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Matthew Davidson “Step Up”

26 Sep, 2012 Annie Reuter

For 14-year-old Matthew Davidson, music has quickly become a lifelong passion. After he received his first toy guitar at the age of three there was no turning back. Selected to perform at the “Texas 10 under 20 Showcase” as well as playing a list of notable festivals and venues like The New Orleans Jazz Fest and B.B. King’s Blues Club in Memphis, Davidson shows no sign of slowing down.

His debut album Step Up features a blend of rock and blues on each of its four tracks. A mix of cover songs and originals, Davidson manages to make each track his own, often putting his own spin on the guitar parts.

Step Up begins with a solid cover of Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle.” The song embodies familiar licks of the guitar before Davidson’s softer vocals are heard. While it’s hard to replicate an easily recognizable song and put one’s own spin on it, Davidson manages to do just this and gives the more gritty song a softer feel. The urgency displayed in the original is heard on Davidson’s rendition however the female background singers on the chorus distracts and takes away from the energy and anthemic quality of the song.

Next track, “Gonna Be My Girl” showcases deeper vocals from Davidson with memorable electric guitar features. Despite an impressive guitar breakdown and his confident singing style, once again the backing vocalists are heard. Though the focus for the most part lies on Davidson, the additional singers continue to divert the listener’s attention.

Bluesier than the previous tracks, “Lie To Me” kicks things off with a memorable guitar introduction before Davidson’s assertive vocals are heard. Hard to believe the song is being performed by a 14-year-old, his talent is evident throughout. It’s on this track that the listener begins to hear his guitar abilities as he demonstrates his handiwork with his fast-paced and soaring rhythms. With backing vocalists that sound more like a gospel choir “Lie To Me” shows just what the previous tracks were missing.

The title of the album and a Davidson original, “Step Up” begins with gritty guitar and distinct percussion. His guitar skills continue to shine throughout the instrumental only track. An adequate glimpse into his future, the song allows him to truly stand out. Though the album would have left a greater mark if Davidson intertwined these impressive solo guitar features into each song allowing each track to be his own, Davidson’s talent is no secret. A remarkable introduction to the 14-year-old, Matthew Davidson proves he’s a force to be reckoned with on his debut release Step Up.

Review by: Annie Reuter
Rating: 3 Stars (out of 5)

StoneBaby “Illuminated”

19 Jul, 2012 Annie Reuter

Following their 2008 release Just Another Day, StoneBaby decided to switch things up with their latest EP Illuminated. Their new set of seven songs resulted in stripping away the layers to showcase a new side to the band.

“We consciously tried to simplify things, to get to the heart of the songs, to be as straightforward as possible,” singer Scott Philipp said. “We didn’t want to overdo it – we kept it true to what we do live. This is StoneBaby, plain and simple.”

A fitting start to the EP, “Not Right Now” kicks things off with plenty of energy and catchy guitar licks. The combination of Scott Philipp on guitar and vocals alongside Tony Schiavo on drums blends well throughout the nearly three-minute track and it comes as no surprise that the two friends have been making music together for 25 years.

“Everybody wants to be a star/ Doesn’t really matter who you are,” Philipp sings. Possibly talking of himself, he sings “But it’s not right now.”

Next track, “It’s Always You” has a harder sound with gritty electric guitar and heavy percussion accompaniment. Philipp’s powerful vocals and guitar playing grabs the listener’s attention at the song’s start while Schiavo’s percussion parts electrify.

Each track on the EP showcases a new side to the band. While “It’s Always You” embodies a heavier vibe “Good Times” introduces StoneBaby’s more sensitive side. The radio friendly ballad features Philipp’s soaring vocals and it’s easy to envision a venue filled with fans singing back the words. Spot-on guitar and percussion further add to the catchy track.

Rock & roll is at the forefront of “I Need A Little.” Transporting the listener to a period when the Beatles ruled the Earth, gritty electric guitar and ear-grabbing percussion are featured throughout this track. “I can’t have the things I want/And I can’t want the things I need,” Philipp sings. A solid instrumental breakdown at the end of the song keeps the listener engaged while Philipp’s varied vocals impress. Alternating from a belt to a whisper, “I Need A Little” stands out.

“Creek Road” follows suit and resembles the 50s era of rock & roll with wavering guitar parts and a sing-along chorus while “Reach for the Sky” features a slight country roots vibe. Schiavo’s impressive percussion and Philipp’s passionate, powerhouse singing style continue to strike a chord. Meanwhile, Philipp’s questioning lyrics make it easy for the listener to relate.

StoneBaby close Illuminated with a unique cover of Journey’s “Send Her My Love.” Soulful saxophone features provided by Jay Davidson add to the band’s own spin on the classic ballad. Additionally, impressive saxophone trills and added percussion and electric guitar give StoneBaby’s version a more immediate feel.

Overall a solid release, StoneBaby’s idea of creating more of a stripped down feel on Illuminated had them accomplish their goal. Each of the seven songs is straightforward and easy to decipher and the band manages to get to the heart of the song. Whether the band is questioning their path in life or reinterpreting Journey’s song, the emotion is always there and accessible to the listener.

Review by: Annie Reuter
Rating: 3.5 Stars (out of 5)

The Listener’s Job “No Vacancies”

11 Jul, 2012 Annie Reuter

Studio musician Paul van Geldrop decided to take a break from the studio grind to record his latest solo release, No Vacancies. The five-song LP showcases his talent as a vocalist, keyboardist and lyricist. An emotional album, the majority of the tracks deal with loss, something everyone can relate to.

“Midnight Prayer” kicks off No Vacancies with steady percussion and van Geldrop’s striking vocals. Later, an electric guitar enters while a standout piano interlude comes in mid-track. As van Geldrop’s vocals echo throughout the song his heartbreaking lyrics strike a chord.

“Don’t you remember/ I carry this cross/ To remind me of your loss,” he sings. While he is trying to come to grips with death throughout the track, his faith is evident within his inner dialogue.

“I Can See Paris” follows suit with a slowed piano introduction before van Geldrop’s deep, steady vocals enter. A more positive song, additional string features flush out the track. “Save your sorrow for a day that holds no sin,” he sings. Having found his answer, “I Can See Paris” is an uplifting track that tells listeners to move past their sorrows.

“Nowhere Left to Run” switches gears with edgier vocals and electronic beats. Dreaming of a simpler life, the track’s futuristic sound begs the question of how true this is to the artist. The most produced track on No Vacancies, one wonders why van Geldrop didn’t simply make this a stripped down song if living simpler is truly an accurate sentiment.

Where “Nowhere Left to Run” showcased a futuristic approach, “Eulogy” follows with more ear-grabbing production. Slowed strokes of the piano introduce the track before van Geldrop’s somber vocals enter. As he tries to forgive and forget lost moments, his confusion and anger remains evident throughout the track’s entirety. An instrumental breakdown closes “Eulogy” and has the listener wondering if van Geldrop was able to let the past go.

Album closer “Flying In the Air” continues the morbid storyline with sinister lyrics. With slow strokes of the piano, heartache and loneliness are apparent. Singing of mistrustful people he has come across in life, van Geldrop’s somber lyrics have the listener feel for the character in his story. “I once met a man with a throwaway face . . . But I won’t believe him ’cause he wears a mask/ First chance he gets he’ll stab me in the back.”

Paul van Geldrop’s latest solo release embodies tough topics that many have gone through, but rarely express openly. Painting the story of death, heartbreak, being let down and wishing for a simpler life, he allows the listener to relate. It makes sense that he occasionally scores films and theater productions as many of the tracks are produced with sweeping piano parts, memorable percussion and impressive guitar interludes. While van Geldrop’s No Vacancies doesn’t end on a positive note, sometimes it’s the tracks that showcase pain and suffering that become most memorable. And, for van Geldrop that’s a good thing.

Review by: Annie Reuter
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

Kevin Wilson “Saturday Sessions”

27 Jun, 2012 Annie Reuter

After countless years in the music industry Kevin Wilson has released his first album as a vocalist. Saturday Sessions is a stripped down LP that features Wilson alone on vocals and acoustic guitar. The seven original tracks showcase Wilson’s prowess as a guitar player while introducing his own voice to an audience for the first time.

“On the Lake” begins Saturday Sessions with delicate vocals and light strums from the acoustic guitar. Twenty seconds in Wilson picks things up as he becomes more comfortable as his role of singer. “Truth is worth its wait in gold/ Memories heal/ Stories told,” he sings alongside impressive guitar handiwork.

Next song, the introspective “Self Portrait” introduces Wilson’s more serious side. His yearning vocals are at the forefront of the track while the guitar accompaniment only adds to his reflecting. With an instrumental breakdown mid-track the slowed strums of the guitar and deeper register further display his quest at understanding his own life and the world around him.

“Scars” follows suit and continues Wilson’s quest. As he sings of sleepless nights and uncertainty his slowed singing style leaves an impression on the listener. “Revolution or revelations/ Scars cannot hide temptation/ Salvation, redemption/ Lord please set me free,” he sings slowly.

The song continues the stripped down feel of the album with intricate finger picking. “Scars” clocks in at four minutes with nearly a minute of instrumental interlude mid-song further showcasing Wilson’s continued reflection. While it’s uncertain if Wilson ever gets his wish to be set free on “Scars,” next track “Tomorrow Never Comes” spices things up with edgier guitar. Though the track adds more questions to the mix, the playful guitar and striking lyrics allows the listener to relate.

“September Comes” falls flat with pitchy singing at the song’s start. While Wilson’s deeper vocals are a welcomed introduction on the album he sings with a lack of confidence. Despite this, his lower register is impressive alongside darker guitar parts. Wilson shows a new side to his vocals on this track and with more assurance his stronger belts would no doubt leave a memorable impression on the listener.

While “September Comes” demonstrated Wilson’s uncertainty, “Pictures” brings optimism to the forefront for the first time on Saturday Sessions. With fast-paced guitar parts added to the song Wilson’s continued questioning segues to a more positive outlook.  Meanwhile, “Words of a Poet” closes the LP optimistically. His searching is not over, but he remains reflective and accepting of his life and the answers that come his way. With a distinct guitar twang and whispered vocals at the track’s end it’s evident that Wilson has finally found his voice.

Saturday Sessions marks Kevin Wilson’s debut as a vocalist and it suits him well. While it sounds as if he is still trying to discover his vocal ability on tracks like “September Comes,” the majority of the album showcases his power as a vocalist. A good first look of what’s to come, Saturday Sessions is an adequate introduction to Wilson’s budding career as a singer.

Review by: Annie Reuter
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

Christian St. Croix “”Rebel Yells (And Other Tales)”

17 May, 2011 Annie Reuter

After various stints as a playwright, hip-hop dancer, actor and filmmaker, Christian St. Croix decided to give music a try. His latest release, a six-song EP titled Rebel Yells (And Other Tales), is just a hint of what’s to come from the aspiring roots and blues singer.  Though his first recording, the singer-songwriter is no newbie to the music scene. In 1996 when just a teenager, St. Croix was second runner up in Scholastic Magazine’s “Write Lyrics” competition. A glimpse into his future in music, St. Croix’s release embodies a man in search for the answers. Whether he’s singing about romance, partying or being bullied, the listener can sense his passion in every word sung.

Rebel Yells (And Other Tales) begins with the soulful track, “Marry Him.” With familiar strums of the guitar, St. Croix transports the listener to the south with hand picked guitar rhythms and jazzy vocals. While the lyrics are anything but traditional, St. Croix switches gears from the country styled songs of singing about one’s tractor or truck to lyrics about his baby who drives “a pimp white escalade.” His intriguing lyrics and soulful vocals captivate the listener’s attention right away while his acoustic guitar gives more of an intimate feel of sitting in his living room while he performs.  “Take Me” follows suit with a soft, seductive acoustic guitar before St. Croix’s deep vocals join in. Stripped down with just guitar and St. Croix singing before light saxophone is heard, St. Croix’s acoustic release showcases his pure talent.  “I wanted it all to sound organic and hollow. Like someone grabbed a guitar and we jammed right there on mama’s porch,” St. Croix has said.

This is exactly the feel of the album. An active volunteer in his community, St. Croix makes it a point to sing from the point of view of different people and situations they may have faced. One song especially, “The Bully Song” is close to his heart and a cause he hopes to fight and prevent.  “I’ve always been a victim of it,” he said. Having dealt with cyber bullying, the song describes in great detail being bullied on social media outlets like Twitter. With hand clapped rhythms and light acoustic guitar accompanied by his moving lyrics, St. Croix gets his point across.  “I wanted to write a song to let victims know just exactly what bullies are saying when they single them out as a negative. It’s not much, but I did something,” he said.

“Buzzy” is featured on St. Croix’s EP twice. The first time is a full band recording complete with solid guitar, percussion and St. Croix’s wavering vocals. An adequate indication of his musical influence by artists like Memphis Slip, Muddy Waters and Jessie Mae Hemphill, this track demonstrates St. Croix’s soulful flavor.  Nearly a minute shorter, the demo version “Buzzy” is a stripped down version of the more polished recording. A glimpse into how the song began, with a light drumbeat and soft guitar accompaniment, it is on this track where St. Croix’s voice is the main focus.

No doubt a solid first release, songs like the Janis Joplin inspired “JohnnyJimJack” tend to slow the EP down with St. Croix’s vocals wavering on screeching. A song of “great social and political importance,” the track is sung a capella in homage to Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz.” While his heart is in the song, it seems misplaced on the EP. With better song placement and structure, Rebel Yells (And Other Tales) would have left more of an impact.

Review by Annie Reuter
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)