Unchained Music Blog

Unchained Music Blog

Monday, September 18, 2017

KALO - Wild Change (2017)

Written by David Shouse, posted by blog admin

The Oklahoma based power trio KALO doesn’t exist as merely a vehicle for the band’s powerful vocalist and guitarist Bat-Or Kalo; her band mates bassist Mack McKinney and drummer Mike Alexander are accomplished players who add a lot to KALO’s latest release Wild Change. The eleven song collection takes a wide, invigorating swing through an assortment of musical styles without ever surrendering the core sound created by three uniquely sympathetic musicians. It must be said that the undeniable vocal presence Kalo brings to her performance, often times varying in color and intensity, makes these songs even more memorable, but this review’s earlier point about her collaborators is only stressed to emphasize that this is an unit and you couldn’t switch out the rhythm section without affecting the musical chemistry is some sort of significant way.

The brisk trot they conjure up for the first number, “One Mississippi”, is steeped in blues and gets the album off to a rollicking start. Kalo really does have a voice ideally suited for this sort of material. She keeps up the musical pace without ever sounding like she’s straining for power or effect and the rhythm section seems somehow inspired by her presence in the song. It’s a zesty way to kick things off. “Isabel” is a true blues wailer with fiery lead guitar vamps courtesy of Kalo and a muscular rhythm section attack. Her vocal is powerful here, but in a much different way than we hear on the opener – she’s pushing past any lingering reserve and belting this one for all she’s worth, gutting out a wrenching vocal that’s nonetheless full of soul. “Fix” is one of the more commercially minded guitar rock songs on Wild Change thanks, in particular, to its memorable chorus and the rambunctious guitar lines running through the piece. The metaphor isn’t a new one, but Kalo’s vocal owns the subject in such a way you’ll forgive her for this light bit of unoriginality. It clearly means something to her and should leave a mark on you too. The raunch ‘n’ groove of the title track gives Kalo another hard-hitting platform from which she can unleash another wicked hot vocal. The variations in her delivery in this track, especially compared to earlier numbers, are noticeable and add some subtle strength to this song.

“Pay to Play” goes off in another direction entirely and whips up some tasty funk and gritty R&B for the band’s listeners. The presence of guitar is more diffuse in this tune than many of the earlier cuts but, when it plays a role, its presence in the mix is undeniable. Wild Change’s penultimate number “Bad Girl” brings listeners a final blast of blooze rock powered by a multitude of factors but, chief among them, Kalo’s defiant and hard-edged vocal. This is a brash and confident release with the talent to back it up and an expansive view of their own capabilities. KALO’s reputation continues to grow with each new release and Wild Change may prove to be that moment breaking things wide open for this quality outfit.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Grace Freeman - Shadow (2017)

Written by David Shouse, posted by blog admin

Few talents appear on the scene as complete and well rounded as nineteen year old Grace Freeman. Her debut solo release Shadow is an eleven song studio release that illustrates the same talent listeners first met on The Moon Police’s 2015 album The Lost Go Sailing By while expanding on that with a collection of extraordinary versatility. There’s definitely a strong strain of Americana or roots music influence informing the songs, but Freeman’s original compositions never content themselves with pursuing a single stylistic bent. She moves adeptly from solo performances to much more full fledged band efforts and both approaches produce substantive results in Freeman’s hands. Despite her youth, Grace Freeman navigates her way through each of these songs with total confidence in both the material and her performance. The superb production underlines it all with its balance between singing and instrumentation.

Freeman’s performance on “Oliver” is largely solo, accompanied only by understated acoustic guitar, but there are some light ambient touches that add just a dollop of color and a smattering of backing vocals that invoke a haunted spirit moving in the heart of the song. It is one of the more thoughtful compositions on Shadow and begins the album on an auspicious note despite its obvious lack of sonic firepower. There’s a much more deliberate build investing the song “Shadow”. The most notable difference is that Freeman trades in her acoustic guitar for some exceptionally beautiful piano playing, but it also features the fullest arrangement yet on the album. The rhythm section, especially the drumming, gives this performance impetus that the opener lacked. There’s a light amount of repetition in “Trying to Say Goodbye” that nicely embodies the persistence of its emotions and the jaunty bounce provided by her piano playing, reminiscent of Regina Spektor’s work, hits a completely different note than the comparatively darker lyrics.

There’s a nicely understated country music influence filtering through “Another Long Night” and the entertaining, idiosyncratic qualities of Freeman’s voice are particularly effective for the writing. There is a lightly nasal quality in her singing but, rather than robbing it of its musicality, it enhances the vulnerability of her performance. She takes another stylistic turn with the song “Dreams” and its exotic flair from the acoustic guitar work seems to inspire Freeman’s singing to new heights. Her language is uniquely sharp – there isn’t a single wasted word and her invocation of specific imagery is quite powerful. There’s a plethora of emotions lighting up the song “God Forbid”, but the sarcastic side of her songwriting is impossible to ignore. She doesn’t allow any bile to creep into her singing, however, and imparts the same vulnerability to this performance characterizing those before and following it. “Gemini” ends Shadow on a breezy yet profoundly intelligent note and has the same musical richness shaping its trajectory that defines the earlier tunes. Shadow is a memorable eleven songs that never miss once and the highly musical assertiveness she carries through every line of this album.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Dust of Days - Analog Mind Bender (2017)

Written by Robert Elgin, posted by blog admin

A four piece hailing from the wilds of New Jersey, Dust of Days have already established a reputation both for their promising original material and live appearances throughout the United States and Canada alike. Their second studio album, Analog Mind Bender, is their first full length since 2012’s Thomas & Grace and their first overall release since 2013’s EP Ethers and Embers, but the band clearly hasn’t lost even a modicum of the momentum they established with those distant releases. In fact, the band has only picked up steam. The dozen songs on Analog Mind Bender, many inspired by monumental changes in drummer, singer, and songwriter Frank Lettieri’s personal life, are united by a penchant for risk taking and a confrontational style that, even in most muted moments, still gives listener’s precious little distance or room to breathe. This is an album focused on making you face its emotions head on, but the band never neglects to house their sometimes dark and despairing narratives within musically compelling structures.

The title song starts off the album with a kinetic blast of alternative rock tinged with some tasteful melodic flourishes. Lettieri acquits himself as a first class rock singer on this track, but those who assume this is the likely extent of his vocal range are in for many surprises on this album. He does an exceptionally good job with the chorus and his voice is a good fit for the arrangement. Dust of Days summons up sheets of six string fury with the song “Aurora” and further skewers your expectations for the band by teetering back and forth between conversational and conventional vocals. It’s apparent, even two songs in, that Lettieri is blessed with a particular sort of vocal yowl certain to capture attention and even, in some cases, tug at your heart strings. His first emotive showcase comes with the song “Mustang” and he touches Chris Cornell like heights with the cathartic wail coloring so much of the track. The two guitar tapestry provided courtesy of Mike Virok and Jim McGee tap into the song’s wasted bluesy elegance and provides excellent instrumental counterpoints to Lettieri’s vocals. Dust of Days returns to familiar guitar workout territory on the song “Heavy”, but it’s more of a riffer than what the listener will be accustomed to at this point in the album. The crushing quality of the guitars is underlined by the earth-splitting interplay between Lettieri’s drumming and bassist Scott Silvester.

“The Circus” is a raucous punk rock inspired onslaught that begins with a claustrophobically fast bass line. The guitars come careening in and sound on the verge of veering out of control throughout the entire track, but the vocal helps rein things in some by giving the song some sense of traditional shape. “Death Vibrations” is an especially jovial romp, but it has a lot of energy and traditional rock song strengths despite the light punk rock pose it seems to suggest. It’s one of Lettieri’s better vocals on the album. The album’s second to last track “The Shore” will shock many. The guitars fall away and Dust of Days, instead, builds this track around piano, vocals, and some contributions from strings. It might sound incongruous with the rest of the album, but even a single close listen will illustrate how it comes from the same sensibility, just geared in a different direction. Analog Mind Bender is an album brimming over with inventiveness and imagination – moreover, it’s indelible testament to the fact that there are many young musicians still out there hungry and able to write and record challenging work that still rocks the hell out.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Chris Murphy - Hard Bargain (2017)

VIDEO: (“Cape Horn”) http://chrismurphymusic.com/video/

Written by Dale Butcher, posted by blog admin

Chris Murphy scores again with Hard Bargain, a new collection of originals recorded in front of a live audience. His luck holds with drawing an appreciate audience who isn’t shy about expressing their approval and respect for his performances. It’s just Murphy alone with a violin, occasional guitar or mandolin, and a stomp box. His voice has grown, with each successive release and added live experience, into a fine instrument for conveying often challenging and always thoughtful lyrical content. His violin playing, the predominant musical weapon in his arsenal, is at or near its peak on this recording and seems akin to some black magician with the instrument – he’s able to work within a variety of styles with this as his primary instrument, moving across wide textures, summoning up a number of moods. Hard Bargain is a ten song collection that will impress his longtime followers and, undoubtedly, make countless new converts to his artistic vision.

“Caves of Killala” begins Hard Bargain in a grand way with its long, expansive melodies suggestive of rolling green mountains, windswept beaches, a musical topography of lush color that engages listeners from the first. This is the closest the album comes to an outright instrumental and it is only in the second half when Murphy provides any vocals at all. The second song and title track is much leaner and traditional in scope. The song’s changes and lyrical content may seem, in some respects, as quite predictable, but it isn’t a black mark against the song’s value. “Hard Bargain”, instead, pleases exactly because of that predictability. These are stalwart changes and those familiar with this kind of music will appreciate the skill and individuality Murphy brings to the formula. It’s ideally streamlined, as well, for commercial success and has a clearly defined chorus that may surprise you with its catchiness.

“Bugs Salcido” is one of the definite high points on Hard Bargain. Murphy unleashes a mid-tempo verbal fusillade at listeners anchored by the death of the song’s title character and the song clearly presents itself as a struggle to understand what happened and how to process its reality. The near-skeletal music flows quite easily but packs the condensed power of a clinched fist. “Last Bridge” is another peak point on Hard Bargain and for very different reasons. There’s a certain amount of reliance on cliché, but Murphy owns those clichés with such unabashed energy that you are willing to forgive him this most miniscule of excesses. He delivers the vocal with an impassioned bellow that puts over its desperation without ever sounding overwrought. The same tastefulness is turned to good use on the album’s finale “Friend”. When Murphy grounds his songwriting in the quantifiable details and connections of our every day lives, he speaks with such straight forward, heart rendering eloquence that listeners can’t turn away. Hard Bargain is an album all but impossible to turn away from once you begin experiencing its strengths. Chris Murphy is a force of musical nature and gathers more steam with each new release.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot - Songs for Mixed Company (2017)

Written by David Shouse, posted by blog admin

Minnesota produces another winner with the collaboration between singer/songwriters Phil Barry and Sarah Fuersst dubbed Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. Their self-titled EP heralded the arrival of a duo with great chemistry and the good sense to involve the right collaborators, but their first full length album Songs for Mixed Company realizes that promise and much, much more. The album’s ten songs plumb deep into the Americana tradition of folk, country, and even a smattering of blues, but the duo reaches beyond the boundaries of those forms by incorporating instruments like organ and even Mellotron to accentuate their musical vision. These two experienced hands, despite naming their project after an irreverent 1970’s cinema classic, are anything but tongue in cheek. The songwriting deals with eternal human emotions – fear, loss, yearning, and love all make an appearance here and they make these emotions matter in narratives reaching deep into human experience.

They begin things on a darker note with the track “Let’s Br Friends”. On the surface of it, the songwriting seems to be covering familiar territory, but the songwriting talents Barry and Fuerst bring to bear explore facets of experience going beyond the typical cursory treatment common to these kind of songs. There’s beautifully simple poetry laced through these lyrics and Barry’s voice seamlessly comes together with Fuerst in an aching vocal marriage. The retro country music beauty of “Miss Me” has an elegance that few, if any, working in the genre today even dare aspire to and it never sounds like a pose. The scattered steel guitar licks color in the spaces between acoustic guitar chords and the drumming underlines everything with a strong foundation. Barry and Fuerst conjure up that “weepy” quality distinguishing many classic country cuts without ever sounding forced or overwrought. The character piece “Can’t Be Trusted” paints the darkest musical picture yet on Songs for Mixed  Company, but it is handled with such dramatic deftness that it draws listeners in and never drags them down.. The crystalline guitar lines and sensitive vocal treatment cut against the sharply observed character delineation present in the lyrics. Barry sings this song without a hint of irony and it will have a chilling effect on many who hear it.

The steady stomp and match of “Year of the Monkey” seems a little bit simple, but Thunderbolt and Lightfoot show the keen ear for adding tempered crescendos and Mike Lynch’s artful turns on organ. It’s, arguably, one of the album’s strongest tunes lyrically, especially on the song’s chorus where the arrangement, text, and vocal performances come together in an undeniably powerful away. “Sweetest Baby” has a nice breezy air despite the struggle and longing running through its lyric – it’s that effortless lift summoned by the drumming and Mike Lynch’s whispery organ flourishes refuse to let the song’s melancholy take over entirely. There’s a light blues influence meeting the folk on the last song “Dearly Beloved”, but there’s also some endearing humor propping up the lyric rather than keeping a stone face throughout. It’s an appropriately playful ending to an album that’s usually anything but, but Songs for Mixed Company definitely proves this duo has real creative legs and is building something that may last for years to come.