Conor Gains has earned a well deserved reputation as a singer/songwriter on the rise thanks to his work with the Conor Gains Band, but his first solo release Compass is a ten song collection representing how his expanding ability for realizing his musical and lyrical vision has taken a quantum leap forward. The process of assembling Compass has been a lengthy one and Gains pared down nearly a hundred songs down to ten that he felt best embodied what he wants to accomplish with Compass. It’s a particularly appropriate title for this release as the ten songs here point towards Gains’ ever brightening future with confidence and a wide ranging ambition that few of his contemporaries or peers can hope to match. There’s commerciality and substance alike here and this is far from a purist niche album but, instead, a melodic ride capable of reaching the widest of possible audiences.
Casual music fans will find just as much here to love as the hardcores ever will. “I Know”, the album’s first song, is a great choice for that slot because it presents important parts of Gains’ talents in an easily digestible way. There’s never any time listening to this album that I felt like Gains and his collaborators came off as too showy for a song’s good, but it’s clear from the first that the musicianship working here is several cuts above the norm and they definitely take some chances with later songs that they don’t here. “Walking Alone” takes a familiar theme and turns it in a way that feels accessible, yet more personal, to Gains and ends up hitting all the usual marks we’d expect from a song with this subject matter. Much of Compass is concerned with time honored subjects like love and how we relate to one another, so its doubly appropriate we get a plethora of emotional tones with this release that mimic our own fickle affections and deeply held passions. “Dance Like It’s Your Birthday” is one of the, hands down, most enjoyable numbers on Compass and the go for broke, seize the moment spirit of both the playing and Gains’ singing makes this an early peak on the release.
“Ordinary Love” and “I’ve Been Looking for Your Love” share certain similarities in subject matter and are both quite excellent, but there’s no question the musical reach of the former exceeds the latter. Both tunes draw attention to Gains’ talent for writing a strong, punchy chorus that wastes no movement in getting the song over with listeners’, The latter tune blends minimalist qualities in the arrangement during the first and final halves of the song with a light country blues air while the remainder of the song skirts free-floating jazzy inflections and intelligent percussion laid out through the entirety of the tune.
“Miracle” and “Mexico” seem like the self-conscious peaks of the album, much longer than the surrounding songs, and take very different approaches. The finale “Mexico” is the more nuanced of the two while “Miracle” only brings in a little added rock muscle to underscore its near purist blues pedigree. The closing song is, instead, much more of a look back to the near fusion jazz, albeit never played in a strident or pseudo-virtuosic way and has a cinematic air lacking from many of the earlier songs and definitely not as developed as it is here. Conor Gains is a fantastic performer on every level but it’s his writing, ultimately, that’s giving him the needed foundation to entertain thoughts of a long musical career ahead of him.
Forget the Super Bowl, if you can figure out a way to predict who is going to dominate Top 40 radio in the next decade, you’re going to be one incredibly rich individual. It’s true, there is perhaps no other facet of pop culture as totally and unreliably volatile as popular music. Society’s taste in music changes a lot faster than its taste in politicians or trite sitcoms, and when we’re done listening to something, we’re really, really done listening to it. Sure, Van Halen kept making records in the 90s, but can you name any of them? In that same sense, when we’ve found something special, something truly unique and awesome, then we run with it, blow it up into larger than life status and allow it to shape a big part of the culture that we live and work in every day. Florida’s own Rob Alexander wants a part to play in the grand theater that is pop music, and he’s doing a great job and placing his stake and marking his territory with his new single, “Better Than That,” from his debut album Long Road Coming Home. The message behind this offering to the masses? Repetitive beats of overproduced hip hop acts and auto-tuned pipes of plastic stadium singers be damned; here’s music that can make us feel something again.
Love songs, regardless of their stylistic origins or context of genre, make for the most consistently marketable theme in the music business. Whether we’re singing about how glad we are that we’ve found that missing piece of our hearts, lamenting losing it, or wondering how to even find it in the first place, love songs create a special relatability for listeners that is recession-proof for one simple reason; everyone, and I mean everyone, wants to be loved. I don’t think that Rob Alexander was thinking about the marketability of a track like “Better Than That” when he sat down and penned it, but what’s exceptional about the song isn’t just its highly relatable subject matter or extremely catchy chorus; it’s the fact that Alexander earnestly and endearingly makes us believe in love along with him when he sings. The lyric “Some loves comes, some love goes, I guess it’s just whatever flows” in the opening stanza sounds like a ringing echo through the deserted Canyonlands of loneliness. Indeed, like the Top 40, love is desperately unpredictable to a fault, and Alexander’s demand for a better, higher kind of intimate relationship is like a rallying cry for all of the solitary people of earth.
Much like Billy Joel’s The Stranger, Long Road Coming Home dives right into the pool of reflective self-examination, but doesn’t fall into overly indulgent pity and megalomania. Rob Alexander is focused on crafting complete songs that don’t focus exclusively on one aspect of his artistry, instead allowing the audience to experience all of the colors and diverse accents present in his delicately woven stories. If he’s able to keep up with the pace of momentum that “Better Than That” is creating for him, I have no doubt that he will become a fixture of the pop charts for a long time to come.
New York’s Greg Jacquin has released the full-length album, Hudson River. According to his biography, Jacquin traces his roots and inspiration to the Hudson Valley. He was born in Sleepy Hollow, New York, in 1970. Jacquin’s release is one of the more impressive Americana albums to come along in 2018 – his pulse putting to music feelings of being alone, depression and even people watching make Hudson River a two-thumbs up record.
Jacquin is the son of a Cuban immigrant, which makes his strong command of the Americana and folk genre all the more interesting. Surprisingly he doesn’t have any of the Cuban influence in his music, but you can tell he grew up on The Beatles, Cat Stevens and probably Jim Croce. His voice stays within his comfort zone for the most part and his delivery takes you in.
In “The Station” Jacquin pleads, “you won’t recognize me maybe, you won’t throw me a line.” I really liked this song and I loved how it set the stage for the rest of the album. His lyrics get a lot sadder and strangely beautiful. I loved how in “Station” (and in most of the other songs), the violin is the undertow to his voice. You can still hear the presence of acoustic guitar, and the percussion is just perfect.
“Floating” is also a great song. The violin is breathtaking. What a gem – this song truly feels like you’re a raindrop or that you’re making your way down the Hudson River. “Floating” will get you ready for summer’s sun kissed days and starry nights.
My next favorite song is “Hopeless Entrance.” Jacquin turns up the darker button a notch. I have a feeling he wrote this song in the early morning hours, or while being in bed all day surfing social media. At one point I felt like his voice dove lower like Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode) or even Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam).
Honorable mention goes to “Scratches and Bridges.” Jacquin receives mad props for changing things up some with including a trumpet. I loved the added flavor the horns provided. Perhaps this influence comes from his Cuban roots.
If you’re a die-hard Cat Stevens fan looking for the pop-sounding tracks like “Peace Train” or even “Moonshadow” you will need to look elsewhere than Greg Jacquin’s Hudson River. What you will find instead are eight tracks that an artist gave everything for – Jacquin’s lyrics might be heavy-handed and a bit on the sad side, but he triumphs. Hudson River will be a great addition to your musical library, especially for rainy days and when the foliage starts to fall.
As a listener I never felt too sad or too lonely to finish the tracks. In fact, I hit repeat several times. If the mark of a true artist is to connect and have their listener feel something, then Greg Jacquin not only accomplishes this, he masters the technique. Like a master painter, he brushes the dark and the light to create a chiaroscuro Americana pallet.
If you thought the Pacific Northwest was the only place that grungy music could be cultivated, The Twindows are here to tell you to think again, with their debut album Valkyrie 2.0, out now on CD and digital download. Perhaps just as grimy as the I-5 corridor that links Seattle and Portland is the gritty industrial graveyard that is central Pennsylvania. Once the center of the western world’s steel industry, the advent of technology and declining number of labor jobs in America has left much of the region in economic and social peril, similar to many other blue collar parts of the United States. But in times of trouble, it seems that one thing can always be counted on; good music will always emerge and get us through. And after listening to Valkyrie 2.0 today, I can attest that these devout Penn punks are doing more than their fair share to relieve the burden of American life in 2018 (not that life abroad doesn’t look a little stressful, too). Continue reading “Twindows – Valkyrie 2.0”
The Grand Brothers & Dee, both important presences on the modern pop scene growing in reputation and ambition with each new release, are teaming for a new project dubbed Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite. The first single “Electrified” from the collaboration’s forthcoming debut Canyon Diablo illustrates the production talents of the brothers while also illustrating the talents that have allowed Dee to land coveted spots like a Ford auto commercial during the most recent Super Bowl programming, but the scope of the new single reaches far beyond the confines of mere popularity. The project is clearly aiming to craft modern pop music with genuine substance and lasting value while still providing listeners with ample entertainment value for their money. “Electrified” personifies the best elements that each half of this creative partnership bring to the table without ever seeming hollow or pretentious. It’s a powerful first outing that reminds listeners what great pop music can accomplish. Continue reading “Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite – Electrified”
Almost Awake is an up and coming group which is lead by female vocalist Vick Liano. The energetic group hits the stage with a fresh sound which is influenced by Paramore, Nirvana, Joe Satriani, and Blink 82. The genre ranges from feel-good music to rock and roll with the hint of jazz percussion. Their music could be categorized as Alternative Rock / Punk / Rock. Almost Awake was formed in 2014 in Las Vegas, NV and signed with Tommy Entertainment. Continue reading “Almost Awake release new single”
With summer coming up, it seems like the perfect time to find that next epic mix of road trip worthy music. This becomes a more significant challenge as families look for something that is not too dark, dripping with foul language or not lighthearted enough for a car sing-a-long. A British band that has finally leaped the Atlantic to share their spin on beach-worthy music may be just the answer. The Sandboys latest album “Glitches, Imperfections & Glorious Quirks” might be that big summer mix. Continue reading “The Sandboys drop EP”
Cat Thompson’s inexorable rise into the heights of pop stardom makes another surge with the release of her latest single “Be Mine”. It’s a spectacular follow up to her previous single “All I Need” and positions the Australian born vocalist and songwriter for a 2018 run promising to bring her closer than ever towards achieving the global recognition and success she deserves and craves. Her multi-cultural frame of reference imbues her with an unique range of musical talents and she’s built a reputation of dynamic live performances delivered with passion and pacing likely capable of exhausting even her most talented contemporaries and peers. The confidence she exudes during the recording “Be Mine” is palpable and far beyond her years. This Australian born half Irish/half Filipino singer/songwriter is currently readying her new EP for release and it’s safe to assume we should consider this single as a preview of what’s to come – if so, Cat Thompson’s 2018 stands to be her biggest year yet and one potentially sending her career into the stratosphere. Continue reading “Cat Thompson – Be Mine”
If you like alternative rock that takes steep jumps to pop rock and slightly Americana edges, than the Doug McCurry & The Verticals II album will be a wonderful addition to your musical library. Of the 10 tracks on this gem, nearly all of them contain solid lyrical arrangements; pop friendly vocals and handy guitar work. Giving a definite nod to late 90s era rock, Charlotte, North Carolina’s McCurry elevates his music to a modern sound. Continue reading “Doug McCurry & The Verticals II”