Sunday, April 24, 2016

Steve Hauschildt. Where All Is Fled.

Steve Hauschildt.  Where All Is Fled.

I came home last week after a hard day/hard month, and sorted through the pile of CDs that needed to be reviewed for Buzzard Tracks. I was looking for something that was different, and something that would give me a break from everything I didn’t want to think about. I chose this, not randomly, but not really deliberately either. When I put it on, I was transported, no joke. The music is joyous, quiet but exhilarating, and damned near left me weeping because it was what I needed to hear at that moment.

This is Hauschildt’s third solo release, if you don’t count his compilation, S/H. We’ve reviewed three of his four albums here at Buzzard Tracks, and would be happy to review everything he puts out, forever. Not to say he can’t make a mistake or release a turkey, but I haven’t heard one yet. This album may be his most accomplished so far, a combination of many different kinds of sound, from synth washes to orchestral instrumentation to natural sounds blended into soundscapes that are simultaneously surreal and very real. The sound is quite different from his previous album, Sequitur (2012), with a darker tone, an emphasis on pulse rather than beat, and a move toward a richer, more symphonic sound. The fourteen tracks are quite varied, as if one is moving from dream to dream, each a delight in its own way.

The opening track, “Eyelids Gently Dreaming,” is a great example of this move towards a different sound. The music progresses in a drifting manner, shifting from one plane to another smoothly before fading. “Arpeggiare” makes a different statement, with rapid pulsing featured over a piano melody. “A Reflecting Pool” is what got to me, with its evocation of water dripping and rippling. By the time of “Edgewater Prelude,” the shortest track, I was completely lost in the sounds Hauschildt was producing. I found “In Spite of Time’s Disguise” delightful, a synthesizer melody drifting and morphing through a tangle of washes and pulses. Several later tracks such as “Caduceus” and “Sundialed” take a more insistent approach with strong, rapid beats. The title track is near the middle of the album, and sets provides a soft piano melody against a variety of background sounds.

As one might tell, I thoroughly enjoyed this excursion into ambient electronic music that Steve Hauschildt does so well. You can partake of this as music alone, or with accompanying visuals on YouTube--they are stunning creations.

Personnel:  Steve Hauschildt (electronics and other stuff).
Tracks:  Eyelids Gently Dreaming, Arpeggiare, A Reflecting Pool, Anesthesia, Vicinities, Edgewater Prelude, In Spite of Time’s Disguise, Where All Is Fled, The World Is too Much With Us, Aequus, Caduceus, Sundialed, Lifelike, Centrifuge.

Jeff Wanser

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Ohio Weather Band. Crooked Light.

The Ohio Weather Band.  Crooked Light.
Self-released, 2016.  The Ohio Weather Band:

The Ohio Weather Band continues the success of their first album with this new effort. We reviewed their first album in 2014, and found it to be quite enjoyable. Sophomore slumps are legendary, but they don’t seem to have succumbed to the ailment. A little more ballad-heavy than the first album, songwriter Corey King is getting more deeply into his lyrics with good results, occasionally heading for Bob Dylan territory, and not being uncomfortable there. This album in a way is a showcase for King the singer-songwriter. Musically, lots of other comparisons are more appropriate, ranging from Mr. Gnome to Stealer’s Wheel, which just shows how eclectic they are.

I tend to gravitate toward uptempo songs, and so will concentrate on those, but the ballads are also very good, and here is where King shines lyrically. They range from the desolate (“Ohio Weather”) to the quasi-religious (“Fate is a Man”), to the obscure (“Sunburn”), with none in the land of the joyful, although that may just be my interpretation. Tunes are generally simple, but sweetly played, and they've grown on me with repeated listenings. Most slower songs clock in at more than four minutes, while the faster tunes are over in a heartbeat.

And those faster tunes are where the band comes in strong. The opening track, “Boardwalk Act,” is a tuneful, rambling song that sticks in the ear. “Messenger Bird” effectively uses echo and interesting chord changes to evoke mystery, reminding me of an old tune, “Spooky,” by the Classics IV (although the song is about something else entirely). “Zeros” moves towards an insistent, bluesy rock, with some nice guitar work and good harmonies. “Advice” recalls Dylan sensibilities combined with Stealer’s Wheel quirkiness in a curious amalgam that I find very satisfying.

I enjoyed listening to this album and look forward to the group’s continuing evolution. The band is in town right now, having just toured key cities in the south, and at the end of the month they’ll be headed for New York. Catch them when you can.

Personnel:  Corey King (guitar, vocals), Derek Strata (bass, vocals), Ray Lumpp (keys, vocals, accordion, percussion), Pete Childerson (drums, percussion).
Tracks:  Boardwalk Act, Messenger Bird, Ohio Weather, Barflies, Zeros, Waitin’ Like a Canine, Advice, Purple Polished Nails, Sunburn, Fate is a Man, Ohio Weather (reprise).

Jeff Wanser

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Maura Rogers and the Bellows. In Light.

Maura Rogers and the Bellows.  In Light.
Self-released, 2015.  Maura Rogers and the Bellows:

We have been remiss in reviewing this in a timely fashion, and so we are getting to it just before the band’s new EP is released next week. I guess that’s timely in its own way. This is the band’s third release (we reviewed their previous album, A Good Heart Will Break, back in 2014), and so they seem to be on schedule, even if we’re not.  

Americana, alt.folk, and other terms are thrown around to describe Maura Rogers’ music. They are all accurate as far as they go, but fuzzy words are inadequate to tell you how her songs sound and feel (she wrote them all). Musically, the band is dominated by Rogers’ strong and expressive vocals and Meredith Pangrace’s accordion--they are the most out front to this ear. But in listening behind them, one can easily find some fine guitar work by Istvan Medgyesi and others. This is particularly evident on the opening bars of most tracks (such as “Georgia” and “Blooming”), where a guitar leads in. The opening track, “Battle Cry,” is a deeply emotional song that Rogers simply slays with her anthemic vocals. The mood changes quickly with “The Chance,” a country waltz, framed as a real cry-in-your-beer weeper. As I listened to this song and the next, “Georgia,” I noticed that the lyrics are not specific with regard to gender, or even place. Georgia could refer to the state, but it could also be a person. This sort of ambiguity  continues throughout the album. Fascinating choices, and good songwriting.

“Blooming” is a heartbreaker, and one of my favorites, a song that contrasts roses in bloom with rejected love and/or fear of relationships. The atmospheric music created by the accordion and guitar in combination creates a sense of desolation. “Thank You” is a catchy, if spare, tune, and is certainly one of the more upbeat songs on the album. The most controversial song is “Damn Angels,” about a lover who leaves in the wake of religious fervor, from the perspective of the one left. Powerful stuff.

Seriously good songwriting.  The music and the lyrics work as one to transport the listener through various stages of heartache, hope, anger, and moroseness. After nine songs, I feel like I’ve been through an emotional washing machine. This is a richly rewarding album, and I urge you to check out the band’s music. They will be having an EP release party on March 19th at the Beachland Ballroom, which I suspect will be quite an evening.

Personnel:  Maura Rogers (vocals, acoustic guitar), Meredith Pangrace (accordion, vocals), Istvan Medgyesi (electric, slide, and acoustic guitar), Brent Stow (bass), Shelby Sangdahl (cello), Jeff Babinski (drums, track 5), Nick Perry (drums), Ariel Karaś (violin, tracks 6 & 7), Al Moses (acoustic guitar, tracks 3 & 7).
Tracks:  Battle Cry, The Chance, Georgia, Lion, Blooming, Good Lover, Thank You, Damn Angels, Hold On.

Jeff Wanser


Sunday, March 6, 2016

John Fedchock Quartet Live. Fluidity.

John Fedchock Quartet Live.  Fluidity.
Summit Records, 2015.  John Fedchock:

John Fedchock describes himself as a New York musician, but his roots are in Northeast Ohio. Born in Cleveland in 1957, he attended Ohio State University and the Eastman School of Music, joined the Woody Herman Band in 1980, and has been a prominent trombonist in several big bands. He leads John Fedchock’s New York Big Band (seems reasonable), which has four CDs to their credit, and also works in smaller group contexts, including a sextet, and here, a quartet. He’s won lots of accolades and awards for his playing and arranging. Let’s see what he’s done this time.

On this release, Fedchock plays mostly standards, with two originals and a Joe Henderson cover. Among the composers are Victor Young, Henry Mancini, Frank Loesser, and Jule Styne, so it’s clear that he delves extensively into the Great American Songbook. He takes the tunes in a bop direction and moves them along in a gentle, dreamy fashion. This is a live album, so there is a bit of audience applause, but it doesn’t distract from listening, and in fact, provides a nice backdrop to the band’s motivated performance. Fedchock’s playing is really quite impressive; I’ve seldom heard a trombone played with such, well, fluidity. His slide technique and articulation are superb, as is evident in such slow tunes as “Havana,” and “Make Someone Happy,” where he is out front and on display. Most of the songs feature one or more of the other players in solos, and they are very effective as well. I am particularly fond of John Toomey’s piano work, both in solos (especially “I Hear a Rhapsody”) and in his support behind Fedchock. Two mid-tempo tunes, “I Hear a Rhapsody,” and “Homestretch,” are my personal favorites here, with great solos and delightful interplay among the musicians.

If you love jazz ballads, small combos, or trombone, this is an album to listen to over and over.

Personnel:  John Fedchock (trombone), John Toomey (piano), Jimmy Masters (bass), Dave Ratajczak (drums).
Tracks: East of the Sun, Havana, I Hear a Rhapsody, Make Someone Happy, Under the Radar, Weaver of Dreams, The Days of Wine and Roses, I’ve Never Been in Love Before, Homestretch.

Jeff Wanser

Friday, February 12, 2016

Apollo’s Fire. Sugarloaf Mountain: An Appalachian Gathering.
Avie, 2015.  Apollo’s Fire:

In 2015, Apollo’s Fire released Sugarloaf Mountain: An Appalachian Gathering. When I think of Apollo’s Fire, baroque music immediately comes to mind. I was unaware that the group had delved into the folk tradition. The following is a description of this “crossover” tradition from the CD liner notes, which helped me to understand the background of Sugarloaf Mountain:

"Since 1999, Apollo’s Fire have developed a unique ensemble of crossover artists who are steeped in the folk traditions as well as the improvisatory idioms of the 17th and 18th centuries. Exploring British Isles, early American, and Sephardic traditions from a historical perspective, the ensemble strives to break down the modern barrier between art music and popular music to revive the “crossover” spirit of the 17th century, when great composers regularly wrote artful variations on street tunes and tavern songs."

This is their fourth crossover album, with Scarborough Fayre, Come to the River: An Early American Gathering, and Sacrum Mysterium: A Celtic Christmas Vespers preceding this. A new album, Sephardic Journey, is just coming out.

On to the content of Sugarloaf Mountain--a series of ballads and reels brought to the Southern Appalachian region from the British Isles, combined with American minstrel tunes and African American spirituals. And who better to interpret this music than Jeannette Sorrell (having lived in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley from age 14), and Amanda Powell (who lived in the same valley within sight of Sugarloaf Mountain). The musicians, including Sorrell and Powell, play these airs, jigs, reels, ballads, and spirituals on period and folk instruments, including fiddle, wooden flute, pennywhistle, cello, lute, hammered dulcimer, guitar, gourd banjo, long-neck dulcimer, and harpsichord. The music is arranged in sections, invoking first the melancholy and sadness of leaving home (the British Isles), and last the enthusiasm of begging those still in the old country to come to this lovely land. Let me take you on this journey and comment on some of the highlights.

The Prologue. “The Mountains of Rhùm” sets the sorrowful mood of the leavetaking--”how can I leave you, my mountains of Rhùm?” (from the traditional Scottish). Crossing to the New World. “Farewell to Ireland/Highlander’s Farewell” introduces a different atmosphere, with dance music (Irish and Appalachian reels), while “We’ll Rant and We’ll Rave/Farewell to the Isles” is a sea shanty with lovely fiddle and voices filled with false bravado--a looking forward to the shores of America. Dark Mountain Home. “Cruel Sister”--now this is where the Scots-Irish darkness takes hold. In this ballad’s bizarre telling, there are two sisters, the younger of which is courted by a young man. The jealous older sister pushes the younger off the cliff into the sea. The younger sister begs to be saved, but is ignored by the elder. Later, the suitor finds the body, makes a harp of her breastbone, and strings of her yellow hair. He takes the harp to the father’s house, and plays a song. “Hang my auld sister,” it cried. Cruel sister indeed. For me, a dismal story, but beautifully performed.

Cornshuck Party. “Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night” is quite vivacious--lots of fiddle, flute pennywhistle--and a great story! I picture Peter Spier’s illustrations in a children’s book of the same name. “Oh Susanna!” is a song most of us will recognize, but do we realize that it’s a minstrel song from 1845, written by one Stephen Foster of Pittsburgh, PA? Love and Loss.  “Once I Had a Sweetheart” is a haunting piece laced with misery, which morphs into “Wayfaring Stranger” by way of a slow fiddle, moaning low and mimicking a spiritual (Kentucky Harmony, 1816). “Just Before the Battle, Mother,” from 1864, is a lovely but mournful solo interwoven with another Southern spiritual, “Go March Along.” Glory on the Mountain. “Glory in the Meeting House” is a lively, upbeat Kentucky fiddle tune accompanied by hammered dulcimer and flute, while “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep,” a Souther spiritual, is sung by male and female voices. Appalachian Home. In “Sugarloaf Mountain” the contented immigrant tries to convince his love and his family to join him. “Oh, leave our sad island, its troubles unending…. Come to our mountain and stay with me.” (Adapted from the traditional Scottish).

And finally, there is happiness! Interwoven into these appealing vocals are several instrumental interludes, showing the various talents of all the musicians. My absolute favorite is the enchanting hammered dulcimer. Those of us who pay attention to Northeast Ohio traditional music should be humbled by Tina Bergmann’s prowess on this instrument. I remember hearing her way back when she was a teenager at the Cuyahoga Valley Folk Festival, and she was good even then.

I was captivated by everyone on this CD. I now want to go back and listen to Come to the River: An Early American Gathering, from 2010. If you like this traditional vein of music, give this a listen. If not, try it anyway, because you never know.

Personnel:  Apollo’s Fire, Jeannette Sorrell (harpsichord, direction), Amanda Powell (vocals), Ross Hauck (vocals), Tina Bergmann (hammered dulcimer), Susanna Perry Gilmore (fiddle), Kathie Stewart (wooden flutes), Brian Kay (lute, guitar, banjo, long-neck dulcimer), René Schiffer (cello).
Tracks: Prologue: The Mountains of Rhùm. Crossing to the New World: Farewell to Ireland/Highlander’s Farewell, We’ll Rand and We’ll Roar. Dark Mountain Home: The Cruel Sister, Se Fath mo Buart Ha (The Cause of All My Sorrow), Nottamun Town (Round #1044), Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair, I Wonder as I Wander/The Gravel Walk/Over the Isles to America. Cornshuck Party: The Fox Went out on a Chilly Night, Oh Susanna!, Pretty Peg/Far from Home. Love & Loss: Once I Had a Sweetheart, Wayfaring Stranger, Pretty Betty Martin/Katy Did/Red Rockin’ Chair, Just Before the Battle, Mother, Go March Along. Glory on the Mountain: Glory in the Meeting House, Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep. Appalachian Home: Sugarloaf Mountain.

Linda Spear
Jeannette Sorrell

Monday, January 18, 2016

Burn Rubber City, Burn! Akron, Ohio: Punk and the Decline of the Mid-West 1975-80.
Soul Jazz Records, 2015.

I was not here for the fluorescence of the punk scene in Akron or Cleveland. During the late 1970s I lived in Binghamton, New York, another dying manufacturing city, but a town that didn’t know it was well-suited to the genre. It relied instead on metal, disco, hard rock, and whatever was transported from New York City to the Southern Tier by college students (mostly Springsteen, I recall, followed by New Wave). Thus, I cannot claim first-hand experience, as many around here can (or some who may claim to but can’t). I was, of course, familiar with Devo and the Waitresses through their hits, and the Bizarros because of their connection to New York. As a result of my poking around in Northeast Ohio music history, Rubber City Rebels, Tin Huey, and the Numbers Band have become familiar (and enjoyed). Most of the rest are largely unknown to me, some having a moment in the sun, others not. Thus I enter the discussion with a bit of trepidation.

This album is the fifth punk compilation from the British label Soul Jazz. The first four concentrated on the British and American scenes, proto-punk, and Cleveland (we’ll get to that one soon). As such, it is a late-comer to the dissection of the late-70s Akron punk/art rock/New Wave scene that coalesced in the wake of Akron’s industrial decline. There have been other releases, notably Stiff Records’ The Akron Compilation, and two films, It’s Everything, and Then It’s Gone, and If You’re not Dead, Play. There have been reunions, cover bands, and much mythologizing, and everyone seems to have a slightly different version of what happened, ranging from the glorious to the “who cares?” So, what does this CD add to the pile?

First, for the newbie, or those too young to have experienced these bands in the raw, the CD provides an entryway into a particular time and place (late 1970s, Akron/Kent) and the heady mix of local bands influenced by the art scene (and shootings) at Kent State University, the decline of the rubber industry in Akron, and the local music scene (that also included Cleveland) of the time. The accompanying booklet is pretty good in outlining major events (although they spell it “tyre”), although it could have done much more. But it’s the array of music and styles that are the real draw here. Akron “punk” was far more, and not easily categorized, except by music industry. It included a great deal of art rock, experimental rock, garage rock, and blues, put in a blender with the top off, resulting in fascinating chunks of music going in all different directions. Little holds it all together except point of origin, common history, a certain sense of aggression, and the fact that the bands influenced each other (and even shared personnel). Quality of sound is very good, and given that the Stiff Compilation is out of print (as are most of the original albums of the artists, other than Devo’s), this is the place to go for this material. Rachel Sweet is missing, but there are compilations of her material elsewhere.

There are some wonderful surprises. Jane Aire & the Belvederes is a great band. They apparently followed Chrissie Hynde to England to join the music scene there, and their albums seem to have never been reissued in CD. Denis DeFrange did some fascinating experimental work with synthesizers (not exactly a punk instrument). Chi-Pig, on the scene since the 60s in one form or another and the only all-female band, combines punk with elements of experimental music to considerable effect. The lesser known artists are surrounded by the Bizarros, Rubber City Rebels (my favorite), Tin Huey, and couple of demos by Devo, all of whose tracks provide great listening, especially as juxtaposed here. The Numbers Band rounds out the album with their usual combination of experimental rock and blues. The result is an indication of the creativity and complexity of the music scene in the region for a time when much was bleak, but anything was possible. In all, this is an excellent compilation, and well worth the time.

Personnel/Tracks:  The Bizarros/I Bizarro; The Waitresses/The Comb; Hammer Damage/Laugh; Devo/Mechanical Man; Tin Huey/Squirm You Worm; The Bizarros/Lady Doubonette; Chi-Pig/ Ring Around the Collar; Devo/Auto Modown; Rubber City Rebels/Kidnapped; Denis DeFrange and Mark Frazer/The Minkin Shuffle; Jane Aire & the Belvederes/When I Was Young; Tin Huey/ Puppet Wipes; Chi-Pig/Apu Api (Help Me); The Bizarros/Nova; Rubber City Rebels/Such a Fool; Denis DeFrange/Sector Wars; Ralph Carney/Closet Bears; 15 60 75 The Numbers Band/Narrow Road.

Jeff Wanser

Monday, January 11, 2016

Chimaira. Crown of Phantoms

Chimaira. Crown of Phantoms
eOne Music, 2013. Chimaira:

One head howls. The other shrieks. Another growls. The legendary monster known as the chimera has always commanded allure among the creatures in Greek mythology, and with so much ferocity amongst the bestiary to name yourself after any of them takes gall and daring to live up to the source. Unfortunately, with their final album Crown of Phantoms the late Chimaira meets their end with a plain, acceptable departure. This album is not the ichor and excellence of legends but at least at the beginning…

“It's alive.”
The opening track detonates into a blast of promise with a gale of electric guitar riffs and pounding drums to boil the notes for Crown of Phantom's genesis.

“We have died a million times before Every struggle opens a door.”
At the start it's like a climactic showdown, and the solos ring with an amped uproar, a true blitz of sound that foretastes something grim and grand. Isolation, resentment, ire at the artificiality of the entertainment industry, there's plenty in the targeting reticles of the imagery for Crown of Phantoms.

“No more lies, no more lies, no more god damn Hollywood vampires.”
Disgust abounds. Many a band has slammed the gaudiness and predatory glamour of Hollywood for all the fraud, faux wisdom, and seduction that its altar is built upon, and the indictment contained in the above lyric from "No Mercy" is reminiscent of songs like "Lost in Hollywood" from System of a Down.

“All that's left is blood.”
“It's just a holiday in this plastic wonderland.”

A familiar metalcore story slinks into your ears, a gray tale about hardened souls stacked against the inevitable, punishing trials of life, with never a hint of surrender in the words. Would that it all developed into something more interesting.

Instead, this release felt like a capped venture. Think of a movie touted by an awesome preview that, upon viewing, actually ends up being an okay experience. Therein lay a comparable feeling for what Crown of Phantoms offers. While not something to be completely discarded the album suffers from anything really distinguishing it from the pack of the overall rock genre. If you were killing time in your car on a lunch break or wanted to liven up a senior living center then these tracks could serve such purposes, the latter possibly being met with some objections.

Aside from the very tempting track at the beginning the impact fades. There's nothing amateur here so much as uninspired, and while for the most part everything is well-played by the group and finely screamed by Mark Hunter the flames of allure diminish with bright spots in the blandness. The instrumentals are tactful and sharp, notable for the line-up since most of the personnel on this album were all recent additions to Chimaira's line-up. No one fails to perform their roles well but it's simply that the total end product is not anything all that memorable.
A comparison to past albums does not amount to much because there is simply little to explore here. Metalcore enthusiasts may very well be perfectly happy with this release the same way a college fraternity would be satisfied with a case of cheap vodka being thrown onto their porch. That's not intended as a put down since the high-octane followers of this subgenre reward hard punches of music, and there's no lack of those with Crown of Phantoms. Have chasers ready from other Chimaira albums and you could possibly pull some songs from here to make a playlist for a buddy or a road trip.

In ancient lore all the heads of the monstrous chimera were different, be they breathing fire, snaking a long tongue, or snapping a beak. From the perspective of this heavily belated review the defining characteristic for this album's head is that it appears to have peacefully nodded off. As the last chapter in the story of this band they could have done worse.
Rest in piece, Chimaira, and rest assured that this is not a bad album, just an average one.
Crown of Phantoms

Personnel: Jeremy Creamer (Bass Guitar), Austin D'Amond (Drums), , Emil Werstler (Lead Guitar), Matt Szlachta (Rhythm Guitar), Sean Zatorsky (Keyboards, Additional Instruments, and Backing Vocals), Mark Hunter (Lead Vocals).
Tracks: The Machine, No Mercy, All That's Left Is Blood, I Despise, Plastic Wonderland, The Transmigration, Crown of Phantoms, Spineless, Kings of the Shadow World, Wrapped in Violence, Love Soaked Death.

Robert Gojo

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Allison Bencar. First Call.

Allison Bencar. First Call.
Self-released, 2014.  Allison Bencar:

You’d think a librarian would remember that thing about books and covers. I hesitated when I looked at the pictures on the CD from this fresh faced Cleveland-raised, Nashville-based singer. Never having heard her, I thought, “modern hippie, singer-songwriter. Not my thing. Hand her off to another reviewer.” But I decided to give it a listen. Boy was I wrong. I’ve kept the CD. It’s quite remarkable. Bencar is anything but what I conceived her to be. Her frame of reference is different from almost anyone else her age. This is a musician who grew up listening to Roy Orbison and Patsy Cline, but sounds like this decade at the same time without falling into contemporary pop cliches. Her voice is a rich and strong alto, her songwriting is seriously sophisticated, and the variety of styles represented here suggests a breadth of talent that demands attention. Country, rock, ballads, pop, and stuff in-between make for a rather heady stew, and her backing band (including Clevelander Rob Muzick, with whom she co-wrote a couple of songs, and co-produced the album) is excellent.

While her influences are listed in her bio on the website, it was pretty easy to guess some of them while listening to the album. The first obvious one is Roy Orbison, in the track “Where Do the Lonely Go,” which seems like more of a tribute than an imitation. I think he would have been happy to sing along with this. “Before I Die” is haunted by Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac in her more bluesy vein, complete with keyboards, and Linda Ronstadt’s sound shows up in “Light It Up,” a song eerily similar to “You’re No Good” (which Bencar covers in a YouTube video). This is not to say she’s derivative. Lots of people are influenced by others (or maybe they wouldn’t have become musicians), and you can hear it in their songs. But nobody yells at the Rolling Stones for having tried to sound like Sonny Boy Williamson.

Other songs by Bencar are quite different, but clearly relate to sounds from other times and places, and that’s a good thing. This is part of her charm, because she sounds like nobody else around now. Her tunes are hook-filled, too country for rock, and too rock for country, which could damn her to the purgatory of Americana. “The Party” is a good example, part country, part cabaret. “Broken Porch” is another, a bit of a country weeper, but with chord changes that sound like indie pop. She starts to really rev up with “Before I Die,” and continues to rock out with “Won’t Be Coming Home,” country rock with a hard kick. The last two songs, “Anywhere with You” and “Who I Am,” have a gentle feel and soft flow that might make the hearts of older gentlemen melt. The band she has assembled is beyond reproach, adding just the right touches when needed, and playing well in any style.

Bencar shouldn’t be surprised to find a wide demographic for her music. I hope she gets some airplay on the radio for her songs. She deserves a huge audience. Her music is familiar but fresh, her voice endlessly listenable, and everything about this album is top notch.

Personnel:  Allison Bencar (vocals), Rob Muzick (guitar, pedal steel), John Senchuk (bass), Corey Hughes (drums), Eric Fritsch (accordion, toy piano). All songs written or co-written by Allison Bencar.
Tracks: First Call, Going Out, Where Do the Lonely Go, Sorry, The Party, Broken Porch, Before I Die, Won’t Be Coming Home, Light it Up, Anywhere with You, Who I Am.

Jeff Wanser