Massachusetts native Albert Cummings returns to his hometown Williamstown as a conquering king with the blistering live set Live at the ’62 Center. His twelve song concert album blasts through an assortment of takes on blues rockers, slow blues, funkafied blues, all supported with colorful organ and occasional electric piano fills. Cummings’ guitar work is very forceful, but there are many melodic touches making their presence felt during this concert performance. He’s complemented by some top notch collaborators who understand serving the songs and providing him with a sturdy platform ensures the album’s excellence and his soulful bray is sweetened with some nice female backing vocals. It’s Cummings’ first release since 2015’s studio release Someone Like You and the live album emphasizes that Cummings is far from a performer reliant on covers. Instead, his original compositions pay tribute to the form while making intensely personal statements. Continue reading “Albert Cummings – Live at the ’62 Center”
Theo Czuk’s The Black Bottom is an impressively diverse twelve song collection that does a more than adequate job of surveying the stylistic range of jazz music. Czuk and his musical partners are obviously master musicians capable of assuming a variety of sonic and melodic voices without showing even a hint of hesitation and their playing is further served by Czuk’s near impeccable instincts for writing material in this idiom. It certainly checks off a number of influences as the album glides towards its inevitable conclusion, but Czuk and his collaborators never sound like a bunch of musical magpies lacking creativity. Continue reading “Theo Czuk – The Black Bottom”
Time working alongside some of the most popular acts in music today, among them Rascal Flatts, has honed Kevin Fisher’s songwriting skills into a finely tuned instrument for delivering mainstream delights. His debut collection Beer Me seizes upon a quintessentially American topic, the virtues of beer, and serves up a 12 pack of variations on the same joke. He has a skill for twisting everyday phrases into endorsements for the joy of drinking beer that will produce smiles in listeners and backs it up with first class music that leans more towards the bluesy, rollicking side of country rock. It gives the humor a needed dose of musical muscle and these are tightly crafted songs and performances clearly designed for a mass audience. Fisher is a winning vocalist who gets over the material with just the right amount of musicality, push, and charisma to make this one of 2017’s more entertaining turns. Continue reading “Kevin Fisher – Beer Me”
Kelly McGrath has enjoyed considerable and gathering commercial success in the last two years propelled by her acumen for writing and delivering songs possessing across the board appeal and genuine musical, as well as emotional weight. Her latest single “O Holy Night” expands on those qualities with a particularly affecting performance, both vocally and musically, that pushes far beyond the broad-stroked cheer and clichés typical to Yuletide themed releases. Instead, she makes her own magic from this venerable tune and surrounds herself with a musical backing blooming with its own artistry, yet elegantly supportive of her vocal efforts. “O Holy Night” isn’t the usual Christmas song, in the sense that we don’t hear it as often as we do others, but she makes it come alive with a level of taste and discernment few of her contemporaries and peers can or dare to ever muster.
Her vocal will stay with you long after you finish listening to the song. No matter how objectively lovely some Christmas time performances are, most are confined to the season and lose their relevance when divorced from the holiday. People hit the play button for a few weeks in December then shelve the tune again for a year if they listen to it again at all. That isn’t the case with McGrath’s “O Holy Night”. Her singing and the accompanying musical arrangement make this a song that bears revisiting no matter what the calendar says and it speaks to humanity within us that knows no season. Despite the song’s religious connotations, McGrath’s approach is more art than artifice and her careful singing gives “O Holy Night” a cinematic quality it likely would have lacked in less competent hands without putting over some sort of message for the audience. It’s a welcome aspect to a performance that never risks being too heavy handed or overwrought.
Despite the presence of guitar, it has an almost classical air. The stately progress of the tune remains consistent throughout and neither McGrath nor the musicians ever rush their respective performances. Instead, “O Holy Night” is orchestrated from the outset, each new guitar lines building on the preceding one, and the arrangement rising as a whole with the song’s peaks but never pushing so hard that it threatens to overwhelm the audience or singing. Everything is in its place here and measured for maximum effect. It results in a fully unified musical and vocal performance that honors the long history of this song while still carving out a niche for McGrath to say she owns a piece of this song forevermore. Kelly McGrath’s “O Holy Night” is a mesmerizing effort from a world class talent and far from your standard seasonal fare. Moreover, it proves that McGrath is far from a one or two trick pony and possesses a range capable of handling a vast array of material.
Kelly McGrath – O Holy Night
Liz Kennedy scores big with her latest studio release Hike Up Your Socks and enlists some major league firepower to pull it off. Taj Mahal guests on significant album cuts and adds another weapon in Kennedy’s sonic arsenal. It helps, however, that Kennedy has written her best collection of songs yet for this recording and, based on exuded confidence alone, comes off as a musical artist who entered the studio locked onto what they wanted the final product to reflect. Hike Up Your Socks is one of those albums that can’t just be deemed one thing and then you’re done. The songs, instead, cover an expansive array of textures, tempos, and musical moods without ever losing a central unifying theme. The dozen songs on this album certainly share a lot of common ground, but there’s an across the board and consistently available sound carried over from one song to the next. Continue reading “Liz Kennedy – Hike Up Your Socks”
MkX has scored big with his newest single “Ghost” – this budding pop sensation spares no effort with a fantastic song that accomplishes the dual feat of making a personal statement with great artfulness and entertaining audiences with a highly musical and physical approach to performance. It’s a winning combination throughout. It’s been released with an accompanying
video that emphasizes the intense connection MkX feels exists between his music and visual sense – the two mediums blend together splendidly in his hands and the video makes the song a much more immersive experience. It’s quite fine on its own however. MkX is a thoroughly modern artist whose musical landscapes reflect his relevance and he shows an astonishingly even
hand in how his compositions unfold. He never tries to pack too much into limited spaces and understands the value of pacing. “Ghost”, due to MkX’s visual sense, unfolds like a musical mind movie of sorts and will undoubtedly draw many listeners into its spell.
The musical arrangement largely relies on electronic backing, but there are some acoustic instruments employed. They are augmented some with post production effects to bolster the song’s atmospherics and what might have come off heavy handed from another performer works quite nicely in MkX’s hands. The synthesizer lines could have easily overwhelmed the song in
the hands of a performer and writer with cruder instincts but MkX, instead, orchestrates these elements with a deft hand and an unerring sense of when certain motifs in the music should repeat themselves. The song runs just a hair over the three minute mark and centering everything on the recurring piano figure gives it a strong connection to traditional fundamentals that sustains it throughout its running time. The arrangement is particularly well suited for a music video as it allows visuals to sort of “fill in” the gaps of MkX’s musical presentation. It all emerges as a cohesive work well worth anyone’s time.
The lyrical content and how MkX gets it over is essential to the song’s success. He shows an instinct for phrasing that goes far beyond the purview of typical young performers both in pop and hop hop, but he keeps up a steady energy too that’s every bit the mark of a youthful performer. His ability to avoid any excesses in both his musical and lyrical presentation further
sets him apart from the pack, but it’s the clarity of his message and the unabashed vulnerability that he’s unafraid to embrace that truly marks him as a radically different artist in a field too often glutted with mere entertainers alone. “Ghost” has meaningful things to say different
listeners will take different things away from, but there’s little doubt that MkX has recorded a song just as satisfying for a wide cross section of his potential audience as well as himself. It’s an incredible next step in a career that seems to have no limits.
Photo by Anthony Grassetti
Written by David Shouse
The release of the Midnight Sessions EP constitutes vocalist Brian Hutson’s first full on attempt to capitalize on the success he’s experienced with a spate of singles. His initial single releases revealed him as a young vocalist with unusual versatility and depth readily achieving effects that it takes other promising youthful talents a decade or more to reach. Much of this has to do with innate talent, naturally, but producer Joe Vulpis’ role in helping shaping this talent cannot be underestimated. Things have changed mightily since the music industry’s past heyday, but one abiding feature of that time remains, if no other – a great producer can help make a young career. Vulpis’ professional polish and unerring sense of what audience’s enjoy helps guide this five song collection and rounds off the considerable talents that Hutson brings to bear. Though he pursued an education and career quite different than music, at least at first, Hutson comes off as someone who’s been singing all of his life. Continue reading “Brian Hutson – Midnight Sessions”
The latest release from singer/songwriter-Americana act Django Mack, 100 Page Tattoo, continues the band’s creative progress while consolidating their past achievements. Few outfits working today in this style can claim the depth and entertainment value of the six songs included with this new EP release. Continue reading “Django Mack – 100 Page Tattoo”
Ian Bouras’ initial renown on the indie music scene came via his tenure as guitarist and among the main songwriters for New York City reggae rock band AñaVañA, but he’s since branched out into performing highly idiosyncratic originals as a solo artist beginning with the 2007 release of his first solo album with SDMP Records. Bouras has also, during his time on the scene, acquired a much deserved reputation as a fine producer and engineer, particularly on his solo releases, and that same fidelity to finding an unified sound and expertise in doing so manifests itself on this release. The album’s fourteen songs are largely carried by Bouras’s guitar melodies and extemporizations adorned with looping and delay effects. There are occasional moments of percussion clanging through, but the instrumental focus of this album remains largely resolute throughout the course of this solo outing. It’s interesting to note that Bouras, as a guitarist, has a chameleon like ability to convincingly inhabit multiple styles of guitar, but can pare back his approach so that particular releases resonate with one sound. It’s a testament to his talents. Continue reading “Ian C. Bouras – Absence (live looping)”