Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Wilson's First

Dan Wilson. To Whom it May Concern.
Whoville Recordings, 2012. Dan Wilson: http://www.facebook.com/DanWilsonGuitar   or http://www.danwilsonguitar.com

As Dan Wilson’s premier CD in 2012, To Whom It May Concern is a great introduction to not just a Hiram alumnus, but a number of Northeast Ohio musical personalities. Wilson brings together not only NEO artists (and quite a few of them), but also NEO recording and technical contributors.  The singular billing and cover art belie the length of the list of musicians, a mark of a truly respected leader and master, which seems to describe Wilson to a tee.  Wilson has strong Northeast Ohio ties, with degrees from both Hiram College and Youngstown State University, and now teaches at Cuyahoga Community College.  At the same time, his influences and influence stretches across the globe from Pittsburgh (where some of his contributors reside) to Russia, and from Brazil to Germany.  Wilson was introduced to music through gospel, unsurprisingly, and was prompted to become a musician after hearing Wes Montgomery, but the complexity and variety seen in his recording debut reach farther than these beginnings could have predicted.

To Whom it May Concern is a definitely a jazz listener’s CD, starting out with the spoken word proclamation that jazz has to have a beat and soul, and then goes on to prove that Wilson and his music no doubt have both.  While many people may associate jazz with the piano or with wind instruments, jazz guitar has a strong tradition ranging from early 1900’s with musicians such as Carl Kress, through the 1960’s and George Benson, up to today’s John Pizzarelli.  Wilson is a welcome addition to that heritage, and has a high likelihood of bringing positive attention to Northeast Ohio through his talent in this musical arena.
Wilson’s artistry gives a polished, coherent voice to the CD, with one track blending into the next easily.  This continuity makes for a pleasant experience overall, although the digital format offered online can run into technical difficulties with iTunes separating the album tracks, and the separated tracks aren’t nearly as enjoyable.   That’s obviously a technical issue, and not musical, but just a little proviso to anyone using the digital download version on Apple products (you can thank my husband for this information).  Personally, I recommend using the CD to avoid the possibility, and then sit back for a treat.  The one negative of the album is a slight tendency for over-extending improvisations on a theme.  Even the best theme can eventually get a bit old, but this isn’t a fatal flaw, and one that I’m sure will be corrected with experience in a recorded music setting as Wilson’s career unfolds.
The album functions well as a whole piece, but reading the liner notes reveals that the album was not written as such, and instead details the very individual processes and inspirations for each of the pieces, and which songs are reinterpretations of other artists’ work.  “Who Shot John” is a nice track, and Wilson’s attempt to make 5/4 time danceable; the track fills out well, but danceable might be a goal not quite attained.  “Another Star” is a Stevie Wonder tune, but fits in well with Wilson’s original work, at least to this Stevie Wonder non-expert.  “To Whom it May Concern” has the biggest problems with repetition, while the track still is solid.  Rodger and Hammerstein’s “It Might as Well be Spring” is melodious and not mistakable as the original; Wilson manages to make this his own very well.  “Crazy Barrett,” “Afrozilla,” and “Audible Distraction” round out the set nicely and close the album on a very positive note.

Personnel: Dan Wilson (Vocals and guitar), James Johnson III (Drums), Philip K. Jones (Piano and Organ), Bryan Connell (Tenor and Alto Saxophone), Keith McKelley (Alto Saxophone), Chris Anderson (Trombone), Kip Reed (Bass), Stephen Fowler (Vocals), Carolyn Perteete (Vocals), Barrett Barnes (Drums), Allen Swoope (Organ), Shea Pierre (Piano), Theron Brown (Organ), Joey Green (Bass), Alton Merrell (Keyboard), Jamey Haddad (Percussion), and Bill Ransom (Percussion).
Tracks: Long Story Short, Who Shot John, Another Star, To Whom It May Concern, It Might as Well be Spring, Crazy Barrett, Afrozilla, Audible Distraction

Lisa Regula Meyer

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Big Game Postponed

Ryan Humbert. Sometimes the Game Plays You.
Rock Ridge Music, 2012.  Ryan Humbert:  http://ryanhumbert.com/

Maybe it’s just me. After listening repeatedly to Ryan Humbert’s fourth full-length album, “Sometimes the Game Plays You,”I wasn’t in love with the music. Or, even in like. Humbert, an Akron native, has spent years in the music scene, both locally and on the national level. He plays on a regular basis in the Northeast Ohio area, and has opened for major record label artists such as the Zac Brown Band, Elvis Costello, Train and Third-Eye Blind, to name a few. The guy works hard and obviously has attracted the interest and support of A-list artists, and has a loyal following in NE Ohio. Truthfully, based on this album alone, I am not sure what the fuss is about.

I’ll give Humbert props for being an excellent songwriter. The lyrics are compelling, drawing the listener into his world and taking us on an emotional journey with him throughout each track. However, Humbert’s vocals are overpowered by his backing band and have a thin sound rather than the rich, warm quality I would expect from such an experienced artist (and from someone who can write such emotive lyrics). The album was recorded not digitally, but on tape, and I wonder if the method and the production added to the flat sound.
I also give Humbert and his Canton-based band credit for the diversity of the album. From folk to pop to country, the songs show Humbert isn’t afraid to step out of the box and try something new. He shows a talent for arranging multiple instruments in his songs, and, again, I laud Humbert for his efforts.
I was disappointed in “Sometimes the Game Plays You.” Several times, I started to enjoy a song, to have it take an unexpected turn into mediocrity. The lyrics were good, but the quality of his voice distracted me from the words. Humbert’s different takes on American music intrigued me, but he seemed to be jumping from genre to genre rather than settling down into an arena he knew he owned. Listening to his LP I felt lost, and not in a positive way. I really wanted Humbert, a local darling, to take me to another world with his music, but not this one.
Some artists are radically better live than they are in recordings, unfortunately. Maybe this is the case with Humbert and I am missing out on a great show. I plan to see one, soon, and hopefully will see Humbert and his band in their glory. At least, I hope so. That said, I don’t think I would listen to “Sometimes the Game Plays You” again. Truthfully, after hearing it I felt a bit played, myself.

Tracks:  Waiting for the Lightning, Don’t Tell My Heart, Mayday, Home is Where Your Heart Bleeds, Everything, Telescope, Boulevard to Nowhere, Not to Me, Tattoo, Incognito, Fool Me Twice, Heartache Waiting, Sometimes the Game Plays You, I Will Find My Own Way, Boulevard to Nowhere (acoustic).

Jennie Narraway

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Since we started this blog in July, we have been patiently waiting for comments and discussion to commence.  We now realize that people have tried to post comments, but these are not being posted, nor do they show to us, awaiting moderation.  They just disappear.  We are working on the technical difficulties, and hope to have the problem fixed soon. 

The Management

Monday, October 22, 2012

Bright Sky

Ohio Sky.  Curses.
Electric Pyramid Records, 2012.  Ohio Sky:  http://www.ohioskymusic.com/
Ohio Sky is a band from Cleveland who has released multiple EPs in the past four years. Their first full-length LP, “Curses”, hit the shelves early in 2012. After listening to “Curses” at home on my stereo, blasting in the car and on my iPod, I was surprised Ohio Sky isn’t nationally known yet. However, it is only a matter of time considering the epic quality of the LP.

Featuring Vinnie DiFranco (lead vocals, rhythm guitars), Michael Bashur (lead guitar), Eric Bambic (drums), Patrick Finegan (keyboards, synthesizer) and Ellsworth Turner (bass, vocals), Ohio Sky shreds though thirteen ethereal and face-melting tracks on “Curses.” The songs are punctuated throughout by dreamlike, melodic sections giving way to the driving riffs of DiFranco and Bashur’s guitars. The lyrics are well-written and the vocals are tight, especially on “Van Gogh,” “Curses,’ and “S.” Each track is layered with the brilliance of Bambic’s punchy drums and Turner’s chomping bass, as well as Finegan’s effects. Really, there isn’t anything about the album that strikes me as off or ill-conceived. It’s just damn good. If you can’t get a hold of “Curses” immediately after you read my review, at least take the time to check out their YouTube channel (ohioskymusic’s channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/ohioskymusic). They throw down an insane cover of The Beatle’s “She’s So Heavy” (watch the video, and you’ll see what I mean: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNX2ydFK1Xc&feature=plcp) not to mention an acoustic version of “Van Gogh” that I might like even better than the track featured on “Curses.” Finally, don’t miss the first track from their latest EP, “This House is Old and Filled with Ghosts” while you’re on there—it clearly shows Ohio Sky is a band on the rise.

Ohio Sky’s sound has been compared to Pink Floyd (which I don’t see at all, maybe because I am not a big fan of Pink Floyd) as well as the Deftones (more probable) and is frequently referred to as “stoner rock”. However, lead singer and rhythm guitarist Vinnie DiFranco dubs their sound “space-rock.” It doesn’t matter what you call it or how you categorize it. If you haven’t heard them yet, do yourself a favor and give them a try. Once you play the first track from “Curses” you will be hooked.  Ohio Sky blew me out of the water, and out of any space I inhabited while listening to their brilliant album.

Ohio Sky:  Vinnie DiFranco (lead vocals, rhythm guitars), Michael Bashur (lead guitar), Eric Bambic (drums), Patrick Finegan (keyboards, synthesizer) and Ellsworth Turner (bass, vocals).
Tracks:  Van Gogh, Speed of Urgency, Project Longshot, Anthem for the Artist, (S), Waiting for Time to Stop, End of the World, Instructions for Burying the Arc, Another Day Dies, Burning Down the Barn, Curses, Shank, Take Me Back.

Jennie Narraway

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Fine Bit of Mayhem

Eclectic Mayhem.  Eclectic Mayhem.
Sleepwalk Recording.  2012.   Eclectic Mayhem:  http://www.facebook.com/eclecticmayhemmusic

This is the Cleveland based quartet’s debut album and it’s an impressive swirl of influences and detail. Each track is distinctive and well crafted. These musicians have spent over a decade studying different styles and their album is a badge of their knowledge. 

“Again,” while lyrically predictable (this stickler for word integrity didn’t mind), the gritty flavor of the songs eclipsed any flaw with severe rock attitude and genuine don’t-give-a-fuck and sometimes I just like it when people don’t give a fuck for my rules. Musically Eclectic Mayhem is a strong outfit and clearly know how to create. The guitar solos are absolutely inspired on “Want It Al” which covers the boring vocals on it nicely. The guitar and keyboard fuse seamlessly on “Takin’ Time” and make complicated overtures that any composer would admire. When it comes to making the music, Eclectic Mayhem has the actual talent to make chaotic rock sound beautiful.

The only foible in this group is the vocals, which are just mediocre, especially when compared to the greatness of everything else. Someone with more of a range would fit with the incredibly broad brush of these musicians. Eclectic Mayhem runs the turbulent gambit of moody pensive tracks to raucous electronic experimental bridges within a minute’s time and pull it off. The vocal is too punk and unsophisticated to ride well with the music, which becomes very apparent on songs like “On My Way” and “Fun With Guns.”

However, on “For the Birds,” the juxtaposition of the intricate beauty of the guitar and the rough-hewn strain of the vocal are magical, and I think I might have picked up a harpsichord in there somewhere. It might have just been a mixture of different sounds but if the listener can’t even tell what instruments you’re using you are doing something right. There is not a lot of variety in the background vocals or with vocal harmonies at all, which I would be interested to hear them play with a bit more.

“Inside Your Head” has a mid-90s alternative feel to it that is nice to have on the second half of the album. The tracks evolve nicely into each other and while there is cohesion, everything is so different that nothing falls into the background. There aren’t any boring songs on this album, which is a feat to brag about. This being Eclectic Mayhem’s first album, it’s an incredibly rich debut and I look forward to the next.

Eclectic Mayhem:  Pat Conley (vocals, drums), Dan Cooley (guitar), Nate Dreher (bass), Jonathan Khouri (keys, guitar).
Tracks:  Again. Want It All. Takin’ Time. Let You Down. On My Way. For the Birds. Bender. Fun With Guns. Inside Your Head. Better Off Dead. I Don’t Mind. Lost.

Lauren Parker

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Queen Crowned

Tracey Thomas.  Queen of Nothing.
Relevart Records, 2012.   Tracey Thomas:  http://www.traceythomasmusic.com/Welcome.html

I’m a sucker for songs I can sing along with.  Melody and harmony are things I really appreciate (although they’re not the only things).  This makes it difficult for me to relate to some bands, but very easy for me to enjoy Tracey Thomas’s new album, Queen of Nothing.  She combines rock, country, and folk into a rich Americana stew that, while reminiscent of other performers on occasion (Kathy Mattea and Roseanne Cash come to mind), is clearly her own artist.  This is her sixth release since 1994 (not counting her best-of album also released this year), and her first since 2007’s Ghost Town.  Her work has continued to grow and mature into a lushness that is a real treat to hear.

Thomas began her career in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with the Akron band Unit 5, a part of the post-punk scene from the era.  By the early 1990s, she was in the different space of alternative rock with Persona 74 (what’s with the numbers?).  It seems that she’s comfortable with just about anything, and has steadily moved in her own direction.  She’s opened for just about everybody from the Dead Boys to Michael Stanley.  It’s about time somebody opened for her.

Thomas’s choice of which side of her style to emphasize varies from track to track.  “Queen of Nothing” is a great country rock piece that showcases her gorgeous voice.  “Better than Anyone” heads even closer to rock/pop, but by the time she gets to “Blue Eyes,” she’s in the folk realm, more acoustic and introspective.  We are back to a pretty strong rocker in “Falling Down,”  with great background vocals from Ryan Humbert (the producer) and Emily Bates.  “Hey, Save Me” is in the same vein, with strong vocals, excellent musicianship, and great hooks.  With “Blind & Faithful” she’s back to the introspective, with some great piano backing by Tim Longfellow.  Most of the songs were co-written with Humbert, except for the title track by Thomas alone, and one song by Humbert.  

I see only minor missteps, and only found one tune less than enjoyable, the somewhat overly anthemic “Weathering the Storm,” which sounds a bit too earnest and derivative of some of the so-called folk music sometimes played on WKSU.  I would also recommend including a lyric sheet, or alternatively, posting the lyrics on the web page.  It will prevent me from making one of those “There’s a Bathroom on the Right” gaffs while singing along. I look forward to listening to all of her older albums, and her new retrospective.  Great stuff!

Performers:  Tracey Thomas (lead vocals), Ryan Humbert (harmony vocals, guitars, mandolin), Emily Bates (harmony vocals), Tim Longfellow (piano, Wurlitzer, organ), Mark Middleton (drums), Mark Jendrasik (bass), Benjamin Payne (percussion, bass), Michael Houff (violin, viola, string arrangements), Derek Snyder (cello).
Tracks:  Queen of Nothing, Hope Flies, Better than Anyone, Blue Eyes, Falling Down, This World, Hey, Save Me, Blind & Faithful, Weathering the Storm, Every Little Time, Space Enough.

The Grand Wazoo