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Ryan Holliday “Train – EP”

20 Apr, 2011 Alexa Spieler

Talented Ohio native singer/songwriter Ryan Holliday has been making a name for himself with his latest release, the Train EP. The Train EP provides fans with piano work that resembles  Gavin DeGraw and The Fray, and a raw vocal style akin to Kris Allen and Jon Mclaughlin.  With great passion, this 5-song collection perfectly describes the journey of life, complete with all of its ups and downs.

“Never Satisfied” opens the record on a slower pace, beginning with a solo piano intro until Holliday’s vocals enter and a simple drum follows shortly after.  The song is angsty, even droll and brooding in some parts, as the story tells of an over-working, absentee father.  In particular, this track shows off Holliday’s vocals.  The dynamic power and passion with which he sings is what makes the track as elegant as it is.  Next, “Redemption” speaks of finding hope and love despite all of the burdens we carry as human beings. In just over four minutes, Holliday carries on the same amount of passion and confidence he displayed within the first track. This time, rather than driving from just the vocal, it is the piano lines which bring the composition full circle.  Holliday inspires his listeners and lets them know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Through his lyrics and through his passion, Holliday lets his fans into his brain and his heart.

“Let It Go” offers a bright, uplifting tone. The piano work is generally cheerful throughout this inspirational track.  The backing drumbeat is strong and Holliday’s vocals are powerful, encouraging, and steeled with absolute confidence on lyrics like, “Let it go, lift your feet up off of the ground | We all know, we all know that it’s no good standing around | You’re on your way | there’s not time to waste| Leave your doubts behind you now, let it go.” “Let It Go” not only has an inspirational message, it has a hook you could land a whale on and is the perfect midpoint off the record.

A cover of Mat Kearney’s “Won’t Back Down” is up next, a song that has become a fan favorite at Holliday’s live shows over the past few years.  “Won’t Back Down” gives a great setup for the the final track, which is also the title track. “Train” is possibly the most dynamic and climatic track of the bunch, putting Holliday’s unvarnished heart into lyrical and melodic form. The track may not be as uplifting or tonally bright as the previous songs, but it is the most meaningful.  Strings are a welcome new addition to the arrangement as the cello and the violin draw out the evocative desire of the song.  Musically, the influence of Coldplay and The Fray are very evident here.  “Train” speaks of the journey of life, especially with the downfalls that come along with it, and touches upon the extremely dark, low points of life that build character.   Finding a song with such honesty and meaning is so difficult nowadays, but “Train” is like capturing lightning in a bottle.

Ryan Holliday’s Train EP is organic and authentic, in the best way possible. In a world where technology tends to suck the life out of the remaining talent, the Train EP is not overproduced by any means. It also allows for Holliday to prove himself as a singer and songwriter who writes from the heart and sings with unmistakable passion.

Review by Alexa Spieler
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Teak “Teak”

23 Mar, 2011 Alexa Spieler

On their self-titled debut album, Teak skirts the fate of being just another typical rock band and captivates with catchy melodies and insightful ‘thinking’ music.  All of this is combined with a splash of modern day soft rock to boot. The Melbourne-based band has been receiving attention at live venues since 2008 with Steven Draper at the helm as vocalist and lyricist, Aaron Ninness on lead guitar, Mark Gubiani on bass, and Greg Szymanski on drums.

Starting Teak a high point is the melodic acoustic track “Binders & Grinders.” A solid backbone from the drum beat keeps the track grooving and moving and Draper’s vocals overpower the tranquility of the track with pure passion.  The tune achieves a nicely flowing, constant groove as the guitar line manages to keep a consistently relaxed tone. Unexpectedly, the builds as it progresses with the addition of a string section and harmony vocals. “Binders & Grinders” is the perfect track to set the tone for Teak.

The second song, “Can’t Understand,” epitomizes modern rock as it starts off in full force.  As soon as Szymanski hits the snare drum at the outset, listeners know they’re in for quite the rock treat.  Draper’s raspy vocals rule as Gubinai’s bass line keeps the band tight and driving.  Ninness’ guitar line is heavy and choppy in a modern day rock manner. In the midst of it all, harmonies kick in and Draper’s vocals only increase in strong emotion. The song hits a full on climax with the electric guitar solo in near the middle of the song, exploding into full overdrive. “Can’t Understand is 1970’s Pink Floyd meets modern day 30 Seconds to Mars, and is an exceptional track.

Throughout Teak, there is a constant array of rock styles, and “Endless Voice” is a prime meeting of their diverse influences.  Leaning towards the 70’s punk side, it is dark and moody. The electric guitar line evokes The Ramones and Pink Floyd, and the vocals are rapturous. As the piece unfolds, it grows, evolving from the punk-vibe into rock/funk. The guitar line is pure fun, especially towards the middle, and the drums accompany with an energetic backbeat.  “Something Blue” continues the intensity an upbeat, heavy guitar line. The drum fill expertly sets things into motion and carries the energy through the length of the song until it gracefully dims out at the end.  Teak wraps up with “This Time,” a perfect blend of funk with modern day rock that serves as a fitting final statement of the band’s core sound.

On this self-titled debut, Teak easily accomplishes the tough task of exploring a variety of styles and genre while successfully establishing their signature sound.  Teak has the remarkable ability to mix genres and styles and make them work, and this is a prime reason why their music will easily appeal to a wide audience. The rebellious youth will sing along while their parents will be jam out as well.  Teak knows their strengths and they use them to their best advantage on Teak.

Review by Alexa Spieler
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Morning Fame “Blinded”

23 Mar, 2011 Alexa Spieler

Morning Fame is a four-piece rock band based out of Toronto, ON featuring Vik Kapur on lead vocals and Joe Liranzo on guitar. Their sound consists of sturdy melodies hung on guitar-based arrangements such as in their single, “Blinded.

Recorded in Metalworks Studio and released in January 2011, “Blinded” greatly relies on the meticulous, intricate guitar work of Liranzo. Although accompanied with a solid drum backbeat, the guitar work is what keeps the song feeling relaxed and laid-back.  Kapur’s vocals are easily soothing, the calmness of his voice matching Liranzo’s guitar parts perfectly.  “Blinded” lives up to it soft rock genre, but what really helps “Blinded” take the cake is its spiritual, majestic feel hammered in by the guitar solo midway through.  Rather than sticking to the basics, Liranzo plays with a captivating sense of melody and calm.

Lyrically, “Blinded” is based on the author’s struggle with his place in life and the world around him, describing his state of mind with lyrics such as, “I live and give to play with sin. There are many things left from within.” Spiritual references are found within, especially with the toying of words suggesting the author’s struggle with sin. Emotionally packed and spiritually connected is what best describes the lyrical basis of “Blinded.”

Surprisingly, this is just Morning Fame’s first release. Even though it may not be the most perfect of tracks, it is a noteworthy debut. What “Blinded” broadcasts most is Morning Fame’s potential and promise, which is enough to make them explode in the music industry very, very soon.

Review by Alexa Spieler
Rating:  4 stars (out of 5)

Barak Hill “This Life I Love”

17 Mar, 2011 Alexa Spieler

Barak Hill is no stranger to the music industry, having been writing music since the tender age of fourteen. Now nearly sixteen years later, this indie singer/songwriter has transformed into a polished, unique, truly talented and remarkable adult professional. This Life I Love is Hill’s first ever full-length solo album, recorded in 2010 and released in January of 2011. It’s a simple combination of acoustic guitar and pure vocals, but complex in its own way.  The instruments and vocals progress and drift into and out of the songs, but the main focus is always and will always be the lyrics. Comfortably strong songwriting and clean production are what make Barak Hill who he is, and what makes him destined to join the greats in the indie/folk collection. Watch out Ryan Adams: Barak Hill is on his way to the top.

Kicking off This Life I Love ,”My Way Home” begins with a simple chord progression on acoustic guitar. It’s calming and soothing, accompanied by Hill’s smooth vocals. The piece retains this calm feel, but towards the coda, things change a bit. Harmonic voices are added in addition to Hill’s vocals, ultimately completing the song with those counter harmonies. “Twenty-seven/Twenty-eight” follows, but starts off with a rather different vibe from the banjo. Still calm, but also bright and uplifting.  What is most beautiful about Hill’s music and his songs is his remarkable ability to take something simple and craft it into something purely beautiful. The soothing tone of his voice and the acoustic guitar easily fit together like puzzle pieces. There’s a strength and passion in his voice that any artist would kill to have.

“I Can’t Talk To You” is a definite stand out track here, adding harmonica and even a harmonica solo to the mélange.  Hill’s passion is belted out as he exclaims “I can’t talk to you!“  Also high on the hit list is “Kerosene (An Arsonist’s Lament),” where again the lead vocals are made the true star, by their power this time, instead of their delicacy.  “Kerosene” may only be nearly over a minute long, but  it’s more than enough time for Hill to take listeners on a journey that becomes heavier and more intense with each line.

Lowering the intensity now, “Hannah, See You Soon” tells the story of many good memories with Hannah, and his journey back home to her.  With the lightness of the acoustic guitar and Hill’s voice, this is compelling songwriting and perfect story telling.

It is one thing to be a gifted singer, and another to be a gifted lyricist.  To be an inspired storyteller as well is a very powerful combination. Hill’s talent and musical agility shines brightly through on This Life I Love. It’s a solid indie/folk album packed with clean production and great songwriting, bound to become a favorite of many very soon.

Review by Alexa Spieler
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Matthew Neves “Everybody Dreams”

14 Mar, 2011 Alexa Spieler

With just his first solo album, Everybody Dreams, singer/songwriter/producer Matthew Neves has taken the Indie music scene by a storm.  Representing a musical mixture of John Mayer, Jack Johnson, and The Goo Goo Dolls, it’s no wonder why Neves is steadily gaining national attention, especially for his work on Everybody Dreams.

For starters, Everybody Dreams is a very diverse album, with Neves playing along to a mellowed out, heartfelt, passionate ballad one moment, and in full on swing with a bit of a ‘Maroon 5′ vibe to purely pop rock tracks the next.  Kicking off with “When Tomorrow Comes,” the electric guitar line sets the perfect tone right in the beginning of the track.  Neves’ vocals chime in along with drums, and before you know it you’re sitting in your seat bobbing your head to the beat of the song. The guitar line here is a surefire favorite, especially with the mini-solo around the 1-minute mark. Another guitar solo kicks in around three minutes in, and it’s just pure fun.

Taking a step away from the rocking out is “I Don’t Know What You Believe.”  It’s more of a laid back track, not exactly a ballad, but definitely more mellowed out.  Neves is belting out about a dear love with lyrics such as, “No other girl meant much to me, look in my eyes, what do you see?” The simplicity of the hi-hat is enough to add an extra jolt of energy, while claps join in and a vocal sing-a-long at the end will have listeners clapping and singing along easily.

Stand out tracks definitely include “Jenny’s Not Sleeping,” “Put On A Show,” and “She Said.” “Jenny’s Not Sleeping” is more on the mainstream, up-tempo, up-beat purely pop-rock side. Accompanied by a nice, grooving shuffle beat on the drums, the guitar is your classic pop-rock line on the upbeats, keeping time with the hi-hat for the majority of the verses. As the song progresses, everything becomes funkier.  “Put On A Show” may be what a modern day Elvis Presley would sound like.  It’s pop-rock, but with a funk edge, with the piercingly beautiful guitar solos and bright, bold drum beats and fills.

Through the progression of the album, Neves only further more proves his musicality and diversity. The album closes with a passionate ballad titled “She Said.”  It evokes a John Mayer’s “Daughter’s” type of vibe, a soulful ballad of concerned love with a unique piano arrangement and simple drums.  “And baby, baby I know you have a fragile heart, don’t be distant. I know you love me with all your heart. Don’t you know, I’m your best friend?” sings Neves, ultimately bringing the perfect finish to Everybody Dreams.

Everybody Dreams is jam-packed with originality, variety, and fresh musicality. Take a listen.  From start to finish, your ears will be thanking you.

Review by Alexa Spieler
Rating:  5 stars (out of 5)