Villebillies – S/T

Villebillies – S/T / 2006 Universal / 12 Tracks / http://www.villebillies.com / http://www.universal.com /

However punk or ska-influenced that this cover may be, what the Villebillies do on this self-titled album is rap. “Whiskey” is the first track on the disc, and it seems like the Villebillies are trying to blend together Bone Thugs N Harmony with Gnarls Barkley. “Whiskey” has a level of newness to it; despite listening to a lot of rap, I have not heard of an artist that approximates this style. The backing beat that opens up “Burnin Down The House” is particularly nondescript, with a sound that could conceivably be on a Britney or boy band track. Continue reading “Villebillies – S/T”

Tim Barry – Rivanna Junction

Tim Barry – Rivanna Junction / 2006 Suburban Home / 10 Tracks / http://www.timberryrva.com / http://www.suburbanhomerecords.com /

Tim Barry is one of the member of Avail. Avail was an integral part of the melodic punk scene in the late nineties. “Rivanna Junction” starts out with “Trash Inspirations”, a track that goes the alt-country route taken by Lucero. At some point, Barry is still a practitioner of punk music, and this blend of styles should be appealing to fans of both genres. Three minutes in, and the track conks out. “Avoiding Catatonic Surrender” is a much more slow and pensive track than “Trash Inspirations”. But Barry’s vocals take the Mellencamp track to kick up the tempo. Continue reading “Tim Barry – Rivanna Junction”

The Buddhist Monks – My Spirit Flies To You

The Buddhist Monks – My Spirit Flies To You / 2006 Decca / 14 Tracks / http://www.thebuddhistmonks.net / http://www.iclassics.com /

The Buddhist Monks are to 2006 what the Gregorian Monks were to the early nineties. There is some sort of acceptance by the pop and adult contemporary stations to what normally would be a style of music reserved only for the most devout of followers. The music that is present on “My Spirit Flies To You” is not genuine prayer music, however; the tracks here use arrangements and vocal styles that are not in accordance with Buddhist rituals. The may be the reason why The Buddhist Monks have achieved success outside of their own circle of adherents. Continue reading “The Buddhist Monks – My Spirit Flies To You”

Ligion – External Affairs

Ligion – External Affairs / 2007 Maple Jam / 11 Tracks / http://www.ligion.net / http://www.maplejamrecords.com /

The vocal style that starts off “On The Way” does not mesh completely with the more dance-y rock of Ligion. This is because there seems to be a more emotional and natural sound to the vocals, while the instrumental arrangement on this track seems to be more sequenced than anything. Ligion get their stuff together to the degree that the chorus to the track is as catchy as they come, but the band’s opening weakness is fairly major. “Lost My Car” is the next track, and it starts off with a punk meets rock approach that opens up into an energetic type of emo rock. Continue reading “Ligion – External Affairs”

Sachal Vasandani – Eyes Wide Open

Sachal Vasandani – Eyes Wide Open / 2007 Mack Avenue / 12 Tracks / http://www.sachalvasandani.com / http://www.mackavenue.com /

“Naked As We Came” is the first track on “Eyes Wide Open”, and Vasandani comes forth with a very classic style of singing. If anything, I would have to link eir singing style to an early Dean Martin or Bing Crosby. There is enough of a current focus to keep individuals interested; there is more than a passing glance at the Dave Matthews Band, even as Vasandani’s instrumentation moves in a more classical jazz format. What results with “Eyes Wide Open” is something that is very easy listening, with a light enough instrumentation to allow all the nuances of Vasandani’s vocals to shine. “Please Mr. Ogilvy” is the second track, and brings Vasandani more into the modern era than anything. Continue reading “Sachal Vasandani – Eyes Wide Open”

Maylene and the Sons of Disaster – II

Maylene and the Sons of Disaster – II / 2007 Ferret / 11 Tracks / http://www.mayleneandthesonsofdisaster.us / http://www.ferretstyle.com /

Maylene and the Sons of Disaster is a band that blends together Corrosion of Conformity (“Deliverance”-era) with Marilyn Manson, and puts it in a way that listeners in the current period can love. “Memories of the Grove” is the first track on “II”, and it shows the band as being very comfortable in their surroundings. Even though the band is one of the harder acts out there, they have one of the best production values. Continue reading “Maylene and the Sons of Disaster – II”

Jerry Lee Lewis – Last Man Standing

Jerry Lee Lewis – Last Man Standing / 2006 Shangri-La / 21 Tracks / http://www.jerryleelewis.com /

Jerry Lee Lewis is an individual whose time had came and left by the time that I started listening to music in the middle nineties. This does not mean that ey does not have anything left in the gas tank, but that I had never heard anything more than a few singles from Lewis in my musical existence. This album has the same general concept as the “American” series of albums that Johnny Cash released before ey died. This means that twenty-one tracks are played by Lewis (with guest musicians), ranging from those made famous by B.B. King to Toby Keith to Don Henley and Kid Rock.

The tracks represent some famous tracks “Rock and Roll” as well as songs that are probably pet projects of Lewis eirself (“Honky Tonk Woman”). The most interesting thing about “Last Man Standing” is that Lewis is able to bring these disparate tracks together into some semblance of cohesion. This means that, if individuals did not know that Neil Young was on “You Don’t Have To Go”, that they would think that the song is a solid contribution to the sound that is “Last Man Standing”. Even though the style of rock that Lewis is capable of and shows on this CD is definitely an older style of the genre, there is still a current and vital sound to eir contributions on this album. Despite creeping up in the years, Lewis has not lost a step.

Of particular note during this album have to be tracks like “Before the Night is Over” and “Pink Cadillac”. The sheer amount of tracks on this CD make this even more of a value; Lewis knows how to ensure that this disc will be flying off of the shelves, even if ey has not had an independent hit for quite a few years.  Lewis succeeds in much the same way as Cash did “American”. Lewis has so much charisma and ability that ey is able to keep the nuance of the accompanying artists on the tracks while still coming forth with eir own style and sound.  Lewis could conceivably release these type of albums every few years and end eir career on a strong note. If this sounds like a strong album, pick this up and give it a good few spins.  The duet album is something that is increasing in popularity, and for good reason; the joining in by talented musicians is bound to end well.

Top Tracks: Evening Gown, Twilight

Rating: 6.4/10

Sasha & Shawna – Siren

Sasha & Shawna – Siren / 2007 Blue Note / 12 Tracks / http://www.sashaandshawna.com / http://www.manhattanrecords.com /

I feel so un-educated when I get an album like “Siren”. For example, I was not familiar with Sasha Lazard, Shawna Stone, or Grammy-award winning producer Peter Asher. This album is a blend of classic opera tracks along with the duo’s reinterpretation of popular songs. These songs include Radiohead’s “Fade Out”, which opens the disc, along with Kansas’ “Dust In The Wind” and James Taylor’s “Close Your Eyes”.

While “Fade Out” is a typical Radiohead sound, the strong vocal presence in the track brings the resulting composition much more close to an Evanescence track. I know that I will be called a heretic by all of the Radiohead fans, but I feel that this track has a much more emotional and full sound than did the original, making this version the one I’d prefer. Regardless, this track is perfect as an opener, as it allows for individuals that may be intimidated by a track like “Per Te / For You” to gradually come into that track. The track is not hard to approach after given the emotional gravity of “Fade Out”; in fact, the track feels like it would be good in a Spanish-language version of a Disney movie. The only thing that seems odd about this track is that the instrumentation feels a little dated, even as the vocals are timeless. “I Know Itr’s Real” is a track that continues the slower sound of “Per Te/For You”, but the vocals of this duet just are not enough to further this track. Luckily for “Siren”, the inclusion of “Dust In The Wind” acts as a re-start.

The solid vocal work on this track re-energizes listeners, as does the instrumentation that largely stays true to the original. What I would like to see in Sasha and Shawna is something that represents a split of the two styles on “Siren”. Have a disc of their re-interpretations of rock classics, and have something a little more formal, such as their work on “Stabat Mater IXXI” and “O Del Mio Dolce Ardor”. Doing that would allow fans of either style just to listen to songs in that style, instead of bouncing back and forth between these two disparate styles throughout the disc. The disc suffers due to this split in focus, and while the singers cannot be faulted in the slightest for this, the album is not as enjoyable as it could be. Here’s to hoping that Blue Note goes the direction I suggest.

Top Tracks: Fade Out, Dust In The Wind

Rating: 5.2/10

Rachel Margaret – Buena Vista Park

Rachel Margaret – Buena Vista Park / 2007 Self / 4 Tracks  http://www.myspace.com/rachelmargaretmusic /

“Landfill” is one of the focal points on “Buena Vista Park”, and while the instrumentation is softly-stated and meanders around the vocals, Margaret here comes correct and creates a brand of modern pop-rock that is just as honest and impressive as anything released by Fiona Apple or others of her ilk. “Someday Soon” is a slightly faster song than “Landfill”, and brings Margaret into the space created by Annie Lennox and Enya, albeit with a more marketable sound. This more radio friendly sound is what links this track to “Landfill”, and ensures that listeners will keep focused in to “Buena Vista Park“. The title track for this EP uses more of the wide-open compositions that presented themselves on “Someday Soon”. “Buena Vista Park” is interesting due to the trend during the track for the instrumentation to rival the vocals in regards to the emotional content in each.

It takes a rare brand of musician to be able to create such a high level of emotional content on a track, but this trend is present throughout all of “Buena Vista Park“. “Solitude” may have a more inorganic sound to the instrumentation on the track, but this does not mean that the compositions on the track are sterile. Actually, the electronic, cold sound of the track feels to me to be a second set of vocals, the negative to the weary positive that Margaret puts forth on this track. “Buena Vista Group” may only be an EP, but individuals will understand quite well where Margaret is coming from by the time that this album spins to an end.

During the entirety of “Buena Vista Group”, Margaret handles eirself quite well. This gives me hope that the successes achieved here could easily be transferred to an album that is twice or thrice the time of “Buena Vista Park“. There is significant variation to the tracks on this EP, while still crafting a common thread of current pop-rock that runs through the songs here. Given the success of “Buena Vista Park“, it would not be a surprise to see Margaret receive rotation on contemporary and pop/rock format radio stations. All that ey needs is a video, and this could easily make it to the Good Life network or VH1 (if VH1 still plays videos, that is). Simply put, Rachel Margaret is an artist whose stock can only go up from here. Pick this EP up.

Top Track: Someday Soon

Rating: 6.2/10

The Christine Spero Group – My Spanish Dream

The Christine Spero Group – My Spanish Dream / 2007 Self / 9 Tracks / http://cdbaby.com/cd/christinespero2 /

One of the first things that is heard at the beginning of “My Spanish Dream” has to be the entirety of The Christine Spero Group weaving their instruments together to come up with a coherent and cohesive sound. Hints of Latin arrangements and jazz spontaneity immediately confront listeners during the disc’s first track, “My Spanish Dream”. The tango-like arrangements that end the chorus provide a form of onomatopoeia to this track that is simply to die for. “Don’t Say No” builds off of “My Spanish Dream” due primarily to the piano arrangements of Christine Spero. The smooth compositions in “Don’t Say No”, coupled with the vocals of Spero, elicits comparisons to Gloria Estefan and the talented musicians in the Miami Sound Machine.

While it is true that The Christine Spero Group tends to go towards the slower, more lounge-worthy tracks rather than the dance-fests that were often present during Estefan’s work, the talent exhibited by the bands and the distinctive vocals of the singers are similar. “Caribbean Nights” builds off of “Don’t Say No”, in that the set of influences influential in the creation of the track are the same between the tracks, giving each of the two songs a very early eighties feel.

However, at no point during “My Spanish Dream” does The Christine Spero Group sound dated in the least. One of the strong suits of The Christine Spero Group during this album has to be their ability to use older styles and couch it in a way that will entice listeners in the current
period to pick up the album.

Listeners will be enticed by the instrumental interplay present during “Just So You Know”, which brings the ropier sound of the bass into direct conflict with the twinkling high end of the track. Instead of creating dissonance during this track, the struggle for dominance between these two pieces of the band makes each side work harder and their efforts all the more impressive. The Christine Spero Group was only able to react in this way due to their amazing ability as musicians and the fact that Christine eirself has been working in creating these types of songs for well over a half decade. The tropical rhythms present on “My Spanish Dream” increase the replay value of this album, and ensures that listeners will be able to play the disc until that time
when The Christine Spero Group releases their next album.

Top Track: Don’t Say No, The Festival

Rating: 6.5/10