Sunday, October 15, 2017

Dynamos - Shake, Rattle, & Roll

Dynamos - Shake, Rattle, & Roll 


The Dynamos emerged from the Southern California area with one of the boldest blasts of modern rock in recent memory with the release of their EP Cold Comfort and are now following its success up with the single “Shake, Rattle, & Roll”. Vocalist Nadia Elmistikawy, the beneficiary of vocal training from a very young age and an extensive musical education through her youth, gives the band a physically stunning and vocally superb presence who inhabits the band’s songwriting like a possessed presence. There’s no question, ever, that she’s involved with every word and she’s thankfully supported by musicians who bring just as much commitment to bear. “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” might draw its title from rock’s ancient history, but there’s nothing staid or retro about their presentation. Instead, Dynamos come out of their corner swinging and “Shake, Rattle, & Roll” is just the knockout punch fans of modern rock are looking for to remind them the guitar slingers and bluesy singers of the world aren’t an extinct species quite yet.
The vibrant life coursing through the veins of the song is connected to the true and righteous spirit of rock and roll. It comes through so clear. The drumming and bass playing is simply on point and doesn’t settle for rote patterns – instead, both the bass and drums are exploring from the first and laying a steady, yet fluid, base for everything else this song has to offer. Jacob Mayeda and Carlos Barrea’s guitar work is a good fit for the rhythm section because they present a consistent sound that dovetails nicely into the bottom end and play with the same accomplished, yet rambunctious, sense of skill. The song is written to an ideal length and The Dynamos emerge from this performance, musically, as a band loathe to waste the time or test the listener’s patience in the name of self indulgence. Instead, they come across as focused and intense as any five star rock band we’ve ever heard. 
Nadia Elmistikawy’s vocals and lyrics alike are the song’s crowning achievement. The singing, especially, does a bracing job of bringing rock and outright blues together while the lustful wail in Elmistikawy’s voice contrasts nicely with her more nuanced moments when we get a real sense of the “speaker” behind this lyric. It might reference old time rock and roll using this title, but it’s clear that “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” is, at its heart, totally their own and expresses its theme with boisterous rock and roll bite. The Dynamos experienced a lot of much deserved success with their initial EP offering and, if this tune reflects the overall quality of their current songwriting, listeners can be sure that the next album or EP from this crew will expand on the promise heard in the aforementioned EP and set them up for further and bigger success down the road. They are a powerful outfit and there’s only way for them to go from here – up, up, up.  

Dale Butcher

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Stranger Friends

Stranger Friends  

Two award-winning Nashville songwriters have teamed up to form the masterful new band, Stranger Friends. With a musical style that combines the harmony of the Everly Brothers and the grit of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Stranger Friends will release their self-titled, self-written EP on October 20. Band members Jamie Floyd and John Martin met through a mutual friend in 2010. To their surprise, songs came naturally, as though these strangers had been friends all along. And their vocal blend was instantly, undeniably special. Since that time, they have followed their musical instincts.

Those activities have all led to great things, such as, recording the 12-song soundtrack for a Burt Reynolds movie, “Dog Ears,” before recording this five-track EP to be released this month, before said movie in 2018.

That’s pretty- big for this hard-working duo, but seven years is a long time to develop and when you stay at it you get such results and they are living proof. The EP kicks off with “Country Song” to put it all into proper order from the word go. And I give this opener all the green light it deserves, as it stand-apart from the others the way any good opener should, and remains the right choice once all five songs are over.

They follow in good country style tradition with “Secret Garden” and it too is one of the top placements on the EP. This is such a good song you’ll wonder how it’s the same players on it, as it advances in the instrumental department without skipping a beat. The folk essence can’t be dismissed on this track, with its usual acoustic charms. This plays out like a walk through any garden in any lavish or humble estate. It’s probably the best all-round track of the five, to my recollection after several listens. But it depends on your cup of garden juice, so to speak, and that can be said about any track on Stranger Friends.

“I Ain’t Dead” takes you to another place and time with a ballad that blows most attempts as such down to the ground here. This embodies everything that country is about in one fell swoop. The only thing it never does is swing into anything with a beat. It’s not that kind of son, so no harm there. No need to swing when you can sway, because it does however allow that as it goes from slow moving, to loud and back again. There is no repeating the refrain they go into on this, but perhaps there is no need because some things are better left as is.

I’m not completely sure that’s the gospel on this, but the track itself carries a gospel feel, so put them together and maybe it’s the right call.

But you also get the more-quiet sounds of “November & June” to go with it, and you won’t be eating the same meal with every track. This follows a less serious approach to their music, but provides a feather-light touch at the right time on the EP. You’ll want it after the latter, and you’ll get everything you’ve been patient for by listening to it all and finding the closing track “Don’t Get Back Up” to compete with every note you’ve already heard.

Brion Stephen

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Souleye – Wildman

Souleye – Wildman 

Souleye has traveled a long since his school days as a star athlete and his life today, with fatherhood and marriage to one of the world’s most popular singers of the last quarter century- Alanis Morissette, has informed the unique message he pushes with his songs in a way few artists in any genre can claim. He has invited an assortment of featured artists, other vocalists, to work alongside him on Wildman and their appearances are invariably steered to the right songs where their influence ratchets up the intensity and overall quality several notches. Wildman owes its musical virtues to a broad based understanding of electronica and other common elements heard in EDM, but the substance filling each of Souleye’s songs is undeniable. Labels be damned – Souleye’s Wildman is one of the most compelling releases from any genre of music this year and will likely stand as one of his seminal works from this point forward. 
It kicks off with a memorably energetic start thanks to the song “Dream Come True” and surges along thanks to the steady percussion driving it forward. Souleye’s voice takes on a lot of different shapes during this performance. The different sounds are, naturally, thanks to some post production touches and thankfully never go overboard. “Classic” dispenses with such moves, for the most part, and definitely puts more of the onus on a consistent groove to carry the outing. It has a couple of guest singers with the inclusion of Chachillie and Chantal Kreviazuk’s voices in the song. Lynx adds a lot as well during the title-song “Wildman” without ever really taking up too much of the running time. Moments like this bring unexpected bluesy and soulful notes to songs that don’t always announce their melodic virtues to the listener. There’s a lot going on musically in these songs however for the committed listener will to unpack their riches. 
“Miles Away” has many of the same musical strengths setting the best songs on Wildman apart from the rest while still manifesting a surprisingly cinematic side that makes this one of the more emotional impactful songs on the album. There’s a strong soulful edge to the song “Fountain of Youth” but there’s an interesting amount of attitude here noticeably different than what we hear in earlier songs. Much of that difference is attributable to the influence of Wade Morissette on  the song’s development. It’s noticeably different from the song “Snow Angel”. Alanis Morissette’s contributions to this song are relatively limited but she brings a different character to the song than it would otherwise possess. Wildman will entertain hardcore hip hop fans who value intelligent material and casual fans as well thanks to Souleye’s broad based talent and commitment to writing and recording top shelf albums. This will likely end up being remembered as one of his absolute best and brightest moments thanks to its mix of the spiritual, intellectual, and physical quite unlike anyone else working today.  

Montey Zike

Ashley J – Unbreakable

Ashley J – Unbreakable

In a time where industry seems to get tougher and tougher as time goes by, uniqueness, well, that’s something very tricky. Usually I would go saying that being original would draw much attention to you, but unfortunately that’s partially true as there has been many creatively unique bands and artists that have found themselves drowned in the sea of talent inside and outside the industry. Sometimes they happen to be very unique that they fall into the niche hole. So I think the key for success would have to be originality but also be relatable. Have your own voice, but also be able for others to connect with you.
“Unbreakable” by songstress Ashley J has all the right elements to conquer the hearts of many. It’s infectious and has Disney pop centric melodies that are made for young listeners, which at the end of the day are the ones that consume more music. The powerful message in the song is very much needed in this times of despair and hopelessness. Be yourself. Don’t let others to define who you are. You might find yourself in very dark corners, but there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.
On a negative note, for me the song sounds way too familiar. As I mentioned on the first paragraph, they key to make it through is not only be very lucky but also have your own identity. There can be a very limited amount of artists that sounds like a highly popular one, ya know? There can only be too many Britney Spears, or Bridgit Mendler, etc. And even those artists have found the way to eventually redefine themselves. So hopefully, sooner than later, Ashley J would find her way to be herself. To take some risks, have some fun playing with other styles and blending them together.
Overall, there’s the determination, the potential and of course, the talent to make it through. This single serves as a great introduction for a, fingers crossed, emerging star. Hopefully she embraces her own message and finds the needed strength to take some risks in the future and keep chopping her skills. Luckily she will encounter with a production team that may help her push her boundaries as well, not saying this one doesn’t... but ya know what I mean.
Rating 8/10
RJ Frometa

Electric Illusion - Dizzy Box Nine

Electric Illusion - Dizzy Box Nine 

The debut CD – Electric Illusion from Dizzy Box Nine, featuring the single “Good” is a pop album to keep an ear to as it unfolds with some of the best songs I’ve heard in years. This CD reminds you of everything that was good about pop music, with songs that hold their own with the best. There are so many influences here, that you can’t quite seem to nail them all down, but it doesn't matter because you’re too busy enjoying the unique style of Dizzy Box Nine.

You can call it what you want, but whatever you call it, there’s much to call on this CD. Electric Illusion has just about everything going for it except for a million dollar-mass campaign behind it. But that’s ok, Dizzy Box Nine seems to like to do things their own way, and it’s only a matter of time before more listeners get exposed to this group. Word of mouth can be a powerful factor in breaking bands into the mainstream, and there is definitely that type of potential with this band. What you get here is the real thing—fast-paced, melodic songs that leave you wanting to hit the repeat button a few times. It’s all upbeat pop and rock with soulful, positive, and relevant lyrics. The kind songs you used to be able to count on from pop bands of the past.

The band seems to center around the skills and vision of Randy Ludwig, who plays most of the instruments on this record. Lawrence Dunlap is also featured on drums on several of the songs. The guitar playing of Randy Ludwig is top notch and it’s cool how he fits so many different guitar parts into each track, and still ends up finishing these songs within about 3 minutes or so. Randy’s vocals are a perfect fit for these types of pop tunes. And the supporting vocals add richness to the music that is favorable.   
There are several standout songs on this record, from the face-paced charmer “Oh Yeah!” to the hypnotic melodies of “When I Look At You” and “Good”, there’s a lot to offer music fans of all genres. I can see these guys opening up for a band like Train, but I can also see them opening up for Tom Petty or Blink 182. That’s just how it goes. These songs just kind of work.

There are some twists with songs like “Fantasy,” “Rosie” and “Crazy Superstar” with their more esoteric lyrics and storylines. And it all becomes complete with the laughter of “Punk Rock Girl” with its zany attitude, and even bigger bombs like “Samantha” which is a perfect ending to this record. Dizzy Box Nine may not be mainstream yet, but that doesn’t seem to prevent them from making memorable, melodic songs that seem to instantly hook you with the first listen.  

Saturday, September 16, 2017

John Brownlow - The Summertime

John Brownlow - The Summertime
In my past few years writing reviews for a wide range of bands and artists, I have had the pleasure to meet and enjoy some really great and touching records by some phenomenal bands - on the other side of the spectrum I have encountered some plain down, simple and boring as hell materials. So say I was a bit worried for the next record, is to really say the least. 29 songs?! "Boy", I was praying, "I hope this would be fun ride".
Luckily for me, The Summertime by John Brownlow is an inspiring and great record that brings back some great memories for me and many of the audience that will likely listen to this record. The album echoes the sound of great iconic and pretty much staple names from the Britpop era (where Brownlow can be considered quite an underdog veteran) like Oasis, Blur and other older names as Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, The Clash, etc. However, calling Brownlow a rock musician wouldn't be correct, and this album shows he's one of those rare acts that aren't afraid of jumping into different wagons and the way, the ease how he does this is pretty remarkable. He goes from Powerpop (Burn Hollywood Burn) to Bossanova (Asteroids), old school Rock and Roll (Government Work) and Punk (Bullet To The Head) is very impressive. There's really something for everybody who's up to open their musical minds and explore a wide range of sounds. The production value also helps showcasing the greatest potential of everyone involved, especially Brownlow dynamic vocals, in a time where nothing hears or sounds real but rather way too perfect, the rawness in the tone and often missing notes instead of working against him it does serves on his advantage.
There isn't too much of a criticism for the record, perhaps the number of tracks might cause some listeners to not give it a shot. In a time where we are always in a hurry and would like to listen a bizzillion different songs in zero time, this big number seems like it wasn't a good idea, especially when you are a relative new artist trying to make it into the industry and get yourself heard.
In the end, John Brownlow's The Summertime is a fantastic journey through the mind of an artist that has compiled all of his influences into one magnum opus.
Rate: 8.5/10
by RJ Frometa  

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Barbara Jo Kammer - One Song at a Time

Barbara Jo Kammer - One Song at a Time 

There’s a lot of personal meaning in this collection and, certainly, anyone who has experienced the punishing lifestyle that defines the life of an addict will find much here to relate to. It isn’t the whole story about Barbara Jo Kammer’s solo debut, One Song at a Time, however. The vibrant musical tapestry she weaves with her collaborators makes this an entertaining listen from the first and that spark never dims over the course of the album’s ten songs. She maintains a level of energy ably matched by her band mates and they respond with on point performances that help these tunes reach their fullest potential. It’s all presented against the backdrop of a superbly rendered production job that doesn’t sound like the product of an independent operation whatsoever, but rather top flight professional and with a keen ear turned towards balancing her voice against the instruments. 
“I Can See Clearly” is an ideal example of what Kammer is capable of covering other artists. She recasts this iconic pop tune as a high-stepping bluegrass tilt and the definition the individual players achieve is quite impressive. Their unerring accuracy reveals itself in every minute of this tune and it results in one of the album’s most complete performances. “Choices” joins its company, as well, in that regard while coming from an entirely different place musically. This is a song pulled directly from the classic country tradition and its decidedly adult lyric about struggling with alcoholism is surely one that affected Kammer profoundly the first time she heard it. She delivers a wrenching performance here that goes beyond just hitting her marks and has a transformative quality all listeners will respond to in some way. “Hard Promises to Keep” is another deep nod to country music tradition as it sets itself up as a classic ballad and duet between Kammer and the fine vocalist Greg Blake. Blake’s lower register smoothness has its own emotive quality, but it’s different enough from Kammer’s that the juxtaposition of their voices takes on a compelling aura.   

“In a Cabin on the Mountain by the Pine” is written by Robert Backlund, a friend of Kammer’s, and this well honed invocation of rural life and its peaceful qualities comes across quite nicely thanks to the wealth of specific detail and Kammer’s expert reading of the song. “The Winning Side” embraces a more modern country vibe without surrendering any of the traditional instrumentation that gives the album such a vintage sound and Kammer’s singing for this particular performance ranks among her best outings on a great album. She wraps One Song at a Time up with an equally involving performance of the Jimmie Rodgers classic “Mule Skinner Blues” and, while it was written for a male voice, Kammer doesn’t let that get in her way of owning the song completely and making it sound like the tune was written with her in mind all along. This is one of the best traditional releases of 2017 and we can only hope that Kammer follows it up with an equally powerful sophomore effort or something even better. 


Scott Wigley