the rest of the album to come as the elements remain the same throughout but are delivered in varying tempos, permutations, amalgamations and arrangements. 

Punch-drunk piano playing, shuffling blues tempos, hickory smoked lead vocals, genteel acoustic licks and numerous well-woven strings yield “I Swear I’m Going to Learn This Time” serious lead single potential.  It’s got a catchy pop sensibility throughout (especially in those big vocal hooks and soothing mid-tempo instrumentals) but Murphy’s sense of pop is simply from another time and twice as refreshing as anything you’ll hear on the radio.  Each piece is beacon of poise, precision and poignancy in terms of the songwriting and playing.

Water Under the Bridge is such a wonderful record that it’s hard for a contemporary review to even do it justice.  This is a record that you must hear yourself to truly appreciate its many peaks and valleys.  With no songs even approaching the realm of “mediocre” or “filler,” Water Under the Bridge is a must have album for fans of everything from jazz, pop and rock to blues, country, swing and Grand Ole Opry.