I first heard Alan Gant playing live as a solo artist in the Shenandoah Valley. My take – a super voice, great range of material, investing financially in a beautiful Taylor guitar, and an engaging personality. Talking more, I found he’s one of that rare breed who is a full time musician. I so much respect anyone who can live their passion with this much commitment, and starting digging into Alan’s previous work. A native of Paris, France, I discovered a theme in the quality that this guy strives for, thoroughly enjoying his project “Like a Real Boy“. His latest album from a project founded in 2008, is with three other excellent musicians; Alan on vocals and guitars, Jackson Harar on bass, Sterling Pearson also on guitar, and Jack Ivins on drums. Three EP’s and one full length album later, they have just released EP “Melodies for the Outsiders” in April 2014.
With an eye on Alan’s other projects, I was pretty excited about what was to come. I do admit to pre-conceptions and some expectations, and knowing that someone invests the vast majority of their time in their passion for music, has multiple projects, and invests financially in building the quality of his sound; well, I already wanted a punchy rock album that was going to draw me in. I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a breakout EP if ever I’ve heard one. Have a listen and a read and see if you agree with me.
You can listen to “Chariot”, the opening number, here as you read:
“Chariot” begins by sliding into Alan’s vocal comfortably over a wailing keyboard. It’s a good resource to start the album out with, as his voice is a huge asset. Building the vibe and the urgency, the drums are in, with some lovely rocking guitar sounds as the verse moves forward. I like the fact that the lyrics fit the mood so well, are clear:
“I never thought one tiny spark could set my world ablaze; But lovers say there’s hell to pay when fire feeds the flame”
The song is quickly into a catchy and singable chorus. It’s big, powerful, the word that comes to mind is “anthemic”. It’s reminiscent, the whole mood, of the Manic Street Preachers back in the late 1980’s, and even somewhat of “Carter USM” in the same period. I dare you to stop yourself from singing it after a couple of listens:
“Oh chariot, Come on and fix my broken wings, Oh chariot, be the song a blackbird sings Oh chariot, oh chariot Oh my chariot, carry us away”
I can hear so many little gems mixed into the song. I really like that I can listen to it in its entirety and find something new in every one, and that all of these components simply add to the real “power” of this power-rock or power-pop number. The guitar solo is dripping with as much dirty rock as you could hope for from looking at the pictures of these guys in their bio. I’ve been listening to this EP over and over, and “Chariot” is most definitely my favorite song. I’m a sucker for a high quality popular rock number, and this one is a real hit to my ears.
The second track “Whisper”, has a topical beginning, given Alan’s roots. It’s a European melody accompanied on the accordion, throwing in a little Spanish guitar to the mix during the first verse. It’s a waltz beat with a twist; suddenly bringing in a huge guitar sound, it’s not quite thrash-metal, but its close to a couple of the heavier concept bands (like Cathedral) I’ve heard on the metal scene. Musically it works, as the song dances back and forth between this immense and weighty iron wrecking ball and the cleverly mixed “Euro” acoustic sound.
As if to underline this quirk, about two thirds of the way in, the song turns to a 4/4 beat, double times, Alan lets out a very metal yell, and the band lets loose with double bass and guitar which would have made Dave Mustaine of Megadeth proud. I really enjoyed the contrast through this track, as it blends so many styles that I like in their own right. In the last 30 seconds, they even throw in a little Electronica, which is an added bonus from a complex and very enjoyable song.
Here’s third track “Crazy” which so well reflects Alan’s multitude of writing and performing styles that he brings to the table:
I’ve included this one because it reminds me of watching Alan’s solo performance. From the first upbeat guitar rhythm, this song has me hooked. It’s got all of the power of the instrumentals and style of the whole band, but it’s a very radio-friendly pop song which brings in all of the best of the 1950’s for vocal harmonies, techniques, and hand-claps. It makes it a very danceable and attractive number:
“I’d say crazy doll, but you got something different, I’d say complicated, that’s your kind of rhythm, I’d say lost, and you’d say love, But you’re crazy not to see, That you’re crazy just like me”
I’m really liking the blend of styles at this mid way point in my afternoon listening. It feels well thought out, and has brought me from power pop, to metal, to the 1950’s already. It’s what makes the album exciting for me so far – it’s celebration of diversity. I also like the fact that the lyrics, while well-written and part of the art, are not too deep, so I can focus on the song as a whole. Sometimes it’s great just to rock out on a Sunday afternoon.
Next up is “Witch”. By far the heaviest number on the EP, the guitars sound solid and as crunchy as broken beer bottles from the outset. I have to confess to a love of this style, it’s power-metal at this point (and yes, I use the word “power” often and advisedly). A driving song, it’s very well constructed from a drum and bass perspective, with some awesome shredding throughout, and a beautiful guitar solo thrown in, highlighting the kind of skill that has gone into the creation of this EP. This is the loud and carefree song of the bunch, and it’s well-placed four tracks in. It leaves me ready for their final track.
“Believe” is a strong final number for the EP, interestingly re-mixed by Kyle Burns so that it appears twice. It’s another number which is hard to pin down to a genre; it has it’s fair share of rocking guitar, but it feels electronica-based even in the original version. Reminiscent of Ola Weel Skram and Leon Frick out of Norway, I have always liked clear guitar-driven tracks like this one. The fact that it is broader than more traditional rock simply gives the song more appeal for me. The remixed version initially baffled me, but in fact turns out to be such a different take on the song, that it’s a nice little end to my Sunday afternoon to listen to both next to each other to compare them.
All in all, Alan and the lads of Burn the Ballroom have produced a very solid EP in ‘Melodies for the Outsiders’. I’d say it’s a good reflection of the ongoing quality of Alan’s work, and on the image that the band is striving to put out there. What strikes me particularly, in summary, as special about this work, is the following; the vocal is first rate, the genre mixes and changes are clever, diverse, and fit well together; and the quality of the production that has gone into the final output is admirable – I would almost say symphonic. I hope that EP sales reflect the amount of blood, sweat, and tears that have obviously gone into this EP’s creation. From my point of view, it’s a strong recommend to buy. If you’re on the East Coast, check them out live as well; to close on Alan’s words: “the guys are pretty wild”.
I first discovered Margo Rey’s music after seeing her photo and website address covering most of the side of a massive tour bus in the cell phone parking lot at Dulles Airport, Washington D.C., in 2012. Little did I know at that time the rich international background, the industry know-how, and the warm person behind the image, that I would come to appreciate over this last year. Born in Acapulco, Mexico, and raised in Texas, her album “Habit” (inspired by the Rolling Stones’ song “Heaven”) charted in the top 20 in the Billboard AC, as have a couple of her singles to date. Margo is a passionate pioneer of her very own genre of music, Organica, advocating the power of natural songwriting and performance. Following up her 2013 single “Tempted”, and her happy wedding day with Ron White in October 2013, she gives us “Colours”.
I’ve reviewed Margo’s work before; both album “Habit” and single “Tempted” were noteworthy in their diversity of styles. Margo’s background is in rock, but she covers a much broader spectrum in these releases, her last single being a cover of the 80’s hit by Squeeze. I’ve come to look forward to very high quality in Margo’s singles with her husky and precise vocal technique and first rate backing musicians; her lyrical content really resonates. In “Colours” she has delivered something different from her previous work, and it’s a direction that I love; an absolute killer piano ballad.
Enjoy listening to “Colours” here as you read the review.
Starting out with a solid and heart-warming piano, her voice is in quickly, after only 3 seconds. Her vocal is so very strong, and the start of the verse is playful, leaving me with the early idea that there are some strong dynamics coming. I’m called to mind of Beverley Craven and “Promise Me” from the 80’s. As vocal and piano goes, it’s not like anything recent that I’ve heard, sweet and clear, yet with subtly accented gravel that she turns on so well;
“I close my eyes and tell myself When I feel judged by someone else That love, love, love begins with me”
Listen out for that last line; “love, love, love”, the repeat, and the tone behind it, is familiar Margo. She uses the same technique a couple more times in this song, and it’s a catchy hook to make certain words memorable, on the first word of each of these phrases; “Love begins with me”, “no lies or make believe”, “hard, so hard to breathe”, “when will I believe”. Powerful messages made more emotionally relevant with some clever writing, the memorable 3.
The pre-chorus is upon us quickly, a key change, and then on to a beautiful chorus. I must say that the chorus is what grabbed me on the first listen, and I am still loving its entwined wave of a melody line as I’m listening over and over to review this piece.
“I am not afraid I know how to be brave In the best and worst of days My colours never fade”
It’s well arranged dynamically, the first line suppressed, quieter, and the second, a response, more positive, upbeat, and raised with a lovely lift in the chord progression to the final word of the line. I really like the end of the first chorus, a repeat of the tag phrase, however listen for the trademark Margo stretch on the word “fade”.
Dynamics are something which have been evident on all of Margo’s work to date; basically, she knows how to write a pleasing song. The pattern is established, the verse, pre-chorus, and chorus telling a story, but this second time out, backed with strings, more volume from the piano, and the vocals ever more impassioned. The song tells me a tale of insecurity – the irony of having great success yet paying homage to the fact that the beauty of life is in the challenge. I think the pre-chorus, so easy to skip by because it is so short, lyrically sums up this struggle:
“So brick by brick, I lay it thick, and paint up my face for the world again; and then I sing ‘I am not afraid'”
The bridge serves a purpose to bring the song to a head, it’s short and interesting, and lets Margo let fly with that higher vocal, “never fade” is desperately happy in the delivery; she drops the dynamic at this point to a lull to focus us on the last chorus lines. I like the effect that this has, it’s a song with a message which she has just summed up in these last two choruses. It seems intended to be bold, and leaves me as a listener with empathy but no pity:
“Impossible they say, The odds cannot be played, But my dreams come true in spades, when my colours never fade”
Margo has had major success, and has faced challenges in her life; I think it’s a great gift to be able to tell that story lyrically and musically to share with the world. With “Colours”, she has delivered a beautiful piece of music, with a lyrical message which I read as a “grab the world by the throat”, or maybe “gather up all of your insecurities and turn them to your advantage”, or perhaps most striking, “I cannot be beaten”. It’s a different approach to the rock-Margo, or the funk-Margo, or the pop-Margo; but it’s Margo that’s back with a beautiful vengeance, and a direction I’m very glad she’s shared with the world.
You can read more about Margo at her Fish Pond profile here, or at her website here.
Dear Creek is a home-grown Appalachian 2-piece founded by Kate Potrykus and Alex Salser. They put together the band in 2009, on campus at the birthplace of many a musical phenomenon, Shenandoah University, in Winchester, Virginia, in between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the wild Alleghenies. Since that time, the pair have taken this creation across the country as a five-piece, and produced two albums. In a move to get back to their roots of Appalachian folk, 5 years on, they perform as a duo, and have produced this exciting 11-track work which highlights the very best of two accomplished hill-country musicians. I’m delighted to review it in advance of their album launch in May 2014.
From the look and feel of the album cover, to the song titles, to the knowledge of their roots, “So It Goes” lives and breathes nature and country-folk music. With a beautifully stylized cover, owlish and wise, I’m excited to hear how they are going to tell the story. They’ve set an expectation, and I’m pretty sure – based on their previous work – that they won’t disappoint me.
The opening bars of “Would You Let Me” assure me; Kate’s voice, beautifully clear and raw over a simple brush snare, sets the tone for the song, with a flighty melody. By the time that lovely national guitar sound comes in, I’m already drumming enthusiastically on my knees as I write this piece; with Alex’s voice in counterpoint, there are shades of slide guitar which make this song as powerful a lead-in as I could ask for.
“Would you let me lay you down? Would you let me stay around? Would you, would you, would you?
Wrapping the track with a beautifully mixed harmony of their two percussive vocals, it’s strong, happy music, and perfect for this sunny Sunday morning. It’s an introduction to the pair which makes me want to brew a strong cup of joe, sit on the stoop, and push this out to this suburban landscape at some ungodly volume.
Picking up the pace a little with “Breathin’ Steady”, it’s nice to hear the start of a clear musical theme to the album. They are comfortable with their instrumental style, Kate’s voice is strong, and well complements Alex’s guitar. I’m starting to realize that this album is a lyric listener; one of those in which the backing is so neatly and professionally put-together, that it feels natural, organic, in some way. It simply lets you get on with enjoying the listen; and that’s what this song is, to me; a song of “getting on with it”. The octave removed melody between the two is noteworthy and I’m hoping to hear more of it as we journey through.
On to the title track, and I can see why it is; “So It Goes” has a heavy heart, but draws from the deep emotional well of Dear Creek, a stark cry to the lonely winter hills:
“He felt the tears run down his face, Until they reached where he could taste the grief… So it goes, so it goes, so it goes on, and so on I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know where time’s gone”
It’s beautiful, and strangely reminds me of the feelings I had listening to Grace Pettis‘ “Abilene” (Grace and Kate are friends); a well-told story, which reaches right into your chest and grabs your heart with that voice from the very start. There are some lovely variations on the melody in the chorus toward the end of the song as it builds to its mournful conclusion. Wonderful.
“Turn to Dust” is the festival track of the bunch; I could see myself at a bluegrass event in West Virginia, with a crowd clapping and lapping up this anthem. They move this number on like a midnight express, with vocals to match its lonely wail. It’s indicative of their roots, and having lived many years in the Shenandoah Valley, it tells the story of the folks who truly call themselves “country”. I was reminded of the freight trains blowing through Harpers Ferry on a cold but sunny spring evening.
At this point I’m loving the nuances of the turns they are taking with the musical direction. As before, it fits to a theme; “Radical” is very banjo, very uke, very guitar, yet stripped down once again to Kate’s voice leading out the mood. It’s a happy feeling song, the guitar part picked out carefully, artfully, and beautifully. I must say I loved hearing Alex’s vocal (finally) leading a verse in this song. His voice suits their sound, and from this single verse, I can see why he’s such a good foil to Kate as the lead.
“Coming Down” is an interesting choice top place after “Radical”, I find it musically sounding very similar, (although I’m sure Dear Creek themselves would string me up for saying so). It’s not a bad thing; it’s just a nice lead on, subtly different (to me), and keeps the rhythm moving. There’s a decent vocal push from Kate half way through the track:
“I’ve got a little bit of something, and it’s growing deep inside of me, I’ll take that little bit of something, lift me up, get you down on your knees”
There’s also a surprise acoustic “floating” little bridge which was the high point of this song, followed by a sweet almost chime-like section of guitar picking which I was envious of as a guitar player, and eager to learn. They’ve done their homework, these two, and perfected and polished their playing. So, I realize, it’s a musicians album for their peer group, as well as for the down-home outdoor bluegrass shindig crowd.
Up next is “New Orleans”; it has beat, it has heart, and it’s an unexpected favorite from the album for me. It’s a chance for Alex to lead out with the vocals again, but it’s the call-and-response with Kate which is so appealing:
(Alex) “This old car, running through the night, My only company, the flash of headlights; My body aches, and I haven’t slept in days, But the thought of you, is keeping me awake” (Kate) “One more drink, was as long as I stayed, When you sat by me, and asked for my name; You told me of how you came and how you went, A stranger that night, a night well spent”
The instrumentation is lovely, and the verses continue in the same fashion as the above. From the initial verses, I couldn’t quite quite tell how it was going to go (love lost or love found), which adds to the intrigue. Unbelievably, unexpectedly, at 1:45, their complete change in tempo brings a warm smile, and also cements the positive light in which the song is written; just as “So It Goes” was desperately sad in its way, this song is happy romance, it’s belief in love, living, music, and the warmth of the right person being next to me always: “You’re here with me…down endless highways, a life well spent”. It’s an absolutely winner, simple, emotional, and happy enough to make me smile and cry out loud with joy. This…this is what music is about, in my world.
“Fit for Better Days” is a lovely showcase of Kate’s vocal more than anything, an intriguing melody which wouldn’t be out of place in an Irish pub. The next, “Songbird”, brings a memory of the late great Eva Cassidy with the title. It’s a song not to skip over, in that interesting part of the album, the three-quarters mark, which needs to be strong to keep the momentum to the last.
“Every good songbird needs a ballad to sing, This is mine; And though I’ll be mourning, Though I’ll be mourning the night, Let it be morning, let it be morning my love”
The lyric is clever, thoughtful, and makes “Songbird” a captivating listen throughout.
The album is wrapped with two folky numbers, which would both very much at home in a live set with a full band. “Starvin’ Heart” is the kind of music I’ve grown used to in the Shenandoah Valley; yes, it’s unique to Dear Creek, but it’s got that “Valley sound” about it. I could equally hear Christal and Pete from Chatham Street singing this one at a winery in the North-Western part of Virginia. The highlight for me, funnily enough, was the quirky last 44 seconds, with beautifully picked strings – I can’t quite make out the instrument, it’s not quite a viola, and not quite a cello – but it’s lovely nevertheless. “Undone” is a strong finisher, with a couple of nice changes of pace again (now firmly a Dear Creek trademark for me), and story-wise, it’s an appropriate ending:
“He’s gonna love me, Until I come undone… I’m done, I’m done”
Sporting a beautiful guitar solo that wouldn’t be out of place on a rock number, it’s short at 3:11, and ties off “So It Goes” in a neat little bow made of Kentucky blue grass.
I’ve heard some well-respected musicians (notably Ricky Furr of Shenandoah University and Grace Pettis) say that Dear Creek are a great quality band. After hearing this, their latest work, I can only agree. They’ve stayed true to their valley style, they’ve written strong songs, with unique identifiers which establish something that’s theirs. Above all, Kate and Alex have super voices which they use to excellent effect, are well mixed, and are put to good use next to the capable instrumentation. In “So It Goes”, you have dynamics, feeling, and some very catchy songs indeed. The Shenandoah Valley should be proud.
The album will be released on Friday, May 2nd. Their release show will be at the Bright Box in Winchester. It will be for sale on their website and digitally on iTunes and Amazon, or on their Bandcamp page.
You can find out more about Dear Creek at their website here, or here at their Fish Pond profile;
Josh Doyle here, back from a long silence on the touring & releasing records front. I’ve been busy writing & recording demos for my next incarnation, which will be revealed in due course…
In the meantime, scroll down to see the upcoming tour dates i’ve thrown together for the good people of the UK! It will be just me and my guitar playing very small clubs packed only with people that know and dig my music. I can’t wait!
Tickets are selling quicker than I anticipated. The venues are small and there is limited availability so if you want to see me play, you need to get a ticket pretty much ASAP yikes :/. Get tickets here
On this UK tour I asked my social media fanbase where they wanted me to tour and I’m playing the places that had the highest demand. I’m not ready to announce a full US tour just yet, but I would like to find out where there are clusters of fans.
I would greatly appreciate it if US fans could use the “questions” feature on my reverbnation.com/joshdoyle page to request their city. If you have more solid leads for actual feasible gig scenarios, please email me back at email@example.com.
Christian Lopez is currently based in Martinsburg, Virginia. If you’re around the area, catch him now while you can. Flirting with national success in 2012, I first heard Christian live in Winchester, Virginia, with three piece band Joe Taxi. At the time, I would have said he was at the very top of his game in the performance. Best compared to Johnny Cash in his very early days, he was absolutely 100% absorbed in enjoyment of the music, in a way that projected it to everyone watching, super guitar work, pitch perfect and smooth vocals and catchy songs, making for a super live show to remember. However, hearing his recorded work recently, I have to say I just as much enjoy sitting down listening to his work, as today, on this Friday evening traveling from Montreal to Washington. It’s my pleasure to review his four singles, “This Romance”, “Let it Go”, “Will I See You Again”, and “I Will Remain”.
These four numbers, different in pace, each one, are very cleverly put together. They are the best – so far – of Christian Lopez and his band. In this little journey, you will hear early country, banjo verging on bluegrass, superb drumming, and a sound which even is akin to rock. He brings that very depth and essence of the country into a sound which utterly translates to the billboard. I can honestly say I’ve never heard anything like it; and I love that. It’s originality, natural talent, a look that lends itself to TV, a really good supporting band of musicians, total commitment, self-belief, and very hard work. Rarely will you find all of these seven things in one package. In my opinion, in Christian, you’ll find them all.
Starting the four tracks with “This Romance”, there’s a lovely understated start to the song, it has soft traces of the beat that is to come, a lonely guitar and Christian’s vocal:
“Well I watched you dance around, The space that I cleared out for you tonight, for you tonight; You gave me one good sign, And I gave you one of mine, just one more song, And I’ll be right down”
The banjo and percussion is in, and it’s already foot tapping stuff, a lovely repeated melody which you can fall into by the time the chorus comes around. If you’ve reached the chorus, you’ll be hearing what has made the Christian Lopez Band such a hit in their live performances; stomp music, celebratory, energetic, with so much craft put into the vocal and instrumentals. Listen out for the effortless violin solo, in two crucial places in the song, and you’ll see what I mean. The dual tight-as-a-drum male and female harmony is sweet and effortless. At 3:13, it’s short, but perfectly so. It’s an exciting formula, and it leaves you wanting more; a party starter, with no doubt.
“Just rising to the night with this romance”
Second up is “Let Go”, and to me, this is the stylized pop song of the bunch. He doesn’t lose any of the mood or his style, but it’s the song in which I can probably hear as the most mainstream radio play. Funny, as it’s not my favorite, but the lyric is so nicely designed, and the guitar is much more rock/pop. There’s a little Dylan-esque harmonica in there (which Christian also plays capably). The sound is broad, warm, wordy, and reminds me a little of Jason Mraz:
“Well where I come from all the people are nice, And they all give you the same advice; They say “go, but don’t worry, Let your mind take you on a journey”; But remember why we came all this way. After everything is done, There’s only one thing to say, Say I did what I did in honesty, And you can’t take that away from me”
It’s a positive message, and I expect to hear more from this particular track on the label version.
Next up is my favorite of the four. It embodies, to me, everything that I’ve admired about Christian, after 2 years of listening to his music.
It’s Sun Studios at its very best. Quite honestly, it embodies that early Nashville as best I’ve ever heard, but brings it to a whole new audience; starting as a two-step, there’s so much energy in this song. The early bars are all anticipation, until the vocal launches in:
“Well with a river to my left, Another mile straight ahead, I will move until I find what I deserve; Don’t know where I’m headed, But the picture is embedded In my mind as I move on through the curve”
Recorded, this is a foot stomping experience; live it’s out of this world. It sounds as, in my view, music should sound; like the musicians are having fun, and bringing a smile to the face of the audience. I love the half-pace bars at 1 minute 52 seconds. It was very unexpected, and allows indulgence of the instrumentals and the vocals. It’s expansive, chordy, and you just know that they are going to fly into that frantic country beat again so soon:
“How long will it be, Until you and I can agree? My body’s bound, For this soft, sacred ground, One day, this earth will call for me”
I’d dare to say this song is one of a kind. It’s such a good mix of everything that’s popular about the likes of Flogging Molly and Mumford and Sons, with a genuine American country feel. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do every time it pops up on my playlist.
“I Will Remain” rounds off these four tracks, and also does not disappoint. It’s a hybrid of sorts; a slow, slow start, with a vocal that’s inviting you to jump into that country beat again (which at 1:16 it inevitably and beautiful does):
“With my back turned away, I watch you go, Along with the letters and diaries; (note his beautiful use of emphasis on this last word) People come and people leave, yes I know, I just you were more than just a memory”
The instrumentals are deliberate and beautiful, but I think it’s fair to say that Christian’s exceptional vocal carries the hope and heartache of this song. As with some of the best albums I’ve heard, it’s a bittersweet finish, reminiscent of Jimmy Marino and Auguster. A song of love and loss and hope, but with so much energy, that either way the night will end with a “let’s live for now” party. The song uses an interesting technique of a build throughout which makes the mid-bars somewhat heavy, but in the end it’s just a nice trick to allow a symphony of back beats, high notes, and very decent down-home music which comes to an all-too-abrupt end.
I’ll dare to say that the Christian Lopez Band is a certain winner; with talent, song writing skill, and energy as Christian has displayed and aired for years now, he, and they, can’t fail. The EP is in recording now, so look out for a label version of these tracks very soon (and for goodness sake buy it, to keep it coming). The nice thing is that he has the national recognition he deserves, and whenever I have aired his music to an international audience, they immediately and without exception fall in love with it; however in the end he is just the humble, thankful young guy from Martinsburg, West Virginia, who is staying absolutely true to his musical roots.
You can find out more about Christian Lopez and the Christian Lopez Band at his website here, or here at his Fish Pond profile;
You can listen to all four tracks at Christian’s Soundcloud page here.
The lads from power-rock and metal band Mystery are a phenomenon. Forming in 2010, when lead singer and lead guitarist Rocky Ravic met drummer Tony Mlikota at the ages of 13 and 12 respectively, while jamming they soon got together with school friend and rhythm guitarist Kris Iaccino, also 12 at the time. The lineup was completed when 12-year-old bass player Josh Scarpaci joined them at the end of 2010, and they debuted at CroktoberFest in Melbourne. Fast forward four years, and they have a story which is a credit to their hard work, commitment to their genre, and well-honed talent. They are simply very, very good at what they do; they believe in it, and in themselves, and have the backing of some big names in the business to prove it.
When these guys joined our ever-growing global family in February 2014, I was blown away by the first couple of tracks which Rocky sent me for their profile. Without any previous information on the band and their roots, my head was right back in the era of early Poison, Warrant, Faster Pussycat, and harder material like AC/DC and Dio. It’s unfair to present them in lockstep with the sounds of all of these other bands, because they have their own sound, but I wanted to give some idea of the caliber of the rock and metal which they are turning out, and I’ll continue to compare throughout this review. It’s a genre which has been all-too-often glossed over in the last 15 years as rock music tended toward more extreme versions (industrial, death metal, and pop-punk), great in themselves, but losing some of the character of true “hair metal”. In the album “2013”, these four, still yet to turn 18, have produced a solid arena-rock classic, which establishes their strong position as the torch bearers for the genre for a generation to come.
Starting the album with minute long instrumental which is all harmony lead guitar, they set the scene for what you’re about to hear. If you had any uncertainty from the album cover of what was coming – shame on you 🙂 – now you can be in no doubt; it’s a rock and metal fest the likes of which you won’t have heard in some time. “2013: A New Dawn” is a lovely short lead into their anthemic album starter, “Raise Your Fist”.
Introing with a cowbell reminiscent of “Appetite for Destruction” in 1987, the immediate pick up of the guitar is such a driver of their sound; some great open chords, and a punchy driving metal distortion which is a perfect backdrop for Rocky’s gravelly vocal. It’s riffy, reminiscent both of AC/DC in the chordiness – Malcolm Young would have been proud – but also Poison and Van Halen, in their ability to craft a guitar line which is memorable and melodic. The chorus is a chant, grouped voices, they shout it like they mean it, for sure.
“Raise your fist, we’re not gonna take it; No one can stop us from what we’re born to do”
The guitar solo is short but full of technique, which is recognized in support of Rocky’s licks by the likes of Henrik Bergqvist of superb Swedish metal band, The Poodles; it’s a precursor of what’s to come on the rest of this album.
Motoring through “Freedom”, as songs go it’s a nice come-down from “Raise Your Fist” and switches the mood; the feature of this one is once again the guitar solo; studied, well-written, clear, academic, and totally rocking. It’s good to see the return of some real quality lead guitar work supporting this set of songs. Next up, “Nonstop to Nowhere” begins it’s journey as a ballad, a little reminiscent of Tigertailz in their heyday. It doesn’t take long to drag the song into a heavier state, in doinn so it’s interesting to hear how much they’ve speeded up the chorus tempo. Doubling the pace at the end of the song allows them to rock out with dual guitar harmony, and even to fade the song out on a solo. Their study of great metal technique is never ending, truly.
Next up, “Test of Time” is the track which I cranked up to eleven when I first heard it, windows down in the car (despite it being midwinter, it was a vaguely sunny day); it’s a highway song, it’s strong, well written again to Rocky’s vocal, plenty of scraping the pick down the guitar strings and pinched harmonics a-plenty.
In reviewing metal bands, it’s easy to focus on the vocalist and the guitars; it’s an axe driven sound, so it’s quite normal to revel in the spiraling solos and riffs and soaring voices; however Tony Mlikota, the drummer, deserves a call out on this track. When you put a really quality drummer together with a big investment in a kit which allows them to really push their limits, you get this type of sound. Powerful, driving, very noticeable, and testament to the fact that every member of this four piece puts in their absolute all. After you’ve heard this, have a listen back to the rest of the album, and watch out for the drums; they keep the pace, true, but they’re class, and there is a some very clever musicianship in them.
“Rock n’ Roll Forever Be” follows “On Fire”, and it’s everything that this band is about. Starting the song with pure AC/DC-like strong riffing, it’s almost a spit at “Spinal Tap”, both the band and the timeless movie; it’s everything that Rob Reiner intended to poke fun at all those years ago, and yet is an epic listen, and popular with absolutely masses of people. More of this, please.
We’re getting late in the album now, and the risk would be that these songs would be getting “samey”. However I’m not finding it with “2013”. “Lost in Time” is once again different; this one has a driving beat to it, metal guitar, it’s delivered with force, and I’m hearing Rocky’s unique vocal style coming out more, as they set out their stall. Noteworthy in this song are the three or four places where you hear a neo-classical guitar sound supporting the song, as well as the enormous kick into a double-bass drumming frenzy at 3 minutes and 27 seconds. It’s enough to send an arena crowd in Tokyo over the edge, that’s for sure.
“Stand Up and Shout” is a super throwback; now I’m definitely hearing Faster Pussycat, or perhaps “London” (if anyone remembers them from the old LA days of sleazy glam metal). The speed of the rhythm guitar and the accompanying solo doesn’t disappoint. Rocky’s screaming throughout the song is a nice new touch, and puts him into the Bruce Dickinson league of vocalists. Solid.
They finish the album paying homage to their homeland, it’s an excellent cover of “Land Down Under” by Men at Work. Quite honestly, I’ve heard some innovative covers, but I’d NEVER have thought that this 80’s classic would get a makeover from a metal band. But somehow it’s so appropriate for this strong and ever-growing young four piece. I can surely see Men at Work smiling at this one, and I can only hope they’ve heard it. Mystery even manage to end the entire album with the word “Oy!” from the original, a beautiful and appropriate touch.
All in all, this is a solid piece of writing, performance, and a tribute to rock and metal, that I’ve been listening to it over and over. This has been a different work to review; I’m not particularly looking for meaning in the lyrics, and they didn’t grab me over the course of the album. Then again, they didn’t have to. The music is quality, and they are proving it with some extremely hard work, including what you would call a mini-world tour for both of the last two years. These guys are dedicated to their craft, and crowds in Australia, Japan, Eastern Europe, and the US are loving it, and I’m not surprised. With the endorsement that they are getting from some big names in the business, watch out for their growth across the rock and metal festivals of the globe. As they say themselves on their website, and I can’t help but agree: “the future of rock and heavy metal is in good hands”.
I first ran into Paige and her music when she was a freshman at Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. When her peers were asked about the new joiner to the Fish Pond family, they would simply say “Paige is Paige”. I soon found out what they meant. In a league of her own, sometimes seemingly in a world of her own, her voice was always airy, delightful, and I remember early numbers “By the Moon”, “Fire”, and her cover of “I Can’t Help, Falling in Love With You” impressing on me how well her guitar technique and voice fit together. Starting out 2014 with what she describes, appropriately on Valentine’s Day, as “my anti-love song”, she’s back and she’s in amazing form. Paige Chaplin brings you “Company”.
Releasing the wonderful effort “He Has Gone, Said Her Heart” in August 2012, Paige has been on hiatus since that time; and quite honestly, it was a shame not to see any releases in 2013 with all of the promise of her early work. Now settled, producing that same exquisite uniqueness in her vocal, the same guitar sound, but with a maturity of writing which takes her to the next level of the Chaplin sound, “Company” is a worthy release, and it’s a strong start to 2014 and the hopeful anticipation of an album to come. Listen here with me.
I imagine this song seeping quietly into an empty white room, soft instrumentation cautious, introducing a little of the minor mood which will swirl around us through this five minutes and 22 seconds of reflection. This intro is comfortable, like an old sweater. It’s very reminiscent of Paige two years ago; until the vocal comes in, that is. Paige, whispy as usual, but with an edge which keeps me thinking of the middle east. Ironically for this Valentine’s Day release, she sets a lonely tone from the get go:
“Don’t you dare say you’ll stay Cause I’ve no room in this bed for two And I never needed anybody’s company I never needed anyone but me”
Paige is back, with a vengeful vengeance.
The build continues at 1 minute and 43 seconds, with a boost from the strings, percussion, and piano to push the song to the next level. This is what is new and refreshing about this latest release; if previously Paige relied justifiably on her guitar and vocal only, she’s taken the best of it and pushed it much further with these Phrygian moods (a common sound in Arabic and Egyptian music) and a much broader backing. Her voice is pure, true to itself, and dare I say flawless. There is no use of harmony, she uses no vocal effect that I can hear, and it’s a delight. The chorus is such a lovely major key stepped resolution to the slightly urgent sounding verse:
“I never need anybody’s company I never needed anyone but me I never needed you to tell me I’m enough And I never needed the weight of a man”
She has room to bring the dynamics down to that guitar again, to introduce a third distinct portion of the song, and it allows a slow build into the main instrumental again. The melody is so hopeful and holds me captive, listening more for the clear-as-crystal lyric now. Here’s what the songs says to me; it’s a song of empowerment, strength, reflection, moving on, a bold screw-you tattoo on the forearm; yet ironically it somehow still feels sad, there’s a whole lot of meaning, and the right words are all there, but not necessarily all of the conviction. It feels like love has been lost and there’s an element of a hurt girl being strong in the best way she can. It’s a song to sing to the mirror to convince yourself that you feel like you are still whole, still breathing, alright.
“When I’m gone in the morning as you’re waking up When your body’s not next to mine like you thought I traced the word goodbye onto your arm Before I left and sank into the dawn”
The way the song fades is just as beautiful, as our empty white room falls dark. It’s as lovely a work of art as I’ve heard from Paige, and gives full attention to all of the things I have loved about her work in the past, with something new to reflect on. As the waif-like voice closes the door, she stands, proud, independent, alone, and leaves us in little doubt:
“I never needed you”.
A great effort, and long awaited. I’ve so enjoyed listening to this multiple times, as I have enjoyed her YouTube work over the last year to keep me going, like this rendition of “Ready“. Paige is Paige, as will be her lasting tribute from friends and fans, a unique talent, destined to release quality material as and when she produces it, rather than on our clock. I so look forward to the album, for the doubtless many new ideas and joys it will bring.
Queen Caveat were building something special even before ABC’s “20/20: Sunset Boulevard” featured them deservedly in a 2-hour documentary piece in April 2012. Debuting with EP “Emptor” in 2010, relying on a mix of music-scene-newcomer rage and decent indie rock ballads, they followed up with 2012 effort “Slap on the Wrist”. With this, their second release, they were already establishing a solid formula of dynamic caffeine-infused gritty ground-glass rock with mellow thoughtful songs which made the most of Lauren’s siren-scary-yet-vulnerable vocal. Their most recent single, “Mr California”, marked their debut and welcome to our Fish Pond family in 2013, and has remained a weekend early morning rock favorite for me to start my day. Here we review their latest release, as they light up 2014 with “Manufactured Happiness”.
Queen Caveat comprises the hyper, lunatic ball of energy that is Oklahoma’s own Lauren Little, “the voice”, carefully stitched together with some amazing musical talent provided by the Grohl-inspired rocking Ben Epand (guitar), studious and thoughtful music maestro Will Weissman (bass), and easy-going hold-it-together party-guy Jesse Magnuson (drums). The insight of watching their growing pains on Sunset Boulevard was an eye-opener for me; these guys have worked, and worked bloody hard to get where they are. They have loved and lived Queen Caveat, and having followed all of their material so far, it feels like this is the coming out EP for these guys. True to their roots and as dynamic as any work they’ve produced to date, this one is something special; it has high musical quality infused with just enough commercial production to not sell out, but to please the ears of so many. I hope you enjoy it as I surely have.
Starting the album with an anthemic crowd-rousing “Marion”, it feels like a good choice to get things moving. Some albums take their time to grab you; with this one, from the very first few bars, it feels like the whole band has caught me by the throat and given me a good shake. This track particularly reminded me of the first time I heard Papa Roach’s “Last Resort”. It’s punchy, driving, punctuated by Lauren’s spitting, snarling vocal, and the scene is set. I’d say there was a build; well, there kind of is, but ironically it’s the fastest descent into organized beautiful wah-chaos I’ve ever heard, like being caught in the middle of an unstoppable and ever-escalating glass-fight in a dirty old Edinburgh pub. A powerful and violent 2 minutes and 30 seconds in total, the whole band brings the noise capably, driving the song to a deliciously dirty and distorted demise.
The first single from this EP is “Breathe”. One of many great features of this band is that they know how to showcase the diversity of all of the musicians in songs which are similar enough to come together as a cohesive EP, but different enough to make it really interesting to the listener.
Kicking off with Ben’s clean guitar sound, Lauren’s vocal shows her softer side, particularly some of those lovely catches in her voice, vulnerable, and so very real; even “softer”, she sounds like she’s been screaming 24/7 for the last 10 years. It works.
Fundamentally, I love the commercial back-beat style of this number.
“Far from the target, you miss it every time, It’s growing like a lie, and I’m over being under-satisfied; You know I will not listen, but will you listen to me? I know it is divided, because I still haven’t decided what you mean to me”
Bringing in an uncharacteristically soft drum and bass sound with some synth backing, the build to the chorus, and the chorus itself, is beautiful harmony to listen to. I’m struck by the beat, but in a totally different way to “Marion”. With a breath-catching tag line (“am I allowed to breathe?”), it’s a welcome pause for thought already in the EP, less angry and delivering everything which Queen Caveat is commercially capable of. It’s well mixed and very worthy of its status as the first single of their 2014 campaign. With lyrics which are thoughtful and convincingly performed, it strikes me that they haven’t succumbed to convention; there is no solo, no instrumental. It’s just a well-written and solid number; verse, pre-chorus, chorus, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, chorus, bridge, chorus, outro. It’s neatly packaged, it still rocks, but in a milder way, and it does the job.
I’m so glad that they’ve included the seminal “Mr. California”, remixed, in its full glory, as the third song on the EP. I’ve made no secret that I love this track, especially combined with the video, which shows the intensity of the QC experience; Lauren, lizard-like and half-naked, all over the delivery, the band cohesively banging out the performance of a lifetime. You can read everything I had to say about this song in this separate 2013 review here.
A surprise favorite for me is track number 4. “Spine” pumps the brakes a little, or at least takes the pedal off the metal, it’s upbeat, with everything that makes me smile about a well-written rock song:
This might sound weird; but “Spine” gives me little hints of the joy I experienced every time I listened to “That Thing You Do”. It’s the hand-clap, that bounce beat, which, regardless of intent, gives the song a surfer feel, and makes me smile broadly. It’s a longer track at over 4 minutes, and it deserves the play-time just because it’s that sunny and enjoyable to listen to.
Lauren’s voice showcases through the first two verses, pretty and frivolous. It disguises a dark lyrical relationship reflection, despite the nice little synth effects throughout the production; there are some noteworthy beautiful bass runs from Will, giving the song a backbone. The driving chorus gets the point across, picking up the pace, giving me a feeling like I’m confidently chasing the big wave in Point Break;
“You turn your back like you don’t see, Can’t be that easy to reject me, why? You never see me cry; Now I’m here picking up the pieces, Pieces of my pride, Make it right, You never see me cry”
Again relying on lyrical content, clever writing, and well put together instrumentals (rather than padding with solos), to me this one is the winner of the EP. I seriously hope to see it as the second single on the album, because in my opinion this could do really well in commercial radio play and sales. Love it.
All three of Queen Caveat’s EP efforts so far have included one or two ballads, they do it capably, and by this point I’m glad they bring down the pace a little so that I can better enjoy the dynamic changes in the whole work of art. “Brave Boy” fulfills that role. It’s a very simple number, clear as a bell, honest as hell:
“Brave boy, I give you all the things I saved, boy, I am not afraid; Even after you protect me, From the world that couldn’t get me, Hey boy, I am not afraid”
The back third of the song rocks out, and it’s appropriate, actually one of the first instrumental breaks I’ve heard in the EP so far, before bringing the piece down to its quiet bare bones. The final line seems all the more meaningful when I reflect on Lauren’s epic energetic and mad performance art:
“I’m not afraid, of being called crazy anymore”
The EP is rounded out with “Everyone We Know”. In keeping with it’s companions, it’s a solid end, not a stand out, just powerful and well worth a listen. It has beat, it has drive, and it’s got all of the ingredients for a hardcore “chill out” at the end of the night. That’s not to understate the writing, I love the guitar especially; the riffing tripled across Ben’s lead, Will’s bass, and Jesse’s sticks, means that they can bring the whole EP together in a climaxed high. In many ways, after the really superb and frantic delivery of “Breathe”, “Mr. California”, and “Spine”, “Everyone We Know” is much needed, to bring the racing heart down to normal pace a little, and to reflect on everything that I’ve just heard in this 20 sweet minutes of madness.
I’ve listened to Queen Caveat’s material for over a year now, all of their previous work, and I really do think that “Manufactured Happiness” is a phenomenon to watch. It’s different to “Emptor” and “Slap on the Wrist”, both previous EPs filled with strong work, but not as cohesive as this effort. As I told Ben after the first memorable listen to this EP, I’m not blowing smoke. There’s something seriously crazy good about the way these songs work together and the mood that they create. It’s their break out EP, of that I’m sure, and I look forward to watching it fulfill all of its potential.
And hey guys, what about manufacturing some happiness over here on the East Coast? We’d love to see you before 2014 is out.