Sleep Machine’s new single “Mother” announces that this talented Los Angeles based duo of Alisha Zalkin and Dan Kalisher is ready to up their game to another level with one of the best invocations of bluesy heart-bearing soul rock you’ll hear in recent memory. There’s a supreme artistic confidence making this song move forward that’s born from having something individual to say while still commanding enough skill and understanding of the form to make them, in some way, sound like the first band to ever take on this sort of style. Zalkin is going to get much of the attention thanks to her exotic beauty and paint peeling vocal power, but she charges every line with a tremendous amount of soul and genuine gravitas. Despite her star turn with this song, Kalisher serves up some of the tastiest blues guitar in recent memory rolling like molasses and shooting like quicksilver over an often thunderous rhythm section attack.
Zalkin is the unquestioned center of the song. She makes her appearance early and charts a course through the running time that’s full of the many ups and downs we’d expect from a song about this subject matter and showing this sort of willingness to be vulnerable. She has some strong lyrical content to work with, but her phrasing talents reach far beyond simply benefitting from good words – instead, she elevates the fine writing several notches higher with a phrasing performance that gets beneath the skin of the experience and puts her emotions on the line in a way few other performers can. Despite the fact Sleep Machine hasn’t been around for all that long, Zalkin sounds like she’s been singing all her life and feels empowered by the good fortune of finding an ideal vehicle for her vocal art.
She couldn’t have found a better musical partner than Dan Kalisher. He brings a total mastery of the blues idiom into working with a modern rock sound and it results in a sound that manages to sound fresh while touching on the familiar. The contributions of the rhythm section are important for giving added weight to the track, but they never outshine the performances of Zalkin and Kalisher while still ably providing support. There’s no doubt that Kalisher has the skill and presence as a musician to dominate the track, perhaps any track he touches, but he’s clearly every bit as concerned with serving the track as Zalkin in and their shared artistic vision, ultimately, is what makes Sleep Machine’s work fly. It definitely flies. Sleep Machine has attracted tremendous attention from fans and major power brokers in the music industry for good reason – they bring the increasingly rare commodity of sincerity to the table and, despite any gloss laid over the top of popular music in the last half century, listeners still respond to what’s real. Every second of “Mother” is utterly real and hits home from the first.
Photo credit Lauren Fontaine.