Unchained Music Blog

Unchained Music Blog

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Samantha Leon - s/t (2017)

OFFICIAL: http://www.samanthaleonmusic.com/
FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/samanthaleonmusic/
TWITTER: https://twitter.com/samleon_music

Written by Larry Toering, posted by blog admin

Samantha Leon is a singer/songwriter from New York, arriving on the scene with her self-titled debut EP. She has molded her style after 70’s Contemporary Folk, Pop and Rock influenced by the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Sarah McLachlan, Beatles and Adele. And although you can hear a lot of Adele in her voice, her lyrics are another story altogether. Her voice is pure just like her contemporaries, but the subject matter is a lot more mature and she doesn’t hold back the least when it comes to getting that across. This takes her a step beyond what you hear from said artist and even goes beyond the Lady Gaga’s of the world. The seven track EP kicks off with the cut “Bright Yellow Shoes(No Turbulence Mix)” which also can be found on a promo video clip, and it's recommended to help seeing her sing this. But beyond that she proves to need no necessary visuals to drive her music. It stands on its own two feet, and this opening track is just the beginning. It also stands apart as the brooding ballad that it is, with some fantastic orchestration behind it. To rate it along with the others, it’s one of the strongest tracks, but it does go into explicit gear on the second track “High.”

And it’s not hard to imagine what she’s singing about, but it’s really-just telling to stay away from the hard stuff or stay away from her. This deals with everything from smoke to beer, to get the point across. White it doesn’t merit what the first track does, the language doesn’t ruin the track like it can with some artists, as she makes it easier to digest. And this continues onto the next cut, “Run Away” but a lot less of it, and you start to hear a more straight-forward song. Her voice is remarkably enchanting on this, and it shows consistency as it gets half-way through the EP which is backed by some great musicianship. But of-course there is more to come with “Perfect (featuring Danny Matos)” in the form of a duet.

This is where the set of tracks peak, and he helps her work out one of the best numbers. Once again, her voice does the Adele thing, but with Matos, it adds another dimension.  It takes a while before he comes into the picture, but it’s enough to feature as a duet. He adds to the melody with some excellent rapping and this EP goes full on hip hop here. This is another track to display her vocal abilities, even though it has that Adele ring to it. You can’t deny where you’ve heard the tone before, but it is something to behold as well as possess. All these tracks combined with the following two are superb, and Samantha herself is a great talent with all the looks, bells and whistles. But most importantly, it’s an EP full of great music to compete with anyone out there.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Natalie Estes - 20/20 Vision (2017)

Written by Scott Wigley, posted by blog admin

Young performers like this restore a little faith in me. Natalie Estes is one of those singers who embraced dreams of being a world class vocalist from her earliest years. Dance, instead, fed her dreams as a first love through high school. Hearing a performance from Adele of the song “To Make You Feel My Love” exerted a transformative hold over her life and she soon began pursuing musical aspirations with great earnestness. It is a testament to the hold that singing and music can still exert over young imaginations that this single performance emboldened her to pursue her dreams when, seemingly, so many others are content to not do in the modern landscape. Her four song EP 20/20 Vision comes across as the realization of a dream, crackles with musical imagination, and certainly exhibits attitude and vulnerability throughout.

“Until I Do” has a nice edge and serves as a great introduction to the artist. The music is equally top notch – it’s practically orchestrated to build in a compelling way and draws you further in with each passing minute. The lyrical content isn’t anything you haven’t heard before thematically, but Estes presents it in her own way and the picture she paints with those words certainly pulls few if any punches. “When There’s Smoke There’s Fire” has a robust spirit that hits you hard from the first and, frankly, you wish the song could go on forever. It’s another memorable quality of this release that each of the four tracks, despite their differences, are all tailored to appropriate lengths and never test a listener’s patience with excessive bloat. 20/20 Vision is an across the board focused effort with a steadiness of intent experienced listeners will likely associate with much more veteran performers.

“Reminds Me of You” is probably the EP’s weakest number, but it’s relative. Estes’ stab at melodic pop rock has a relaxed feel that makes it appealing, but the ground she trods over here is a little too overly familiar. Some will enjoy it simply for what it is and not ask more – it’s an entertaining number, within its limits, and will likely spark to life a little more via live performance. “Bad Game”, however, matches the same standard of quality set by the EP’s first two tracks and easily rivals “Where’s There’s Smoke There’s Fire” in its rambunctiousness. The drumming is particularly strong and Estes sounds invigorated throughout. It ends the EP on just the musical high note it deserves and bodes well for her future recordings. This is the beginning of a great career and it’s nice to see and hear it on the ground floor before its inevitable rise.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Jim Hagen - Jazzical (2017)

Written by Charles Hatton, posted by blog admin

Jim Hagen’s second album, Jazzical, follows up on his 2012 debut with the sort of obvious talent that sets him apart from the genre’s typical fare. Hagen opts for a diversified approach rather than hemming his style into a narrow jazz bracket and, while there are certainly a plethora of moments sure to make any jazz buff smile, there’s an apparent stylistic reach here going far beyond the genre’s usual purview. The album’s production is stellar and doesn’t stress one particular musical element at the expense of others. Instead, there’s a balanced approach to each of the album’s nine songs that allows each instrumentalist a chance to shine. The album is styled as a standalone collection but, also, as a tribute to Hagen’s deceased collaborator and friend vibes player Rod Bennett. Bennett, a superb musician featured on a handful of the album’s cuts, died as the result of a hit and run accident before Hagen had prepped this album for its eventual release. Despite this, it’s never a downbeat affair.

“Pismo Beach” clearly proves that. The first song on Jazzical has a laid back feel and some colorful, if not playful, exchanges between the different instruments. The three primary instruments making their presence felt on Jazzical are Hagen’s guitar, vibes, and keyboards, but they are engaged in a varied musical dialogue throughout the nine cuts. On this song, there a lot of brief exchanges between the players and, despite the song’s mid tempo pace, there’s a great deal of melody and depth in the playing. “Manha de Carnaval” is one of the album’s most memorable covers. The facility of the players to be able to pull off this standard, tapping into its Bossa Nova style without ever fumbling it, is a testament to their skills. “D-Tuna” is one of the album’s more evocative pieces thanks to the slowly developing arrangement and its understated atmospherics, but it pays appropriate homage to Hagen and the band’s jazz foundation without ever veering too far away from that base.

“On the Scene” highlights a different side of the album’s merits thanks to its melodic and fluid bass line, but Hagen and the other players contribute mightily to its overall quality. “All Blues”, a Miles Davis cover, rates as one of the best tracks on Jazzical thanks to its balance of maintaining fidelity to the original while still wringing enough changes from Davis’ version that it stands out from the pack. It sets a nice tone for the title track “Jazzical”. There’s some nice acoustic guitar, classically influenced, and other strands from the jazz side of the spectrum that weave quite nicely into its overall framework. “Piece of Cake” proves to be an ideal selection for the album’s penultimate number and has a playful edge missing from the album’s other eight tracks while “Lazy Sunday”, the album’s closer, sees Hagen’s guitar work regain a measure of prominence it lacks in the second half of Jazzical. This is a superb and varied collection that more than realizes the promise of Hagen’s debut while showing an emotional depth much deeper than we experienced before.