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Crack of Dawn – Spotlight

Crack of Dawn – Spotlight

AMAZON: www.amazon.com/Spotlight-Crack-Dawn/dp/B0778QR2Z3

I truly believe that the number one reason why hip-hop, once the biggest and most lucrative style for the pop music establishment to count on to bring home the bacon year round, is experiencing such a tumble creatively and financially at the moment. Hip-hop is suffering from a complete and total lack of humility in 2018, and that’s really unacceptable when you think about the place that the genre holds on the mantle of western pop culture as we know it. This is an exciting time in music. We’re seeing dozens of new, hybrid genres built on the same foundation of experimentalism that once produced hip-hop’s forefathers and is very well producing some of the most important artists of this current generation as I write this article. If I were to make one suggestion to the biggest figures in the scene as to what to do or where to go next in terms of salvaging their sound, I would point them in the direction of a band that isn’t even trying to make rap music or hip-hop records. I would in fact send them to Crack of Dawn, Canada’s premier funk group that is changing the landscape for R&B right now and doing a lot to bring that genre into the future with slick production, sleek, danceable tracks and a mood that doesn’t fall into the self-absorbed hazards of commercialized overindulgence. Their new album Spotlight is setting the table for the 2020’s, and I can absolutely endorse it as my personal pick for most creative and forward looking LP of the latter 2010’s.

Crack of Dawn picked the right name when they were putting together their crew. Just like the start of the day, when anything and everything is possible for us as we embark into the unforgiving world that is our own, Crack of Dawn steeps their style in optimism and the belief that the musician, and not the culture around them, is the one in control of his or her own creative destiny. There isn’t an A&R influence, or a vibe that they were under some serious pressure to get this wrapped, pressed and out the door in time for a specific marketing season. Spotlight feels like an open house jam session, where we’re invited to sit in on a masterclass of artists playing music for the sake of the music and leaving their inhibitions at the door they came in through. Their American counterparts could certainly learn a lot from them as well, as when we juxtapose Spotlight beside the best and brightest that the States’ Billboard Hot 100 has to offer, there really is no comparison. Making music that is accessible to fans of all backgrounds is hard to do, but Crack of Dawn never get hung up on the details that surround making a thoroughly appealing record. They let their play and all of its illustrious rhythm do the talking for them, and that is more than enough to satisfy anyone who appreciates great music.

SPOTIFY: open.spotify.com/album/3coh1QMgL5E23arZk6H7gM

Clay Burton

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Honest Men EP

Honest Men EP

SOUNDCLOUD: soundcloud.com/honest-men/sets/honest-men-ep/s-Ju1xX

The greatest artists in the history of American music, and all music for that matter, have always been the storytellers; the songwriters who can literally snatch us from reality and take us on a journey of their own magical creation. Texas-based Honest Men have definitely established themselves alongside some of the best in the game today with their new EP, Honest Men, which is due out on May 25, 2018. Despite grinding out six songs in an Austin studio on a limited budget, their latest recording offers a very sophisticated sound that can stand up to anything on the Billboard Top 40 this year. And with their zealous brand of garage rock revival meets electro pop, you can bet they’re going to bring the house down in any context that they’re place in.

SPOTIFY: open.spotify.com/album/6wGPa4HRyGB9iEmZyRhfQG

The story of the Honest Men EP starts with a rollicking guitar blaring out of the feedback of an FM radio in the single (and first track) “Mad Love,” and emerging from the noise comes the lustrous vocal of Seth Findley, timed out almost robotically with the furious percussion of drummer Zach Solomon. “You’re needing some peace of mind,” he repeatedly insists in the bridge, as if to speak to all the chaos of the static between the stations that is not unlike our own hearts sometimes. A sizzling guitar solo follows, and it’s like we’re blazing across the white-capped surf of Miami Beach on a tepid summer evening. With a shake and a twist we shift focus and jump into “Lose My Head,” where Findley strikes a defiant blow into other pretentious pop singers with his massive vocal range. “I’m taking all the cheap shots/I feel the fever from within” he sings with feverish anticipation as the band lurks in the background, ready to pounce as we ascend back into the chorus. The weight of trust, friendship and emotional restraint finds an easy release when axe man Brooks Whitehurst steps back into the front with another solo, and it starts to feel like we’re listening to a musical proclamation of freedom.

YOU TUBE: www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPoPcUDWv4s

“I’m Okay” bounces between your headphones with an exuberance that is as 80’s as a John Hughes movie, but in the best way. It also makes for a fitting single from this EP, demonstrating just how funky and danceable HonestMen can get. On the flipside, “I’m Okay” is immediately followed up by the subdued sonnet “Rose,” that uses a futuristic backdrop of synthesizers and velvet-smooth vocals to create a romantic, endearing picture of two soulmates for us. Findley’s sincerity oozes from the microphone and is well matched by his band, who meticulously add additional shades of color to the ballad, including an intoxicating bassline from Nate Wallace. “Lacy Lake,” a letter of commitment wrapped in a punky groove that borders on clubby in its beat, is a well-placed follow up track, continuing the theme of deeper love started by the band in “Rose.” Things come to a swirling, ethereal conclusion of the final song “Sam,” a gripping elder’s perspective of the father-son dynamic that opens with an entrancing guitar lick that will leave anyone with an ear for music feeling totally mesmerized.

INSTAGRAM: www.instagram.com/honestmenmusic

When it’s all said and done and the record player comes to poignant stop, there’s no question that Honest Men may not be the only indie band in Texas looking to top the charts, but they certainly have the best chance of any of their contemporaries.

Clay Burton

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Phillip Broussard – Wavelength (EP

Phillip Broussard – Wavelength (EP)

SPOTIFY: open.spotify.com/album/5J92SQBZG2xhPXJiLPGOtE

For some people, summer is all about hitting a sunny beach or blazing up a barbeque with some close friends and a hot day, but for those of us who live and breathe music, nothing can ever beat a fresh summer jam that inspires us, gets us dancing, makes us think or just soundtracks the little moments that make life special and grand. Phillip Broussard isn’t a DJ or a rapper, and he isn’t the frontman of a new rock outfit, but he’s leaving his mark on the summer sound with Wavelength, a five song extended play released last year that is just beginning to find its footing in college radio and indie scenes across the country. Broussard is a Seattle singer/songwriter, but don’t assume that he’s a coffee shop anti-hero. His music combines country, pop and sentimental folk to create mellow vibes perfect for introspective fodder and appreciating a freewheeling, boundless spirit that made roots music so successful in the late 1960s.

In the song “All Over Again,” Broussard treats us to some of his best poetry to date and eloquently summarizes the cycle of love with a poise and swagger rarely found in his genre of music anymore. Similarly, the moving “Best Friend” leaves a lingering sense of justice and regretful hindsight that is emotionally charged and displays a maturity not typically associated with a man of such young age. Using his colorful textures and bold acoustic harmonies though, Broussard gets us lost in his enigmatic storytelling and opulent melodies and still allows us to find where we stand for ourselves somewhere along the bewildered path. Sure, it is an ambitious premise for an extended play, but from where I sit, he’s just good enough to get away with it.

It’s pretty hard to find music that isn’t hung up on its own ego these days. Everything that’s dominating the pop charts gives us the idea that big egos, and all of the frivolousness and illogicality that come with them, are the only thing that sell when that simply just isn’t the case. The pop establishment pushes this stuff because it’s cheap and easy to produce and when set to a catchy enough beat can be marketed as “empowering,” which is something that people desperately go after in this age of self-loathing and collective, post-technological revolution depression. But even listeners with the most generic and questionable of tastes have to admit that this current climate for music is getting awfully stale, and the cries for new blood are becoming deafening and universal. That’s where Phillip Broussard enters. We don’t need more artists who abuse self-conscious prose to market disingenuous love songs and pseudo political anthems. What we do need is artists like Broussard, who put everything out there and do it without lyrical, musical or social self-admiring and ego stroking. Anyone who’s hip to this kind of direction would be smart to give Wavelength a listen when possible, and artists of his peer group in every genre and scene should consider taking a page from his book when it comes to professionalism.

SOUNDCLOUD: soundcloud.com/phillip-broussard

Clay Burton

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Fate Under Fire – La La Love

Fate Under Fire – La La Love

YOU TUBE: www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KcQpPX9wYY&feature=youtu.be

Fate Under Fire’s newest single “La La Love” capitalizes on the quality of the band’s previous two singles, “Parachute” and “On the Water”, with an even more winning effort demonstrating how this talented Sacramento, California headquartered four piece has grown by leaps and bounds thanks to innate talent, a busy touring schedule, and a commitment to writing songs with real value. It isn’t just tinsel and formula that makes Fate Under Fire so memorable. Instead, their songs stick in the memory thanks to their melodic virtues, the cinematic sweep the band achieves with seemingly minimal effort, and David James’ vocal topping everything off with a mix of entertaining vocal pyrotechnics and genuine pathos in his voice. The mix of the song’s musical and vocal strengths makes this one of the most important singles released yet in 2018 and “La La Love” will likely conclude the year retaining that lofty status.

SPOTIFY: open.spotify.com/track/5GEwxfbxRee1dSEHapyJBk?si=L5e08JiBRyCqqtlnHtYkvQ

It’s because of an all around band effort. There isn’t a single individual component of their presentation on “La La Love” that feels or sounds lacking. Everything has been developed to its logical end and the band has clearly realized the potential of this song by applying their talents equally to each of its elements. There’s never any studied sense to this; instead, “La La Love” feels nothing less than natural despite the heavy presence of electronic instruments and the traditional instruments present in the mix blend well with those aforementioned electronic elements. There’s definitely a strong sense of dynamics powering this song in a classic style, despite the modern sound, and that confluence of time-tested fundamentals alongside a wholly idiosyncratic approach to music making makes for an invigorating listen. Fate Under Fire never overreaches with the song either – instead, they pare their musical vision down to a totally economical and focused three minutes and change without ever leaving listeners feeling short-changed.

INSTAGRAM: www.instagram.com/fateunderfire/

Vocalist David James caps all of those aforementioned strengths off with his best vocal performance yet that carefully straddles a line between entertainment and full blown art. His talent for getting inside both the lyrics and musical structure means he’s working with the song all the time, never generating tension, and enhancing everything around him with his powerfully emotive vocal skills. He really takes off with the song’s chorus, but shows his maturity as a singer by never leaving that moment too outsized in comparison to what’s come before. The lyrics are conversational, but a cut above the typically half formed thoughts and turns of phrase compromising most modern pop songs. Bringing all of these previously mentioned qualities together in a seamless package makes this song one of the more impressive listening experiences I’ve enjoyed in some time and there’s no sign with Fate Under Fire’s “La La Love” that they won’t be able to sustain and even expand on this excellence with future releases.

I-TUNES: itunes.apple.com/us/album/la-la-love-single/1362470444?ls=1&app=itunes

Clay Burton

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Lauria “Losing Me”

Lauria “Losing Me”

URL: www.lauria-music.com/

For artists, connecting with their audience is a lot tougher that it might look from afar. While it might be easy to make a beat or a rhythm that can inspire people to move and dance, making a song that they can genuinely, honestly connect with on a much more spiritual level is something that doesn’t just require skill, but a ton of heart as well. It’s not a question of whether or not the likability is there, but the relatability; it can’t feel like a singer is just performing something for us, but expressing a feeling or a large emotion that we share and are bound by. Singer/songwriter Lauria is proving that she’s got the charisma and the organic identity to be one of the best in the game, and right now she has her white hot new single “Losing Me” to thank for all of the attention.

A smoky bassline throbs against the funky beats administered from the backing track in “Losing Me.” It adds a layer of mystique over the otherwise totally accessible Lauria, who sings with a gusto that could leave her mistaken for a divine angel instead of just an earthly songstress. She’s good, and what’s even better is that she doesn’t have to pile on a lot of additional frills to convince you that she’s the real article. “Losing Me” is a pretty simply constructed song, but the modesty of its design is rather deceiving when considering the ambitious nature of Lauria’s approach to making music in the studio. Her voice would work well in almost any setting because it’s clear that she puts in all of the blue collar, old school working musician hours to make it perfect and tailor made for her target audience.

It shouldn’t go without mentioning the overt reggae influence that exists within the bones of “Losing Me” that is consistent with a continued celebration of the exotic stylings of Caribbean music that we’ve been seeing in the latter half of the 2010’s in R&B. What sets this particular arrangement apart from some of the similar tracks that I’ve heard in the last few years is in its understated delivery, which makes it sound a lot less derivative than the best of what some of Lauria’s closest competition can muster. And yes, I do call the fellow artists of her scene her competition, because now more than ever before thanks to the advent of social media and international connectivity through the internet, it’s practically harder to break into this business than it is to become a surgeon. Strike that; it is harder, because in music there isn’t a school or a set of regulations that you can follow a clear path of study to attain proficiency in the field. She’s ready to play in the major leagues, and if this is just a mere glimpse into her capacities as composer and a singer, then a full length album is going to need to happen very soon. Lauria has a chance to move up to the next level faster than anyone else in her aesthetic class right now, and “Losing Me” just might be the song to usher in her reign over the charts.

SPOTIFY: open.spotify.com/artist/2uaAxtUAERovgO6bwebn7r

Clay Burton

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Edenn releases new Single

Edenn releases new Single

URL: edennmusic.com/

I’ve been a glutton for electronica most of my life. It’s that fickle genre that some people like to rip on for being almost completely digitally-engineered, but I’ve always defended it as more complex, more calculated than the average casual music fan could really understand or properly appreciate. The most erudite of electronica’s many scenes that scatter across the entire globe is the collective world of European house music, which is not only the most diverse collection of artists anywhere on planet earth in my personal opinion, but also the most enigmatic and reclusive. Yes, there have been enormously successful entertainers to come out of the Euro circuit, but it’s the tens of thousands who have remained in obscurity that serve as the real cream of the crop in this genre. And while Parisian melodic hip-hop artist Edenn doesn’t go all out on the synth and sample front with his new song “Thinking,” if you’re a student of the electronica gods, it’s practically impossible not to see the effect his geographical surroundings have had on him.

Edenn moved to Belgium back in 2018 and is now an established journalist and multi-faceted artist living in Paris. During his time on the continent he’s expended a lot of energy constructing a unique approach to tonality that isn’t the most common for western-stylized R&B singers. But that’s where things get interesting, you see. I have this theory that Edenn doesn’t consider himself an R&B singer, at least not entirely. There’s such a myriad of tones and sharp percussive explosions that indicate to me that he’s much more interested in making avant-garde pop that doesn’t fit into any category other than experimental.

If I’m right, here’s how all of that works out in the benefit of urban music and electronica equally. For one, Edenn will not only be regarded as a champion of the underground who responsibly used the most DIY means available to him to bring experimental pop infused with R&B into the mainstream, but he’ll be in the perfect position to be the face of R&B as the transition of power takes place over the next half decade. When things change, and they always do, they tend to change for the better when the right minds are given the task of taking charge over the masses and guiding them into the safety of the future.

None of this means an insular future for R&B or the death of yet another corner of underground music. What it does mean is that we’re moving forward in pop culture, and love songs that are progressively styled in the vein of “Thinking” are a lot more exhilarating than one that are steeped in tired, recycled drum beats and tracks “featuring” appearances by cheap, sound alike colleagues that do little more to add to a track than put their name in the credits list on the back of the album. If the future is now and this is what it sounds like, then I have no idea know we waited so long to make this move into it.

Listen to single: edennmusic.com/music

Clay Burton

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Project Grand Slam – Trippin’

Project Grand Slam – Trippin’

URL: www.projectgrandslam.com/

The best thing about summer, at least for music enthusiasts like myself, is the massive tidal wave of the releases that the season brings with it. Typically summertime is when we see more output from all genres than any other time of year as artists prepare to embark on vigorous tour schedules to get people excited and invigorated throughout the heat-inspired passion of the three months wedged between spring and autumn. One of the most anticipated albums of the season this year is Trippin’ from jazz virtuoso Robert Miller’s Project Grand Slam, which I had the immense privilege of sampling ahead of its June 29th release date. Featuring the prolific stylings of Miller, vocalist Ziarra Washington, guitarist Tristan Clark, percussionist Guillermo Barron Rios, saxophonist Mario Castro, the incomparable Baden Goyo on keys and Joel E. Mateo on drums, Trippin’ offers some of the most imaginative sounds that the new wave of jazz fusion is brewing up these days, and is led by the enchanting single “Lament,” a song so tremendously epic that it plays out like the jazz equivalent of a Queen song.

Jazz music, especially for art aficionados, is a lot like fine wine in its rich complexities and calculated tones that take a great deal of time to reach their full potential. It’s more than obvious that this group put in a lot of old school, blue collar labor into their newest LP, and “Lament” sort of serves as a signature salutation for newcomers unfamiliar with the character and integrity that Project Grand Slam is becoming legendary for. I’d even go as far as to suggest that this is a great song for people who are new to jazz fusion in general, as its accessibility allows for even the most casual of listeners to be able to enjoy and appreciate the cerebral qualities that make this style of music so fascinating to study.

Materialism and the influence of corporate greed is killing music more than we ever thought it could. As early as the end of the 1950’s, industry pioneers were getting concerned about the corruption of the artistic soul of popular music by external influences, and we’ve seen a downward trend in the last half century that has now resulted in songs about soft drinks being number one hits on the Billboard charts. As someone who came up listening to classic jazz records as a kid, punk rock as a teenager and avant-garde classical music as an adult, I find it a little insulting to our collective intelligence that the establishment thinks that’s all we’re capable of digesting. Thank god for what Project Grand Slam is doing in music right now; we need more artists who are actively taking a clean approach to composing and performing instead of leaning so heavily on financial interests. It doesn’t take big dollars to make an amazing record that will change people’s lives. It does however take big passion, and as long as this group is around, we can count on there still being a little bit of energy to keep the lighthouse beacon lit going into the next era of popular music.

I-TUNES: itunes.apple.com/bz/album/trippin/1385709468

Clay Burton

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That Summer, Vol. 1 – C.K. & The Rising Tide “Friends”

That Summer, Vol. 1 – C.K. & The Rising Tide “Friends”

C.K. & The Rising Tide “Friends” cktherisingtide.bandcamp.com/track/friends

C.K. Flach and his group The Rising Tide are about impossible to avoid these days if you’re a fan of alternative country music, and it’s no wonder why every critic in pop has made at least one mention of their latest single “Friends” since it dropped earlier this month. In a genre like country music that doesn’t have as much variety as some of the other big genres that are popular in music today, alternative groups like C.K. & The Rising Tide stand to benefit the most from tailoring their craft around the more neglected fans of the Nashville scene. This is unquestionably, the look, the feel and the delivery of the newest incarnation of country rock that will dominate the charts in the next decade to come, and luckily for us, it’s looking to be the most provocative and exciting addition to the American songbook yet.

There’s no denying that C.K. & The Rising Tide sound like more of a live band than they do a studio act, but nevertheless, that didn’t stop them from banging out a real, genuine treasure in their new song “Friends.” Flach is a really gifted poet, and it’s on the strength of his prose that this group seems to really spread its wings and fill up all of the empty spaces that sometimes plague country bands that try to make such pastoral, folk-influenced music. Structurally, “Friends” is a pretty straight up country song, but there are so many layers of sonic disruption and discord that add to the textures of this track that it’s hard for me not to shelve it in the alternative section. There are moments that, dare I say, the group even touches on experimental territory, and to say that they’re anything less than the brilliant innovators that they are would be flat out criminal.

A song like this really encourages me to feel safe in saying that we can believe in music again. For a while there, it seemed like the big box corporate interests of the MTV generation had completely eclipsed any sort of organic DIY ethics that were still existent in our modern times, and that was a pretty heartbreaking concept to try and grapple with, at least for those of us who had come to depend on commercial free music to get through our lives and thin out the monotony that FM radio can sometimes cram down our throats in the most uncompromisingly droning of fashions. But we’re seeing a change this year, and C.K. & the Rising Tide are one of the finer examples of the revolution in audio that we appear to be riding into. I’m not a huge country music fan, but if this band lights enough of a fire underneath Nashville to inspire other bands to go out on a limb and try something different like these guys did, my patronage of country music could change very, very drastically in the near future. Art makes you think, and great art makes you think a little differently.

That Summer, Vol. 1: open.spotify.com/album/2BuQkIZjet7yHSU7cGroKj

Clay Burton

 

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You Know Who You Are – by Ryan Chernin

URL: www.ryanchernin.com/

You Know Who You Are – by Ryan Chernin, is the culmination of a year’s worth of work in and out of the studio, a sultry collection of songs about life, love, and loss. It involved doing the right things and getting with the right people which includes producer John Eugenio, mixer Chris Davies, and guitarist Jared Scharff. Chrenin, himself, lets his humor come out and his wit be known in every song, including the darker and more storytelling moments. Chernin showed an inclination for music at a young age and it still burns inside him to this day, which said culmination has resulted in a stellar debut outing.

“Accessories” opens with a gigantic song that comes in third or fourth to every one of these twelve slices of pure ear candy. This is one of the tracks Chernin released as a video single with two others to mention, in late February of this year. You can look the video up, but it is the track itself that is in question, and what a terrific song he wrote and delivered with no punches pulled. The track is explicit language but still included that way on the video, so pulling no punches is something you can rely on from Chernin. Like the result or not, it’s where he lets it all hang out and the honesty do the rest.

“The Song Song” is another explicit track, albeit much less so, and another song to pay close attention to the lyrics of, or this one isn’t so easily comprehended from the title to the subject matter. But once you get into it, the track makes all the sense in the world and goes down an absolute album favorite. It’s all in the way that they use it and everything they’re working with, including on the production side which a lot of value in this album can be credited for. It helps the nest two tracks, “Look Right” and “Face Time” weave their own spells which they do so well as the two most understated tracks.

There’s so much to describe about these songs it’s laborious to think about, but it’s hard to just let the music do the talking without some of the stories taking over and showing the meaning ‘s equal importance on them all. “The Ballad Of Bo (The Stormchaser)” is a gleaming example of that with its cool storyline. So is “Dangerous Game (feat Evelyn Horan)” but with a different twist being the duet with Horan who brings a soothing touch to the album on the songs she appears on. Horan and Bekon’s presence on this album are something you cannot miss, as they help seal the deal.

Some other moments include the extremely good “Ash Tray Kisses,” which is another previously released track with a video, and the very enjoyable “Locomotion” which comes as a nice surprise toward the end. But the album’s biggest track of all is the blues-oriented ballad “Quasi” with the guitar going way over the top to showcase Saturday Night Live’s, Jered Scharff’s splendid talent. This isn’t just some kind of pedestrian effort, it’s one hundred percent epic and the album’s crowning achievement in every department. It makes the rest flow like gravy and taste like it too.

GOOGLE PLAY:
play.google.com/store/music/artist/Ryan_Chernin?id=Aybakqpv7y25btkc7lzjt5mxvhq

Clay Burton

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Esteban Alvarez releases “La Bikina”

Esteban Alvarez releases “La Bikina”

FACEBOOK: www.facebook.com/estebanalvarezmusic/

Composer and classically trained pianist Esteban Alvarez is making a lot of noise with his new song “La Bikina,” from his new album Piano Meets Mariachi at the moment, but the road to stardom for him has not been the easiest of paths traveled. Born and raised in San Jose, Costa Rica, Alvarez has been playing piano since adolescence. He taught himself how to play and compose on a keyboard that his father brought home one day when he was a boy, and from there, nothing could contain his attraction to the fine arts. Studying music and physics at the University of Costa Rica, Alvarez was chosen at just 20 years old to conduct and arrange music for the Escazu Folk-Music Band at SIVO in Central Europe, no small achievement for a man of such a young age. This led to a full scholarship to Baylor University the following year where he would major in classical piano performance and study directly under Dr. Terry Lynn Hudson and Dr. Vincent DeFries. His abilities on the piano were evolving into something much stronger than even his closest mentors could have predicted, and after graduating from Baylor with honors, it was on to the highly regarded jazz program at the University of North Texas. He became a staple in the jazz ensemble and was clearly the brightest mind in his class. Relocating to Austin, Esteban has been recording, writing and performing his own imprint of classical music even before leaving school, and in “La Bikina,” we get to see what all of his hard work was for.

Piano Meets Mariachi probably wasn’t recorded to redefine what classical music is going to sound like for Latin audiences, but it certainly does a good job at doing so nevertheless. For once we can have a true mariachi record that can feature jazz elements and accents from pop, standards, folk and classical music without coming off as a watered down attempt at making a commercially savvy hybrid. I don’t know about anyone else, but isn’t that something that fans of mariachi have been craving since the turn of the century, when many critics complained that the style had reached a creative plateau?

Alvarez doesn’t have to try very hard to sell us on his inventiveness, and that’s the magic in a short instrumental track like “La Bikina;” it lets the musicians’ hands do all of the talking. Robert Moog once said that “When a pianist sits down and does a virtuoso performance, he is in a technical sense transmitting more information to a machine than any other human activity involving machinery allows.” Is it Alvarez’s relationship with the piano that makes him so capable of expressing his emotion and message to us in this medium? Is it the piano’s exceptional magnificence that is allowing us to see the magnificent side of Alvarez? Perhaps the other way around? Whatever the case may be, Piano Meets Mariachi is my choice for piano album of this latter portion of the 2010s, if for no other reason than its amazing portrayal of a musician’s undying love for his instrument.

I-TUNES: itunes.apple.com/us/artist/esteban-alvarez/727835327

Clay Burton

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Cathy Hutch is Free Wheelin’

Cathy Hutch is back!

URL: www.cathyhutch.com/

Country music, like many other genres in the larger umbrella of popular music, has often served as a notable flashpoint for a lot of the political and social unrest that has been present during various times in history. Just a little more than a decade and a half ago, the United States’ foray into the War on Terror was essentially soundtracked by a legion of Nashville songwriters eager to support the war effort but unfortunately put into the precarious position of being too closely associated with the American conservative movement (thus alienating half of their intended record-purchasing audience). This isn’t an isolated occurrence. We look to our artists, our actors, our musicians to guide us through the storm when it gets to windy out and we can’t see our way through the lightning and fog. It’s a scary world out there sometimes. Right now, feminism is finally getting the sort of mainstream platform that it has collectively worked tirelessly towards for over a century. In this movement we are being made privy to some truly sensational female songwriters, performers and producers that genuinely have a shot at changing the game for future generations of female artists for the better. One standout on the Canadian side of the border that’s caught my attention most recently is none other than Fredericton, New Brunswick’s own Cathy Hutch, a phenomenally gifted singer and songwriter whose new record Free Wheelin’ pushes the limits of country music to revolutionary territory and brings with it some great rallying cries for the contemporary revolution in equalitarianism that we’re witnessing today.

Cathy Hutch isn’t your typical country singer. Actually, she’s not even your typical musician. In a collection of songs that could sit perfectly fine next to any of your favorite classic rock records as easily as could beside Tanya Tucker or Patsy Cline, Free Wheelin’doesn’t particularly fit into any one genre over another, instead embracing its heterogeneous influences with a fervor that is quite refreshing and aesthetically pleasing to hear. In the title track, a white hot overdriven guitar takes us careening through a furious verse that calls for self-empowerment, tenacity and confidence with a cocky swagger that challenges any of the most amplified macho power anthems you’ve heard in the last decade and beyond. “Reflections of My Life” paints a poignant picture of the yearning and inner conflict that rages when we don’t want to die, but we don’t know how to go on living the way that we always have (and possibly the only way that we know how). There’s a uniquely feminine resolute spirit and backbone that drives all of the passion behind Cathy Hutch’s music and lyrics on Free Wheelin’, and it’s moving not only for women but for my fellow music critics as well to see such a strong contribution from an up and coming artist like this. 2018 needed something to definitively pick up the pace and set the bar for the upcoming decade in popular music, and I think this album does both exceptionally.

TWITTER: twitter.com/CathyHutch

Clay Burton

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The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina – Act 3

The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina – Act 3

CD BABY: store.cdbaby.com/cd/themerrymakersorchestrina

The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina is a trio based out of the New York City area and led by singer/songwriter/guitar player Ryan Shivdasani. The band has altered their lineup since the recording of this full length, but there’s little question listening to Act 3’s thirteen cuts that nothing will change about Shivdasani’s creative vision for the band’s music. It isn’t easily classifiable. It’s close to say that Shivdasani’s musical loyalties lie with terse, often angular guitar driven art rock with minimal clutter and an elevated lyrical quality, but you can’t quite pin Shivdasani and the band’s songs down – they take some surprising, label defying turns along the way that makes it clear they are far more than just another power trio revolving around a central figure’s guitar work. The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina’s album Act 3 shows that there are many more acts to come for this talented songwriter and his equally talented band mates.

“Together” may seem like a relatively improbable opener thanks to its crazed pace and fiery temperament, but it becomes clear that The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina want to get Act 3 off to a fast start and there’s simply no other song on the album that would have worked as effectively in this spot. It has a strong punk rock bite and Jack Redford’s bass playing has every bit of the energy this sort of track demands. “Particle Craze” and some of the album’s later songs sound profoundly influenced by bands like Television, early Talking Heads, or Richard Hell and the Voivoids, while manifesting its own unique character. We get the first hint of his lyrical acumen with this tune, but that really emerges in full with the album’s third song. “Watched You Out My Window” tells a story in a way that few songs on Act 3 do and has great subtlety in doing so. Shivdasani’s guitar work hinges on a melody that sets the song’s overall emotional tone while the lyric doesn’t show all its cards at once.

“East of Eden” is cut from the same cloth as the album’s second song but with a much more deliberate tempo and a stronger focus on melody. There’s a balance here, however, between melody and atmospherics that’s missing from much more direct melodic efforts like the previous tune. The lyric is definitely just as strong as before and tells a very different story than “Watched You Out My Window”, but there’s every bit of the same insight into character as we enjoy with the previous song. Shivdasani and the band whip together some real menace with the song “Enemy” and it makes the same sort of deep impact we heard with the last two tracks. The chiming lilt of “Slip Away” blends country and folk influences together in a charming way that’s perfectly in keeping with what’s come before and benefits from one of Shivdasani’s best vocals.

The rhythm section really shines on the tune “Anarchy” and it has a pleasing retro sound with some flourishes along the way and a stormy ending that marks this as the band’s own. There’s a lot of great lyrical content in this track and Shivdasani delivers with more playfulness than you might expect going into it. “Blood Country” comes at you from the same place we heard with the earlier “Particle Craze” and other tunes along the way and gives us a lyric that provides listeners no comfort at all. There’s some light production touches influencing this song, like many of the others, and it makes this one particularly effective. “Wait Behind” ends Act 3 on a laid back, melodic note with a warm Shivdasani vocal. The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina will impress a lot of listeners with this release and you’ll be hard put to not find something on this album that will get under your skin and stay there. It’s one of 2018’s best releases.

SPOTIFY: open.spotify.com/album/4nVCsOykvkuBMzinHtU69g

Clay Burton

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Conor Gains – Compass

Conor Gains – Compass

URL: www.conorgainsband.com/

Conor Gains’ solo debut Compass opens with the song “I Know” and, from that song alone, listeners will rest easy realizing they are in confident and capable musical hands. The blues and jazz influences powering the ten song collection are cut with a tangible nod to soul and R&B in the way that Gains, one song after another, holds listener’s attention thanks to his penchant for writing and singing over deeply felt, atmospheric grooves. “Walking Alone” opens in a spartan manner with warm, tactile guitar accompanying one of Gains’ finer vocals before the drums enter and the song launches in earnest. There’s a light presence of backing vocals deepening the song’s soulful qualities, but Gains is more than capable of single-handedly carrying the song’s emotional demands. Brief passages of lead guitar punctuate the song at key dramatic points without ever overstepping its mandate.

“Dance Like It’s Your Birthday” mixes pure R&B stomp with a strong blues influence. The vocal presentation is highlight from the first and ends up being one of the best aspects of the song and achieves a particularly rousing quality during the track’s chorus. There’s a quick guitar rave up opening “Ordinary Love” segueing nicely into a slow burn torch song complete with stylish backing vocals and understated percussion. Gains’ singing glides through the changes and brings a gentle lift at specific points that widens the song’s reach. Each of the ten songs on Compass shows him to be a master of mood who never over-exerts to achieve effects. Instead, he makes his presence felt with an effortlessness that wins you over from the first. There’s even a smattering of rap vocals added near the song’s end.

He proves expert with gradual transitions as “I’ve Been Looking for Your Heart” builds from a muted opening to a stormy, impassioned conclusion without ever striking a false note along the way. Gains has the phrasing talents of a much older singer and certainly much of that can be attributed to a passion for perfecting his craft, but it’s just as much innate skill. “In My Head” has some tasteful, yet wonderfully bluesy piano playing matching every bit of the intensity in Gains’ singing. There’s a glowering intensity, even a low key menace, accompanying this tune that’s impossible to ignore and it revolves around the aforementioned piano and Gains’ show stopping vocal. It’s a mightily impressive way to start the album’s second half.

“Back to You” shifts the album’s musical gears slightly with an acoustic based tune. It has a palpable live feel to the performance, despite the flawless backing vocals, and reaches some rousing pinnacles along the way. There’s a surprising hint of Bon Iver’s influence in the massed vocals and clear focus on ambient production during the song’s first half, but it isn’t a pronounced thing. Compass’ longest song, “Miracle”, keeps Gains working in relatively low key musical surroundings and embraces his blues influences once again while bringing an impressive horn section to bear on the final result. The album’s second to last track “Darkness in the Light” continues to explore the more pensive edge of his songwriting, but Gains and his collaborators once again confound expectations during the song’s second half and push the envelope some. Compass concludes with another comparatively lengthy piece, “Mexico”, which blends more of his patented talent for soulful grooves with an evolving roots rock sound build around the guitar and never pushing too hard on listeners. This is a fully immersive and rewarding musical experience that bears repeated listens.

YOU TUBE: www.youtube.com/watch?v=uD0U5ZTpxJo

Clay Burton

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Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite – Electrified

Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite – Electrified

URL: patientlyawaitingthemeteorite.band/

Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite are poised to receive enormous attention and praise for their forthcoming debut Canyon Diablo if the first single “Electrified” is any reliable indication of the quality of the release as a whole. The result of a collaboration between producers The Grand Brothers and singer/songwriter Dee, “Electrified” is the sort of unabashed cinematic pop we don’t often hear anymore. The three creative forces behind this project obviously work quite well together and they should; the Grand Brothers produced Dee’s second solo album Day by Day and helped further propel the singer’s career to new heights following success that saw Dee’s single “Miles and Miles (Living on the Edge)” featured in a Ford automotive commercial during the 2018 Super Bowl and the singer’s enormous success using YouTube as a medium for conveying his talents. The new single shows the trio’s forthcoming release will likely be remembered as one of the more memorable releases in recent pop history and, if the single is any indication, this is a creative train the three of them can ride for some time to come.

You read everywhere about pop music’s narrowing creativity, how it increasingly panders to its audience along the same tired formulaic lines, and then you hear a song like this and a little hope is restored. It’s clear that the Grand Brothers and Dee are aspiring to do more with the form than checking off the customary boxes and hoping to hit some basic marks. Instead, the arrangement for “Electrified” wants to grab your attention and it does thanks to the perfect synthesis of synthesizers, electronic rhythm section, and compelling vocals. The song, likewise, never runs on too long and that shows the trio intuitively understand exactly what the audience isn’t looking for, if nothing else, and they hone their attention in on capitalizing on that rather than losing their way with sideshows or needless flourishes. The electronic instrumentation, frequently derided as cold and sterile with other artists, has real bite in the hands of Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite without ever trying to bludgeon the audience into submission.

Dee’s vocal is the cherry on top of it all. He definitely isn’t what you would deem a normal, every day singer, but he has personality and presence that helps define the track every bit as much as what we’ve heard from his solo work and it’s apparent the Grand Brothers understand how to frame his voice for maximum effect. Everything is in balance here and, even when the music falls away and Dee’s voice stands alone, this non-traditional vocalist is obviously capable and primed to carry the tune on his shoulders for a time. The warmth in his voice and the obvious dramatic flair he pumps into his phrasing elevates some fine, far from merely placeholder, lyrics into the realm of a vital message for anyone who listens to the song. “Electrified” sends Canyon Diablo off into the word with tremendous energy and Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite are poised to soon bear the fruits of its high quality.

SPOTIFY: open.spotify.com/album/0dRuEdzkyxSb3Hj2CerZrq

Clay Burton

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Little Stranger – Sing It High

Little Stranger – Sing It High

SOUNDCLOUD: soundcloud.com/littlestrangermusic/sing-it-high

The third studio release from Little Stranger, Styles & Dynamics, emerges with its first single “Sing It High” and it sets the bar high for what is scheduled to follow. The EP title reflects much of what drives Little Stranger’s music, undoubtedly a conscious decision, and the polished production framing the song presents their stylishness and command of music dynamics with great balance and in the best possible aural light. There’s an assortment of instruments dropped into the song’s musical mix, but it never all comes at once and “Sing It High” develops with a tremendous amount of artistry. Little Stranger has gained a lot of praise for their live shows, for good reason we can be sure, but their talents as composers deserve every bit as much note. John and Kevin Shields, not related, possess an enormously personable style together and their creative collaboration sparks from the first.

INSTAGRAM: www.instagram.com/littlestrangermusic/

We don’t hear them at the beginning however. Instead, a snappy drum beat sweeps listeners right into “Sing It High” and it’s clear from the first a slightly rambunctious, unfettered spirit is going to guide much of what we hear for the next four minutes. The introduction of other instruments, acoustic and electric alike, diversify the musical stew in a measured way that never introduces everything at once but, instead, staggers the addition of new colors in a dramatic way. We definitely get a sense of the song unveiling itself to us with great patience that never feels like it drags along. The guitar work is particularly memorable and shows how Little Strangers has zero fear of blending seemingly dissimilar elements in a convincing way. Their confluence of hip hop with more traditional musical styles never feels forced and seems, in all truth, as natural as breathing for this duo.

This freshness extends to their vocals, as well. There’s never too much attitude they bring to bear – the boastfulness and confidence coming across in the lyrics and their delivery isn’t any of the mean-spirited swagger you hear from other hip hop acts, but instead comes off as more a statement of personal/artistic prowess with an upbeat, even slightly humorous, edge. It’s difficult to catch all the lyrics because the intensely rhythmic vocals are intent on matching the music, but critical lines emerge, there’s some nice post-production effects applied to any assortment of passages, and even a dollop of harmonies to sweeten the musical pot a little more. There’s a ton of personality shot through this song as well and it helps make it one of the more memorable single releases in recent memory as well an excellent opening salvo from Styles & Dynamics. Charleston, South Carolina may seem like an unlikely headquarters for this duo, but songs like this will lead you believe that this city may be harboring a musical act ready to take on the entire world.

SPOTIFY: open.spotify.com/track/36wBg9fye5QndAziIH3pDV?si=tI4dbCc3SbGFCWV3yFcCQw

Clay Burton

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