I really hate discovering albums long after they've been released, but in any rate, I can't hold back my love for Brett Dennen's spellbinding disc Smoke and Mirrors. Produced by the masterful Charlie Peacock (seriously, has he yet to touch anything that wasn't amazing?) the disc is sterling from front to back. Album opener "Sweet Persuasion" is a gorgeous paean to Laurel Canyon and perfectly encapsulates the vibe of the record. The most accessible of the 10 are the open-hearted "Wild Child," the nostalgia-laden "When We Were Young" and the crazily addictive "Get Out Of My Head." All three are stocked with infectious choruses, indelible melodies and some of the most engaging work Dennen has written to date.
The softer and more introspective fare, which dominates the album, is highlighted by the gorgeous title track, the wisdom-tinged "Don't Mess With Karma" and the self-affirming closer "Who Am I." Dennen has been one to watch since 2008 when John Mayer brought him out on his arena tour, and more recently after his top-notch 2011 record Loverboy. But Smoke and Mirrors is something else altogether. A wholly cohesive, expertly arranged tour-de-force that is as strong as anything in the singer-songwriter canon. Hindsight is always 20/20, but hot damn I didn't find this record last year, probably would have inserted itself into the AOTY Top 30.
Sixteen years removed from his first (and only) gold record, Edwin McCain brought his band to Orlando’s Hard Rock Hotel as part of its Velvet Sessions concert series. Proving that the sixteen years has indeed been a blessing, he performed a sturdy, confident and fully engaged set of a dozen soul-drenched charmers. The evening opened with “Mercy Bound,” an organ-kissed acoustic-driven yarn that ponders mortality.
From there he dove into the playful singalong “Gramercy Park Hotel” before performing one of his older tracks “Solitude” by request from an overeager fan. Using the humor that has always been his calling card, he addressed the crowd by saying, “Sure I’ll do Solitude. There’s nothing like a song about teenage drug abuse to keep our spirits high.” All hilarity aside the song was executed deftly and like much of the set had few if any swells. McCain’s music rests on his whiskey-soaked croon, a guttural powerhouse that can often do the sonic and emotional heavy lifting all by itself. On the note-perfect “Love TKO” he used his ageless timbre to perfection as he navigated an old-school soul ballad with aplomb. Two songs later, he belted out an arresting, power-packed nine minute version of the heartbreak ballad “Sign On the Door.”
McCain’s career has been paved via two wedding songs, the Diane Warren-penned “Could Not Ask For More” and the 90s radio smash “I’ll Be.” Both were delivered crisply, evenly and without flaw but it was the night’s more unexpected moments that proved to be the evening’s apex moments. McCain dove deep into his back catalog to sing the tender “Take Me” before trying his hand at Bruno Mars’ ubiquitous hit “Locked Out Of Heaven.” If the latter song proved anything it’s the dexterity of McCain’s backing band. Lead guitarist Larry Chaney, organist/saxophonist Craig Shields, bassist Jason Pomar and drummer Tez Sherard, never batted an eyelash as they carved through Mars’ mega single.
That same sense of dexterity was elucidated during the encore as McCain and Co. aced Teddy Pendergrass’ “Can’t Hide Love.” Though the set was brief, the Southern singer made the most of the opportunity. For all 80 minutes, he was engaging, candid and deeply committed to his craft. In an era where so many former radio heroes have a propensity to mail it in, McCain’s set was a refreshing reminder that there are still a select few vagabonds who still want to sing their songs and sing them well. More than two decades into a career he never thought possible, McCain shows very little signs of rust and disinterest. And for that, we should all be grateful.
For reasons I can't really explain, I've fallen for the song "Forget Your Life" from Brooklyn's Dogwater. There's an easiness about it that makes it easy to like and even easier to listen to on repeat. Whether its the languid vocals of Jack Collins or the amiable guitar lines, "Forget Your Life" has a Sunday afternoon simplicity that piques my interest about the rest of the Dogwater discography. While the song's lyrics and message are decidedly dark, the sonic landscape is anything but. Though Collins is busy as bassist for NYC psych-rock outfit Spires, there's enough reason to think that with more songs like "Forget Your Life," Collins may have a future beyond just Spires.
It's Saturday night and I work for a historically punk-driven blog. Thus I need a Saturday night punk-driven song.
So I'm swimming across the pond to embrace The Bohemian Embassy and their spiky new single "Rats in Paradise," a violin-driven slice of Brit-punk with tons of spunk, sweat and kinesis. If ever there was a Saturday night song, this is most certainly it.
I have no idea who Empires is. But holy crap, I love them.
Being a staffer here, I've seen their name here and there but I have very limited knowledge of their output. But all that has changed now that lead single “How Good Does it Feel,” has entered the world. An urgent, antic and absolutely explosive new song, this may be one of the best tracks I've heard so far this year. The band’s debut album Orphan was produced by John Congleton (St. Vincent, The Black Angels, Explosions in the Sky) and appears on the Island Records imprint Chop Shop. Empires is on tour through May with Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos and stops in SXSW.
These days musicians are measured as much by their videos as their body of work. With the ascent of YouTube, artists are recreating themselves via music videos and choice covers. But can that rise to success parlay into a successful live set? That was the question posed by this writer before taking in the 90-minute set by Canada’s Walk Off This Earth. Four years ago, the band was mired in Canadian anonymity, unknown to a select few in the United States.
All that changed in early 2012 when the band released a dazzling and novel cover of Gotye’s “Somebody I Used To Know,” a video which at the time of this writing has racked up more than 156 million views. Now three years removed from that cover, the band has toured North American in support of their Gang of Rhythm tour and in doing so have proved their worth. Make no mistake
about it, Walk Off The Earth is no one-trick pony. Whether it was the hyper-caffeinated energy of set opener “Speeches,” the dizzying kinetics of the uber-catchy “Revolution’s in My Head,” or the bubblegum bounce of B.O.B’s “Magic,” the quintet’s first three songs were entrancing, memorable and deeply magnetic.
Proving that their ingenue extends beyond just the studio and YouTube covers, the gorgeous “Natalie” was a sterling example of just how well the band marries ingenuity with deft musicianship. Opening with the sounds of an electric toothbrush (yes, that’s not a type) and an ukelele, the forlorn ballad had a tender immediacy that proved the band was just as skilled at downtempo numbers as they were with the more urgent material. Easily one of the best songs of the night was the radio-ready “Red Hands,” an earnest, accessible and indelible offering that shockingly has yet to chart in America.
After allowing a fan to come on stage to propose to his wife, the band dove into the melodica-driven valentine “No Ulterior Motives,” a languorous and hazy yarn that felt decidedly Caribbean. Like a hybrid of Jack Johnson and/or Jimmy Buffett, there was a sweetness to every passing second. Unfortunately the set stumbled the rest of the way. With the exception of the surging “Shake” and the soaring “Gang of Rhythm,” the latter half of the set was littered with covers. While choice takes of somebody else’s songs has long been a live set staple, the idea of nearly one-third of their set being covers felt a little strange.
Like the title of the tour implies, Walk Off The Earth are indeed a rhythm driven outfit, a band who easily parlays hip-hop, indie-folk and reggae into an intoxicating stew that in concert leaps off the stage. Exuding confidence, charisma and a bevy of eclectic weirdness, Walk Off The Earth truly have a style and swerve all their own.
Opening the set were Virginia pop tarts Parachute whose breezy and harmless set felt like a hybrid of Maroon 5 and Bruno Mars. With the exception of a sterling cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” very little of the band’s set felt believable. Make no mistake about it, frontman Will Anderson is a veteran performer with likable charm and a velvety voice, but never once did the set feel like a band effort. From start to finish, the entire set felt like the Will Anderson solo show. Maybe that’s the band’s MO or maybe Anderson was just feeling his oats, but never once did the set feel like a collective, cohesive event.
On the contrary, New York’s Camera2 performed a first-rate set of celestial Brit-rock that was absolutely astounding. Whether it was the swirling and stormy “This is Not a Sad Song” or the enveloping and multi-layered “Just About Made It,” the band had a sense of clarity and precision that was both eye-opening and awe-inspiring. Whereas Parachute seemed more focused on being crowd-pleasers and chart-toppers, Camera2’s nuanced sound was truly something to behold.
In a music industry over saturated with posers, provocateurs and pretenders, the 5th annual Heavy and Light music event is a treasure to behold. Seen last Sunday at Orlando’s House of Blues the evening included musical performances by San Diego’s Tristan Prettyman, Arizona’s The Summer Set, Seattle’s Mary Lambert and headliner Jon Foreman of Switchfoot. Spoken-word poet Anis Mojgani, motivational speaker Kevin Breel, To Write Love on Her Arms’ founder Jamie Tworkowski and two representatives from Orlando’s own Solace Counseling.
After a brief reading from Mojgani, Lambert took the stage and absolutely dominated. Aided by powerhouse vocals, her tender persona and a sense of energy akin to that of a lovestruck schoolgirl, her set was an absolute delight. Opening the set with the achingly beautiful “Sarasavati,” she made the most of her limited time, rattling off the empowering “I Know Girls (Body Love),” the chilly spoken word piece “The Girl With Purple Hair,” about a rape victim; a chill-inducing version of Wheatus’ “Teenage Dirtbag” and then her ubiquitous hit “She Keeps Me Warm.” If anything was certain during Lambert’s 30-minute set it is that the Seattle singer is more than ready for her share of the national spotlight and is well on her way to becoming a household name.
After an animated talk from Breel and Tworkowski, Prettyman followed and was pleasant albeit a bit derivative. Highlights from her set included the uplifting “Never Say Never,” the introspective “Don’t Work Yourself Up,” and the jocular “The Rebound.” However, Prettyman’s set paled in comparison to Lambert’s, a theme that was repeated in The Summer Set’s vapid and rather serviceable 35-minute set. Of the six songs played, the highlights were the infectious "Maybe Tonight" and the yearning and open-hearted "Legendary." Those two songs aside, there was little else about the band's set that was worthy of accolades and attention.
On the contrary, headliner Foreman was more than up to the ask and aside from Lambert was the event’s clear head-turner. Supported by drummer Aaron Redfield (Fiction Family), cellist Keith Tutt and pianist Arthur Brown III, Foreman’s set was polished, flawless and an absolute masterwork. Opening the set with the introspective “The Cure for Pain,” Foreman pressed on with “Resurrect Me,” an a cappella version of “Dare You To Move,” and the rustic charm of Fiction Family’s “Just Rob Me.” The highlight of the set however was a spartan and absolutely breathtaking rendition of “Only Hope,” (see below) and an inspired version of the band’s latest single “The World You Want.”
Bryan Dales from The Summer Set came out to lend vocals on “This is Home,” before the tandem attempted a sterling cover of Lorde’s ubiquitous hit “Royals.” Never one to compromise his deep Christian faith, Foreman closed the set with the deeply religious “Your Love is Strong,” before bringing on Mojgani, Lambert, The Summer Set and Prettyman for a stirring rendition of “Lean On Me.” The classic cover was a fitting end to a night geared towards solace, healing and support. If the night had a silver lining however it was having Foreman on stage. Having been involved in a surfing accident a few days prior to the concert, it was truly extraordinary to see Foreman on stage, let alone hear him sing each song without any hint of weakness. Participating in an evening that is geared towards boldness and perseverance, Foreman’s appearance was veritable proof of just how important it is to stay the course. Moreover, his appearance reaffirmed how critically important Heavy and Light has become.
In a world cluttered with violence, pain and malevolence, Heavy and Light was a welcome tonic and an event that reinforces the power of the human spirit. One can only hope the event continues in the months and years to come. Let’s face it, it is sorely needed.
Hands down one of my favorite Florida singer-songwriters is Tampa youngster Connor Zwetsch. The 21-year-old female is a must-see live act with a soulful croon that belies her years. A gifted poet with a keen eye (and ear) for detail her debut single “For Michelle,” off the EP of the same name, is an intimate, warm and wholly convincing work of post-romance soul searching. Buttressed by a an amiable banjo, her top-flight vocals and unfailing honesty, the song represents both boldness and candor from a singer who seems destined to make her mark in the months and years to come.
Not since Jill Sobule and Sophie B. Hawkins has a woman so openly sang about another woman. That kind of chutzpah is why Zwetsch is so darn refreshing. Despite her diminutive frame, there’s a whole lot of sass, spunk and soul in every utterance. Zwetsch, who made it to the Hollywood round (see below) on this year’s American Idol season, is still in the infancy of her career, but one has to think with a sound this inviting and amiable, there’s a good chance she’ll get noticed in the very near future.
Yesterday, Alex Dezen of The Damnwells released “HELLp,” the first single off his forthcoming effort 1/4, the first in a series of four Bedhead EPs due over the next few months. The song itself is a sturdy, confident prayer for salvation that’s as strong as anything Dezen has ever released. What makes the song so powerful is not just the soaring chorus but that the chorus draws most of its strength from Dezen’s voice and that alone.
Guitars are heard but are faint, the power is in the vocal and only that. Dezen is no stranger to critical acclaim and very rarely releases a bad song, so the fact that “HELLp” is so indelible is no shock. Uber-prolific and never content to sit idle, Dezen’s back catalog is volumes long, so sorting out the super strong ones from the filler can sometimes be a chore. Make no mistake about “HELLp” though. It is absolutely tremendous and makes one anxious for the release of 2/4. Hear it for yourself below.
Now that the new year is upon us, it’s time to focus our energies on bands we think will make a splash in 2014. Having just seen them this past weekend, there’s no doubt that Bowling Green, KY’s Sleeper Agent are surging towards a juggernaut 2014. Fronted by 21-year-old Alex Kandel, the band plays a jaunty, hyper-caffeinated slice of garage-pop that feels more Brooklyn than Kentucky. Standout songs from their brief 30-minute set included current single “Waves,” a punchy and urgent affair that seems more than ready to dominate the indie blogosphere; the splashy and shimmering “Astronaut,” and the hip-shaking singalong “Shit You Did.” Unfailingly polite, even-tempered and refreshingly sincere, this sextet appears to be on the precipice of something big in the very near future. Having already shared the stage with the likes of Fun, New Politics, Weezer and Grouplove, their live set is cohesive, polished and with few flaws. Their sophomore album About Last Night is due March 25 and if it’s anything like their debut Celebrasion it’s going to leave plenty of people talking.
Okay, so the title is probably a twinge of hyperbole, but seriously this song has absolutely shattered my world, and I mean that in the best way possible. Sometimes all it takes is one song to draw you closer, make you think harder and keep you wishing and hoping for something better. "Violent City" is that kind of song for me.
To be fair, I have little to no knowledge of this band. The video passed through my inbox, I listened and I felt compelled to share it with my audience, if there is such a thing.
I've sort of been in a funk lately due to work commitments and such, but this song here gives me hope. Klischee hail from Switzerland and play self-described electro-swing. As a casual observer of both genres, I can say I absolutely give this two thumbs up and an emphatic endorsement. There’s something very bubbly, ebullient and bright about every passing second. European stuff always struggles on American shores, but if radio programming was up to me, this song would be flooding airwaves.
Anberlin have now called it quits and thousands of us are sad. Heck, maybe even millions. As a self-professed Christian, I’m looking at the band’s career through that prism and wondering just how significant their success just might be to those of us who call ourselves Christians. While the band did their part to distance themselves from Christian rock and the CCM movement (a smart move, for certain) they were never short of professing their belief in Christ and for always keeping their feet firmly planted on the ground.
There was never any pretense with Anberlin, there was never any braggadocio or outward signs of importance. They just played music, hoped you sang along and treated you like a member of their family each and every night. It’s an important lesson for young bands to learn. Anberlin were beloved because they wrote first-rate, compelling songs that spoke to people. But it should not be overlooked that a large part of their success was because they were sincere, honest, humble and trustworthy people. Shame on Christians all you want, but these five Christians got millions of people to like them and never once proselytized or waved their Christian flag. Despite the fact that one of their biggest singles featured the line “When life is in discord, praise Ye the Lord,” few batted an eyelash and everyone welcomed them with open arms.
Similarly, California’s Switchfoot have followed much the same model and taken it to wider and more mainstream success. Anberlin’s goals to reach those same dizzying heights may have fallen short but their legacy should never be overlooked. They’ve done more for Christian musicians than they will be given credit for/ever thought possible and did more for non-believers than will ever be documented.
Maybe one day we’ll have an AP.net Hall of Fame and they can be one of our first inductees. They deserve that kind of recognition. It’s never easy to bookend or conclude a post like this, but all I can say is, I look forward to what each of the members has up their sleeve going forward. For those that want a quiet life outside of rock ’n roll, I wish them only success, health and happiness.
For those band members want to keep chasing that ever elusive dream, I can assure you, you’ll have throngs of people waiting to pick up the next record, and I for one will be one of them. Thanks for the memories, Anberlin, you were truly a beacon of light in a sometimes all-too dark world.
I don’t know where I read it or when I read it, but I remember Adam Lazzara alluding to wanting to go alt-country/roots-folk on his upcoming solo effort. He cited Ryan Adams’ albums as inspiration and said he wanted to keep it in that vein. I waited with baiting breath and then last week, it hit the Interweb. “Because it Works” is an absolute scorcher from start to finish. The harmonica is a solid touch, his vocals are first-rate and everything about the song works, and works quite well. Being that Lazzara is a native North Carolinian, there's a good chance he knows the genre better than one might think. While he is not the first pop-punker to take on alt-country, judging by the polish and presence of “Because it Works,” it just might be the best yet.