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Adam Naylor, Lost In A Rhythm

18 Feb, 2016 Andrew Greenhalgh

Album coverWhile some artists strive at their music with thoughts of fame and fortune in their eyes, crafting each single with radio play and streaming numbers in mind, more humble musicians seek to use their music as a form of therapy, pouring their heart and souls into their work as a way of channeling both their creative energy and their emotions into something productive and positive. It’s into this latter camp that Scottish born and bred Adam Naylor pitches his tent and on his latest release he invites listeners to get Lost In A Rhythm.

Naylor took to his craft as a sixteen year old with an old microphone and his computer, crafting original songs as a way of self-expression. Before long, he had enough songs for his first album, Time Will Tell, while the next few years found the artist taking time to continue to write while earning the chance to perform at small venues all around Glasgow. Two other albums followed, with the artist honing his craft a bit more each time, upgrading his technology as well as his song craft, leading him to this latest release.

Naylor’s sound is one that draws heavily on acoustic influences, coming across as something folk-flavored and tailor made for coffeehouse environments. His voice is warm and able, tinged with that slight Scottish burr that gives a bit of personality to his able lyricism. That lyricism is a bit of a mixed bag, with tracks like “Morning Light” rolling strong while songs like “It Makes Your Eyes Light Up” and “Directions” fall somewhat flat in the songwriting department, either employing curious phrasing or less than inspired word choices.

Sonically the album faces its share of challenges as well. Naylor tries to explore a variety of textures but, whether it’s the overall acoustic vibe or the production itself, finds his songs blending together, leaving “Never Enough” somewhat indistinct from “Even From Far Away.” Naylor’s voice plays into this given that, while it’s filled with warm tones, the emotive notes are rarely heard, finding him deliver a rather sonorous performance that just fails to connect.

What listeners are left with then is grabbing a bit of good here and there. And thankfully, there are some solid moments. “Directions,” despite boasting a rather simply lyric as mentioned, does deliver on the performance end, finding Naylor play with his arrangement and working in a clever vocal layering that really helps the track to stand out on its own, buoyed by some solid percussion that lends an extra emotion. “We’re On Our Way” steps into the spotlight by being perhaps the most energetic performance, with a kicking beat and Naylor’s vocals exploring some points of emotion while “Losing My Desire” delivers some solid harmonies and a moody guitar line that paints in shades of blue.

The unfortunate fact, however, is that those moments are few and far between. Adam Naylor’s music, by his own admission, is a work in progress and here on Lost In A Rhythm, there’s still much work to do. An expansion of Naylor’s sonic palette would help build a sense of anticipation in his sound while a more dynamic vocal performance, exploring some more emotive ranges would help to convey his message that much more soundly. Until then, Naylor’s work falls soundly in the middle, not bad but not great either.

Rating: 2.5
Reviewed by Andrew Greenhalgh

 

Barry Shumate, An Occasional Peach

28 Jan, 2016 Andrew Greenhalgh

barryshumateWe’ve all been challenged to take a walk in another’s shoes and that’s exactly the challenge that artist Barry Shumate presents to listeners on his album, An Occasional Peach. Crafted as something of a concept record that follows the United States Naval officer through a year of his life, Shumate mines a plethora of classic rock musical influences to bring his story to life.

That story is a multifaceted one. In addition to Shumate’s Naval background, the artist has been passionate about music for years, beginning in high school where tough times of practice found his parents occasionally hiding his guitar to keep from hearing another run. Yet, patience and practice prevailed and Shumate eventually found himself moonlighting as a guitar instructor in Richmond, Virginia. He also dove into the local music scene, playing as a part of indie bands like Reality Sandwich, The Fire Ants, SPUNN, Freeflow, Big Brewster and the Blue Rocks and currently, Straight Face.

According to Shumate, An Occasional Peach is a record that’s been a long time in the making, beginning over five years ago with some chord progressions and lyrical snippets. But just over a year ago, when stationed in Afghanistan, he doubled his efforts, pouring himself into writing and recording, playing nearly every instrument himself, and coming to this end result.

From the very get-go, one senses Shumate’s diverse influences at work here. A devout fan of Pink Floyd, Jeff Beck, The Beatles, and more, Shumate’s work on An Occasional Peach truly draws from a broad palette and even the idea of concept album seems to be borrowed there as well. He opens the record up with the aptly titled “Into It,” a track brimming with sounds of nature and a boat on the harbor, complete with fog horn, while hitting his stride with the psychedelic flavors of “Autumn Smile.” Overlaid with a militaristic voice in the background, Shumate’s musical accents are smooth and sultry, with thudding bass framing soulful vocals.

Drawing from a more Americana-flavored template, “Mountain Town” showcases Shumate’s strong work on both the acoustic and electric guitar, his chops particularly strong on electric as he hits the track with some seething fills while “Hey Hey Bartender” features a throbbing bass line and some killer rock guitar despite being one of Shumate’s lesser vocal performances. “Ray Charles Friday” follows and is a bluesy, playful jam that showcases some solid keyboard vibes and easygoing lyrics before giving way to the classic rock vibes of “Distraction (Chris Kendrick Mix.)”

Shumate shows a playful sense of humor on “The Banana Song,” infusing a jazzy riff together with lyrics like “I like watching girls eat bananas” with a wink and a nudge while “1302” stands on its own as a strong, guitar-driven instrumental. “Turn” is a return to the psychedelic for the artist, his soaring guitar tones swirling around with an ethereal vocal that is hit and miss yet another instrumental, the live-feeling “Fields of Sco,” steps in to save the day. Here listeners are treated to Barry Shumate at his best, rocking the fretboard with abandon and truly stealing the show as he solos on electric guitar, backed by a kicking band, which, interestingly enough, is himself.

“Perfect Song” is a step into something thoughtful and insightful and does showcase some more strong guitar work from the artist but feels as though it drags a bit, unfortunately avoiding the promise in its name. However, “Autumn Smile Reprise…Or Something,” while trippy and a bit out there, somehow works, blending together Shumate’s broad template into something engaging and creative before closing out the record with more coastline sounds on “Out Of It.”

While Barry Shumate’s concept record might not fully realize its potential here, what it does do is shine the light on a very talented artist. Throughout the whole of An Occasional Peach, Shumate reveals himself to be a stirring multi-instrumentalist and a creative soul. And when he takes up the electric guitar, it’s to his benefit as well as the listener, finding both parties in the best position for some great music.

Rating: 3.5
Reviewed by Andrew Greenhalgh

R.X Bertoldi & Son, Taking Back the Time EP

15 Jan, 2016 Andrew Greenhalgh

rxbertoldiandson

There’s a solid piece of advice often given to budding creative types that says to simply start with what you know. Begin with the things that have influenced you, because their work will be a part of you either way, and allow your own style to eventually bleed through. On their debut studio release, Taking Back the Time, R.X. Bertoldi & Son seem to have taken this advice to heart and mine it for all it’s worth as they pay homage to their musical heroes while crafting their own niche.

Those musical heroes that we speak of are none other than Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and The Rolling Stones. All seminal influences in Bertoldi’s musical growth, Dylan and Waits specifically get a spotlight tossed their way on this release in forms of thoughtful, faithful covers. Bertoldi & Son offer up an engaging take on Dylan’s “Wagon Wheel,” the folk flavors a solid fit for Bertoldi’s warm and accessible vocals, which do resemble Dylan’s in their cadence, and are given some extra pop from Keith Lowe’s (Fiona Apple, Bill Frisell) stellar upright bass. Lowe lends his talents to the group’s cover of Waits’ “Ol’ ‘55” as well, the familiar lyric and harmonies feeling right at home coming from this collective.

Also of note is co-producer, Johnny Sangster (Mudhoney, Posies),who makes key contributions with his tasteful additions of electric guitar, electric bass, percussion and keyboards backing throughout the album to lift all of these songs even further.

But while there are many artists who can honor and reproduce the work of others, the real test comes when the spotlight turns to the original work. And here Bertoldi shows that he’s no one trick pony.

“When the Bullets Fly” marks the first of the three original tracks found here and connects lyrically, offering a biting commentary on the nation’s increasing trend of gun violence, while also delivering musically with a blues-rock vibe that pulses with just the right tone of moodiness. It’s a mix of Dylan/Stones that really works and shows that Bertoldi has the chops to make it work.

“In My Younger Days” is another success story, finding the artist lean heavily on his Dylan influences for an Americana flavored delight. Bertoldi’s vocal cadence gives a serious head-nod to that influence while his rolling lyric is playful and engaging, enhanced by solid hits of guitar and his son’s persistent drumming. Add in some warm harmonica and you might find yourself wondering if we’re setting the stage for a renewed folk revival.

Drawing from an alt-country template with continued folk-flavored vibes, “Guiding Lights” provides a lyric that focuses on the positive, using it in order to maintain a sense of perspective in life, while continuing to lean on his influences. Further Dylan-esque notes resonate throughout this hopeful track, right down to more harmonica and airy acoustic guitar lines, which, in other hands might falter but in Bertoldi’s feels right and natural, ending on a strong note.

There have been countless artists throughout the years who’ve found their inspiration in the likes of Dylan, Waits, and the Stones. Yet few have given their work the warm devotion and respect that R.X. Bertoldi & Son have, honoring their work while incorporating so much of their influence into their own songwriting. It’s a perfect match and sets the table for more great work from these exciting new voices as they continue to explore and find their signature sound.

 

Rating: 3.5

Reviewed by Andrew Greenhalgh

 

Nancy Beaudette, South Branch Road

10 Apr, 2015 Andrew Greenhalgh

CD400_outFolk music by its very nature is music of, for, and by the people and thus is expected to be peppered with homey hints of honest stories, the good and the bad. These are the songs that speak of long hard days and quiet nights, of loves won and lost, and of the subtle beauty of life lived out day by day with an eye for the glory to be seen. It’s into this musical ring that Canadian singer/songwriter Nancy Beaudette tosses her hat and the result is her latest twelve song collection, South Branch Road.

This sound wasn’t Beaudette’s original genre as she gained a fair amount of acclaim as the lead director of a twenty-five voice choir, writing her own liturgical music, and seeing her work garner a Canadian Gospel Music Award for Song of the Year as well as a solid nomination for album of the year. Yet, while that work was fulfilling, the artist found herself wanting to lean into something more personal and she began crafting her solo material and releasing albums to the folk market.

Three years in the making, South Branch Road saw the artist head to Nashville to work with some of the city’s finest songwriters and producers in order to see her work come to fruition. For songwriting duties, she partnered with writers like Kerry Chater, Lynn Gillespie, and GRAMMY winner Jon Vezner while having Graham Greer and Glenn Forrester manage production duties. The result is a record that is rich with songwriting and delivered with a generally solid production.

Beaudette leads the album off with “Starlight,” an Americana flavored tune that highlights the artist’s slightly unfinished vocals, her tone providing just enough texture over an acoustic backdrop that delivers playful lines like “The way you’re looking at me I think I might/Have the wish, I’m wishin’ tonight,” beginning a solid track record of warm story-flavored songs that really shine. The title track follows and is a gentle declaration of home while “Company of Stones” draws from some minor chords, allowing some rich cello fills to undergird Beaudette’s plaintive vocals as she sings of those gone before.

“Build It Up” draws from more Americana vibes, the moody song telling the story of a couple losing their home to fire and having to rebuild their lives, the lyric hope filled but the arrangement tinged with emotion while “Ride On” draws from subtle acoustic tones to share a similar sentiment of choosing to succeed over pain and loss. “Shoot To Score” is a playful yet easily forgettable tune but “Something Tells Me” ripples with poignancy, the artist singing, “I see love in all this stuff/Just like I do in mine/Mem’ries to hold onto/A place to belong to/’Til it’s your time,” as the piano and string accompaniment lend deep emotion.

Song strong songwriting colors the heartfelt tale shared in “Between Your Heart & Mine (Brooklyn Bridge),” Beaudette painting some beautiful pictures with her lyric as “’Til The Tomatoes Ripen” brightens things up with an upbeat acoustic swell and warm vocal. Further songwriting prowess is found on “Can’t Hold Back” as Beaudette continues to show a keen ear for drawing heart out of the everyday while warm, bright plucks of banjo undergird a deceptively heartbroken lyric, the contrast playing out nicely. And with “You Got It Goin’ On,” the artist ends things with a playful bent, offering up a fun, folksy arrangement that can’t help but bring a smile to listener’s faces.

Nancy Beaudette may be something of an unassuming player but one listen to South Branch Road will show that she’s the real deal. Possessed of a gift for insightful songwriting, Beaudette consistently weaves tales with common threads that, when combined together, create a beautiful tapestry that she uses to tell tales of love, loss, and life lived to the fullest. And that’s a tapestry that demands attention and discerning listeners will be more than happy to spend the time taking a trip down South Branch Road.

Rating: 3.5
Reviewed by Andrew Greenhalgh

 

Alain Rozan, The Bogey Man Can’t Rock’n Roll

30 Jul, 2014 Andrew Greenhalgh

 

 

 

Bogey Man.Artwork

With a French language album inspired by the idea of Bob Dylan and Edith Piaf, an American roots folk rock album, and a solo EP favoring pastoral folk rock, it’s no hard task to refer to musical artist Alain Rozan as somewhat eclectic. Yet, Rozan continues to press forward, this time out offering up a lullaby for children in the form of his latest offering, “The Bogey Man Can’t Rock ’n’ Roll.”

 

Rozan, born in France, immigrated to the United States in 1981 and fell hard in love with music at the age of thirteen after hearing Dylan’s legendary album, The Times They Are A-Changin’. From there on out, he was hooked, pursuing his passion fervently, taking to writing and recording songs in both French and English, performing in New York City at venues like Life Café, Bar B, and the Lakeside Lounge. To further explore his love of the arts, he also took up acting, performing in a number of French plays along the way.

 

But music has always been Rozan’s first love and on this new single, he attempts to deliver a one-two punch in his lullaby, trying to offer up a song that is readily accessible to a child but that showcases a deeper, heavier subtext for a listening adult. The result? It’s somewhat hit and miss.

 

Where Rozan hits is in his songwriting. “The Bogey Man Can’t Rock ‘n’ Roll” is a song that drips with deeper meanings. Lines like “Woke up in a sweat and now you’re wondering/How come there are bad people in this world” echo with a sight that’s looked into the future of these children and seen the inevitable pain that lies before them, pain that, in some ways, they’ll never escape. Likewise, as he sings, “I won’t always be there, you won’t always be strong,” older listeners will shiver with the emotion of that insight, knowing the pain of loss and failure that’s to come. It’s not necessarily an encouraging tale but it is an all-too honest one.

 

But given the dark yet poignant lyricism that Rozan offers, it’s the actual delivery where he falters. Rozan gives it his all, his lingering touch of a French accent charming as he sings throughout but the production values, pushing the vocal far into the forefront while the overall composition feels pressed into the back, leave something to be desired. Rozan also opts for a guitar solo, albeit a gentle one, in the bridge which just feels out of place and, despite what I’m sure are the best of intentions, the overall mood of the lullaby carries something of a shadow to it, the lyric oozing into the arrangement.

 

Alain Rozan’s latest may not be poised to take over Radio Disney anytime soon but it’s still a worthwhile effort from a talented artist. Yes, there’s room for improvement but Rozan’s songwriting helps to overcome some of those hurdles, making this a solid listen.

Reviewed by Andrew Greenhalgh
Rating: 2.5