It has been over a year since my last review but something about Americana folk-pop duo Westrin & Mowry’s long-awaited sophomore release, The Past Rushes In, begged for an in-depth listen. The duo features singer-songwriter Brian Westrin and producer/multi-instrumentalist Peter Mowry who have not worked together since their 2005 debut, One Week Epiphany.
Beginning with the opening title-track, it is quite apparent that Westrin & Mowry have put plenty of thought and care into the flow of this album – as it listens the way a great novel reads. The haunting title track creeps in, like a forgotten memory, with Mowry’s warm acoustic plucks (bringing to mind Nick Drake’s commanding use of space). Not to be out done, Westrin paints a bleak picture of a relationship that is tested to its limits; “How long can we sit here alone? How long can we talk on the phone? How long till the past rushes in and destroys us?”
Pretty powerful stuff, but this doom and gloom does not set the tone of the album, there are some positive revelations here as well. For example, “Something Missing” features some beautiful accordion, organ and steel guitar layers with Westrin at his most commanding wishing “you give me one more try”. Other highlights include the 70’s pop shuffle, “Never Alone”, the country power ballad “Ghost Of A Chance” which has Mowry channeling Elton John and “White Flag” is yet another example of folk-music produced to perfection.
With The Past Rushes In, I’m happy to report that the chemistry between the duo have only grown stronger during their long absence. Don’t be too surprised to see this on many Top Ten list by years end. ~ 4/5 Stars
I’m loving Erin Costello. First off, her voice is simply transfixing, immediately familiar to Soul Sisters of Motown and akin to the throaty tone of Adele and Amy Winehouse. Like her contemporaries, We Can Get Over is adorned with classic soul infused with genuine passion; expressing the joys and pains of life. There is a deep respect for the genre and Costello sticks pretty close to the rules, but it never gets stale and every song is executed so well that you quickly get wrapped up in the retro atmosphere. There are so many great moments to choose from, but my favourites include the playful doo-wop “Oh Me Oh My”, the funky 70’s strut “Count To 10”, the slow-burn “Let It Go” and the gospel tinged “Down Down”. Overall, We Can Get Over, is both a sonically and emotionally pleasing album that seductively enriches sweet soul vibes for a new generation while paying respect to the past. (Independent)
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Vancouver’s much hyped, garage-punk band Apollo Ghosts has released a slew of material over the past three years; two LPs, three EPs and a 7”. With every release the band garnered more critical acclaim and their anticipated third release, Landmark, won’t let you down. Reverting back to their DIY beginnings the album was recorded by the band in its practice space and features 15-tracks clocking in at only 34 minutes.
There is no easy way to describe Apollo Ghosts’ sound as the band tackles garage rock through various styles. To tell you the truth, the opening five tracks almost had me dismissing the band’s reputation; the turn around for me was “So Much Better When You’re Gone” – a song that perfectly captures a break-up from both partner’s viewpoints. It is a quiet moment that refocuses the album before turning up the heat on the title-track.
Other highlights include “Day Of Glory” a roll-licking groove that drummer Amanda Panda total makes her own, “I Followed The Rule And I Got Everything” disintegrates into a tribal jazz freak out and album closer “Will You Forget Me?” is a two-parter sounding spliced from two sessions – the beginning sounds recorded in a kitchen after a long night recording session and the second part sounds like a refreshing start to a new day.
Landmark is chockfull of infectious toe-tapping hooks and the band experiments beautifully making for one classic indie-rock record. (You’ve Changed Records) ~ 4 Stars
Three years ago, I was introduced to Ted Nash via his ninth release The Mancini Project; an album that covered the legendary Henry Mancini’s work and I loved what I heard, but a part of me was hoping to hear some new arrangements. On his eleventh album, The Creep, Nash delivers that wish and a whole lot more with a simple and solid quartet featuring; Ron Horton (Trumpet), Paul Siklvie (Bass) and Ulysses Owens (Drums). Nash embraces the alto-sax for these songs, an instrument that has been his trademark over the years.
The Creep is a stripped down affair, the atmosphere is of one of complete freedom; opening track “Organized Crime” defines this loose vibe as Nash and Horton battle it out with some outstanding solos. Follow-up “Burnt Toast and Avocado” has tons of twists and turns rhythmically.
The title track slows things down with some bluesy slides that brings to mind hot summer nights. But my friends….this damn city is crawling with creeps! You can’t help but walk right into trouble…. bearing the name “Plastic Sax Rumble”. “Rumble” will completely take over your auditory space and it is here that the band really hits their groove.
The rest of the album gets spooky real quick; “Cabin Fever” has Siklvie playing the same paranoid bass line repeatedly, as the rest of the group delights in improvising and experimenting with held notes, crawling squeals and percussive tantrums. Closing track “Kaleidoscope” continually changes the pattern of sounds and brings to life to the track’s namesake.
The Creep will be a classic record in Nash’s discography and challenges the industry to be just as confounding, inventive and entertaining. (Plastic Sax Records) ~ 5 Stars
Music runs through David St. Germain’s veins. His father, Ray St. Germain is in the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame and his sister Sherry is marking her own retro-pop path. David, in his own right, is an accomplished and seasoned performer, heck, he started playing gigs with his father at the young age of 12. So, how does his debut album hold-up after years of slogging it on the road?
As the album title suggests, David is sticking to his roots, but with a leaner and grittier country-rock attitude. These big sounds are expertly harnessed by producers Chris Sutherland and Howard Klopak.
Now, let’s get to the songs. First off, for those listeners looking to be challenged lyrically or musically…you’ve come to the wrong place. I know how awful that sounds but you can’t get past how clichéd most of this album is. Saying that, once you stop taking My Country Song too seriously, it gets to be quite enjoyable.
“Radio” opens with a familiar guitar riff before David belts out in that soulful voice: “It’s that song on the radio/I want to get back out on the road/say so long/Yeah, I’ve gotta go/these highways road to another show”. Yeah, I told you it was pretty soppy stuff, but before you know it, your humming it at work! The next four tracks build on this formula, “Over Again”, “Everybody Changes”, “Come Home” and “Exactly What I Needed” are all fun country pop-songs with repetitive, emotional build-ups that make for classic live songs.
Then comes in the title track, a song so horrible that it almost ruins any connection that David and the boys happened to make with the listener. It’s just one of those extremely dated 80’s hair metal songs that just comes off nasty. The final three songs make up for this mess as the appropriately titled “Beautiful”, a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Working Man Blues” and “The Duel” suggest a route that St. Germain should focus on – heart-felt ballads and spaghetti westerns. (Mind Meld Music) ~ 3 Stars
The Archives like to coin their sound as “Post-Rock” but like their bio’s straight forward founding principles – respect, brotherhood and good tunes – these guys are a straight forward alt-rock band with some great tunes and some so-so tunes.
Blasting in with anthemic opener “Home” The Archives layer distorted guitar drones, tones and fuzz while their secret weapon, drummer Kevin White, destroys the kit with a steady stream of stadium worthy fills. Follow-up track “Two Far Gone” gets a little dirtier but sticks pretty close to their infectious opener while “The City” takes the listener from mid-tempo rock-pop meanderings into some really fun punk build-ups.
Unfortunately, The Archives get a little sloppy on the bottom half of this EP. “Birds On A Bridge”, “Sheeps Clothing” and “Tiger Hugs” all build-up into huge loud rockers but there is nothing particularly interesting about their arrangements. I also realize that these three tracks are far less radio-oriented and could be the band developing their more artsy side which I’m all for, but, they do take the steam out of the record.
I look forward to hearing more from The Archives, this band is developing into a cohesive mess of roaring guitars. (Independent)
Rating: 2.5/5 Stars
Opener “Construction On The Street” is a stream of consciousness narrative about a steamy romance over tight indie-rock beats. “Streets” also contains the first of many witticisms on the album that could have been tweeted – “Listening to Pavement/Wondering where the day went”. “Harbord & Grace” is another upbeat number that throws in horns at all the right moments.
“If You Don’t Pursue” echoes those 70’s influences over moody guitar tones and scattering piano notes, which leads to Two Horses’ best track; the stark “Arc Blues” which sounds instantly familiar with simple acoustic pulls and bright upright bass sounds. Not only does “Blues” showcase Cornfield’s songwriting skills it puts her captivating voice centre stage – there is an attitude there that transcends just sounding pretty. Cornfield doesn’t hit that vocal vibe again until the beautiful piano piece “Port Town” and the closing title track where she seethes “You could have said there’s someone else now”.
Two Horses is an enjoyable listen right from the start, but really there are no big surprises. Every song builds as anticipated but she covers enough musical ground to keep things interesting. (Independent)
Rating: 3/5 Stars
I was introduced to Australian indie-popster Washington earlier this year and instantly fell in love with her infectious EP, How to Tame Lions, so I was very excited to hear her North American debut and I have to admit, I’m a little bit let down. Here’s the thing though – I couldn’t explain my initial reaction – the album just didn’t flow smoothly. After some quick research it turns out that 5 out of the 12 tracks have been snatched from past EPs, perhaps causing this feeling of discord.
Besides the recycling of tracks – Washington’s cleaver lyrics and infectious radio-ready pop melodies still make for a fun (and very safe) listen, nothing here will really blow you away and any track would fit perfectly on sitcoms like New Girl or 2 Broke Girls. (Don’t get all offended, I happen to love those shows)
Addictive opener, “1997” is beautifully layered with clean and dirty guitar riffs and is an all-round fun rock track; “1997” is followed up with the surfer doo-woop “Navy Blues” and will surely brighten those winter blues. “Sunday Best” was the lead off single for this album and it is easily one of the best of 2011. “Best” has that perfect blend of indie-pop, quirky keyboard stabs and a kick-ass chorus that will stick in your head for days. The latter half of the record doesn’t capture my imagination and it quickly loses steam but highlights “The Hardest Part” and “How To Tame Lions” save the record from total boredom – and the closing title track is an unexpected piano ballad that beautifully closes the album.
I’m sure with more focus Washington will be able to create a killer LP because even with all this debut’s faults what it does show is the breadth of her musical talent and knack for writing hit songs. (Mercury Records)
Rating: 3/5 Stars
Carleton Stone steps into the limelight on his eponymous sophomore release as a captivating story-teller that treads along FM country territory that has been baptized by pop-poet Hawksley Workman. Workman is a fantastic producer – the album sounds clean but not overly glossy and he realizes the strengths of Stone’s compositions. These songs are far more country then anything the famous musician has done and the album captures the spirit of its namesake while taking a few chances.
Opening track, “Last Thing” is a timeless country rocker that begs to be played in stadiums across the country, while the boogie-woogie, hip shaking “Strange Medicine” would fit perfectly into Jerry Lee Lewis’ repertoire and “Dominoes” already sounds road ready for that mid-set sing-along. Other moments where Stone shines include the gospel lift of “Fit Together” and “Gone” and the soulful “Bad Decisions” which is patiently built-up on organ and lap-steel before the big payoff. Although, there are a few lull moments, “Never Felt A Thing” sucks the energy out of the record and “Looks” is a bit too cutesy for my liking but these moments are few and far in between.
I love records where you can sit down, get through it once and come out understanding what an artist loves about music. Stone loves big rock ballads and country-soul; but he puts his own personal spin on these sounds with a contemporary pop energy that can’t be missed. (Groundswell Music)
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Album comes out September 6, 2011: pre-order the album HERE and check out a killer live performance of “Last Thing” below.
OK…. so I’m way behind on hearing/raving about Brisbane based pop-star Megan Washington. This 5-song EP was released back in 2009 (and is her fifth EP) and she has already released her 2010 debut, I Believe You Liar. So, why am I reviewing a two-year old release?
Well, Washington (as she prefers to be called) is set on taking over North America and How to Tame Lions is the best place to start. Her special brand of clever pop songs are akin to Australian contemporary Ben Lee (during his moody “Hey You. Yes You.” era) combined with the romantic musical punch of Canadian indie-pop group Stars.
The opening title track beautifully reverberates with pulsing keys, chiming guitar strums, as Washington’s vocals eloquently dance over her upbeat pop melodies that embody the sad sentiment, “How do you tame a lion, when their lying low, you be my Arthur Miller, I will be your Marilyn Monroe”. Current single from I Believe You Liar, “Sunday Best” kicks in next and is pure rock n’ roll fun while “Halloween” blurs into a dreamy affair bringing back those intoxicating keyboard strokes.
My favourite track from How to Tame Lions is “Teenager Fury” an ode to days past that builds from a simplified drum loop to waves of piano, guitar and clavichord. “Welcome Stranger” an acoustic, live off the floor cut has Washington attempting to reign in the ghost of a past lover – “All the years of being broke, and all the spit and all the smoke, and all the fucking and all the drugs, all the love was not enough, you take my guts, I take the car”.
Sure, it is a bitter end for our dear protagonist but it leaves you wanting more – Washington is one of those rare musicians that can write beautiful upbeat pop songs while baring her soul, even when some of those memories are difficult to face. (Mercury Records)
Rating: 4/5 Stars