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Bobby Jo Valentine “A Place to Belong”

09 Mar, 2011 Alexa Spieler

If Jason Mraz, Jack Johnson, and Regina Spektor were to combine forces, you would have Bobby Jo Valentine.  As a young boy, Valentine picked up a guitar on a California beach, and, well, the rest is history.  His album, A Place To Belong, shows just how much has happened and how far he’s come since that day on the beach.  Soulful and uplifting, soothing and calming, Valentine’s music is the perfect blend of indie and modern pop/rock.

“Drowning” kicks off A Place To Belong with full force, opening with an upbeat ukulele line before Valentine’s calm and passionate vocals chime in.  The reggae vibe gives an intriguing contrast to the modern day pop feel, as the lyrics speak of one looking back on a love that will not die.  “Our love is too wonderful just to let it die. We can’t be drowning tonight.” Valentine tells the story with confidence, as his vocals literally do all the talking. Following “Drowning” is “A Place To Belong,” which immediately takes a different direction. The drums set a solid tone with sixteenth note rhythms and the guitar line compliments the general tone, while Valentine speaks of the brokenness he is feeling and how he doesn’t feel like he belongs.  There’s a pure honesty here, as he is not just a master in the craft of singing, but in the art of story telling as well.  As the coda comes about his voice is even more passionate, nearly yelling on how he hasn’t found a place to belong just yet.

Stand out tracks include “Be Mine” and “Until The Last Leaf Falls.”  “Be Mine” is your standard adorable love song that any girl would love to be serenaded to, with lyrics like “We go together like strings and guitars. We go together like a couple of stars in the sky, shining in the deep, dark midnight.” A simple, complimentary guitar line and a pair of bongos suit the song perfectly. Part way through, a key solo chimes in, adding a unique feel to the song, and is followed up by full force vocals from Valentine.  “Be Mine” is bound to be a fan favorite.

“Until The Last Leaf Falls” has listeners clapping along to the beat as soon as the intro drops in.  The Jason Mraz/Jack Johnson influence is unmistakable here, but not so much that Valentine’s unique stamp is obscured.  Lyrically, Valentine is trying to convince a love to stay.  “And I wouldn’t trade a million dollars for the moments we shared, because our lives are getting smaller by the tick, tick tock of the clock.” The rasp in his voice as the track finishes is a nice touch.

Closing the album is “Worthy Is The Lamb,” and is a surprising departure from the boldly uplifting tone of the previous tracks.  This piece is mellow, deep, and dark, showing an unexpected and intriguing side of Valentine right at the end. Rather than being off-putting, this last-minute curveball is a welcome expression of Valentine’s talent.

Often times it is quite difficult to switch from genre to genre or to switch styles and tones, but Bobby Jo Valentine does so with ease.  His voice is passionate and beautiful, using his soothing ways to demonstrate his musicality and versatility.  Valentine won’t be just another Jason Mraz or Jack Johnson clone. His versatility and musicality separates himself from any other artist out there presently, and A Place To Belong is the proof.

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

Preston Girard “Along Chicago”

03 Mar, 2011 Alexa Spieler

To say that Preston Girard has come a long way since his beginning in the music industry as a 9 year old singing “Religious Man in the Drugstore” is quite the understatement. It remains one of his family’s most humorous memories, despite it being his first take in the music industry.  Now, Girard is on top of his game with the release of his sophomore album Along Chicago, and the journey to this release was well worth it. The general tone of Along Chicago is a soft rock, heavily acoustic guitar-driven with the perfectly mildly raspy voice of Girard.  Sometimes the simplest of things are the best of things, and that’s exactly what summarizes Along Chicago. Nothing is too complex or heavy; it’s perfect in its simplicity and soft manner.

Along Chicago opens up with “Pretty,” which sets up and aligns the tone of the album perfectly. “Pretty” has a bluesy, soulful tone to it, heavily based on the guitar line throughout the song.  It’s a nicely put together track which focuses on the vocal power of Girard, with the addition of simple drum fills and guitar strumming.  The strings and overall arrangement take the piece from good to great, especially towards the end where the high-pitched voices of the orchestra ring out.

In addition to “Pretty,” stand out tracks include “Wonderful Day,” “Welcome to the Club,” “Quiet Man,” and the title track, “Along Chicago.”  “Wonderful Day” starts off on a different, darker tone than the majority of the tracks on the album, which adds some welcomed diversity. “Welcome to the Club,” like the vast majority of the song, relies heavily on Girard’s vocals.  Deep and honest, Girard’s voice allows for the story to be told in a truly beautiful manner.  There’s a certainty and confidence within his vocals, and the stripped down guitar and drum arrangement allows his voice to shine through.

Title track “Along Chicago” blends all aspects of what Girard has to offer into one completely enjoyable six-minute song. It begins with a mellow feel, and builds to a climax where the female harmony vocals leave a lasting impression.  Last, and certainly not least, comes Quiet Man.”  Here, the simplicity of the strumming of the guitar, his sustained vocal power, his confidence and storytelling skills punctuate and complete Along Chicago on a completely ideal note.

Along Chicago is just the beginning of Girard’s career, as he has many, many more years ahead of him to make his mark in the music industry, a mark that he is doubtless destined to make.

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

Fallon Cush “Fallon Cush”

01 Mar, 2011 Alexa Spieler

Deciding to go against releasing Fallon Cush as a solo release, Steve Smith brought together several members from local music circles, who are all veteran players as well, to put together the ‘band’ Fallon Cush, along with the ten track album titled Fallon Cush. Remarkably, all tracks were not only recorded in a matter of seven days, but were also mixed in that time during late 2010. To top it off, the record was mastered at Abbey Road. Making up Fallon Cush, aside from Steve Smith himself is Bill Gibson (bass, backing vocals), Matt Galvin (guitar), Scott Aplin (keys), Josh Schuberth (drums), and Bert Thomson (drums). Their full length, ten track album easily demonstrates how all of the hard work and experiences jam packed within this entire band brought forth a sophisticated album, and your ears will be thanking you towards the end. How something this great could come together in only seven days is beyond anyone.

Fallon Cush starts off laid back and relaxed with simple acoustic guitar and piano accompaniment on “Tiny Town.” However, it easily transforms into a more up beat track when the drums and Smith’s beautiful vocals kick in. With pure passion in his voice he’s reminiscing about the past, just hoping to “to feel like I used to feel,” on top of a powerful drum beat and sensual electric guitar line. Following “Tiny Town” is “Over Me.” The title says it all, as Smith is singing of the ending of a relationship, but cannot stand the fact if this person is over him. Along with Smith’s soothing vocals is a beautifully aligned electric guitar solo midway through the track. The drums are up beat, adding a curveball to the passionate, post break-up track. Although Smith’s vocals are always incredible throughout the entire duration of the album, what really does it on “Over Me” is the electric guitar line, truly remarkable throughout.

In one of the most up-beat, dance-friendly, sing-a-long tracks within the album, “Where You Been” begins with a drum fill which sets everything into full force, soon with the guitar chiming in. An organ line deftly underscores the electric lead and builds into a short guitar solo. The musical and lyrical quality combined with the uplifting atmosphere easily makes this the best track on the album. By comparison, “I Won’t Dream Tonight” is mellow, with just a tambourine, piano, and acoustic guitar. It brings about a nice addition of less jovial lyrics, such as “Will you catch me if I fall?,” leaving the listener truly connecting with the humanity of Fallon Cush. Completing the album is “Disintegrate,” which finishes off in the typical energetic, upbeat fashion.  There’s no better way to complete the album with something as energetic as this, bringing all of Fallon Cush’s musical styles full circle in the end.

Fallon Cush is, overall, an incredible album that cannot be set into just one genre or stereotyped under one category. It successfully uses the musical backgrounds of each band member and features a diversity of styles from simple acoustic to classic rock. Fallon Cush brings it all to the table and serves up an exceptional album.

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

Michael David Layne “Take A Look”

07 Feb, 2011 Alexa Spieler

Although Michael David Layne is known as an LA-based voice teacher, he’s back in full force as a performer with the single “Take A Look.”  “Take A Look” was produced by the one and only JD Salbego, who has worked with top artists ranging from Jason Derulo to Iyaz to Usher.

From the moment the synthesizer kicks in and the beat begins, one becomes aware of exactly what they’re in for.  The instrumentation is catchy and simple.  Hung on the combination of the drum beat and creative synthesizer patterns, “Take A Look” is a rather aurally stimulating track.   In the midst of all of this, Layne’s voice contains real confidence, as the rawness and realness of his vocals are easily heard throughout.

“Take A Look” tells the story of one moving on from a break up. “Take a look at what you’re missing. Now you’re longing for my kissing. What a shame you’ve gone and let me get away.” Rather than drowning in self-pity, Layne’s vocal ability and lyrical view point allow for his confidence to be heard easily, rather than this being another whiny break-up song.  Regarding style, one could easily compare him of Basshunter and Usher, as he finds a perfect blend of modern pop and techno/dance.

Simply put, this is a rather vivacious track. It may not be the most overpowering, incredibly upbeat track one will listen to, but it is undeniable catchy, especially concerning the chorus. By the coda, you’ll be sitting in your seat singing along. It is extremely clear that “Take A Look” will be an enjoyable listen for your ears, despite its extremely minor flaws. Your ears will be thanking you for the experience.

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

Jeff Scott “Begin Again”

18 Jan, 2011 Alexa Spieler

Some people were born destined to be of an occupation.  Jeff Scott  was born to sing. The combination of a soulful voice accompanied with beautiful lyrics epitomizes his exceptional talent. In today’s music industry, it is often quite difficult to find that artist who is just all in all, real, because most artists’ mask behind the wonders of technology and Auto-Tune. However, in Scott’s case he can absolutely, without a doubt, belt it out. On top of all of that, from a lyrical standpoint, the conceptual way he draws you into these stories he’s telling through words is quite astonishing. Jeff Scott had been distanced from the music scene for quite a long time, seventeen years to be exact, but with the release of his new CD Begin Again, Scott is back in full force.

“Begin Again” is the title track, as well as the first track off of the album, which perfectly sets the tone. It’s a cheerful, up-beat anthem, which provides a charge to live a positive, enthusiastic lifestyle with lyrics like “I don’t like looking back; don’t make sense to me to live in the past. So everyday, I begin again.” What would be even better than listening to the powerfulness and hopefulness of this song would be to actually watch and listen to it  performed live. You can easily tell that Scott’s stage presence and vocals would truly be remarkable live. The combination of catchy guitar rifts, simple yet but perfectly fit piano chords, vocal harmonizing, and the strength within Scott’s voice allows for “Begin Again” to be the perfect track to set the tone for the remainder of the album. By the conclusion of the song, it’ll leave you singing and dancing along in your seat. Stepping deeper inside the album to track number four, “Old Silverback” is a jazzed-up, rhythmically fun track will leave you dancing along and tapping your feet to the up-tempo rhythm and shuffle beat. Along with Scott’s beautiful voice on the track, accompanying him is harmonizing female vocalists, which adds a soothing element to the arrangement.

There is a certain rawness to the album, but in the best way possible.  “Nothing But Goodbye” and “Knight In Shining Armor” will leave you in tears by the completion of their final notes, as they take a step away from the feel-good, inspirational tone that pervades the rest of the album.  “Knight In Shining Armor” finds Scott looking back on the past, thinking about a previous relationship and how he generally wants to be a better person for this woman, her “knight in shining armor.” He sings, “I’ll take you in my arms and hold you.  I’ll keep the world away, just like I used to do.  I will come shining through. Other stand out tracks include, “Meet Me Halfway,” “Things Change,” and “Fool’s Gold.”

The best way to describe Jeff Scott’s music would ultimately be a cross between modern day country and jazz. The lyrics speak from the soul, just like a country artist would do.  However, don’t mistake him for ‘Rascal Flatts or any of the other current day country artists. The best comparison to Jeff Scott would be James Taylor.  There’s honesty and a pureness behind his work, which is easily heard throughout the course of Begin Again.   The passion this man contains and the way he tells his stories allows the listener to take a step into his life.  In this day in age, it’s quite difficult to find an artist with true passion and something incredible to bring to the table, but it is found in Jeff Scott.

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