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Brion Riborn “Mediocrity is an Adequate Lover”

28 Jul, 2011 Bobby Jo Valentine

Brion Riborn’s new album Mediocrity is an Adequate Lover is both astonishing and frustrating. Filled with incredible vocals, thought-provoking lyrics, and clever music, but also inundated with slower songs, repeated metaphors, and a few songs that drag on too long.  The album is brimming with potential, but a few slight mistakes keep it from rising to a boil. All in all, though, there are still some incredible songs here, and Brion establishes himself solidly as a lyricist and vocalist in his first full-length LP.

Brion’s style is a curious and sometimes alluring mixture of old Goo Goo Dolls guitar tunings, Bright Eyes musical tone, and Nickelback grittiness. His songs are clever, diving into a Western atmosphere but with enough modern sensibility and lyrical depth to keep a listener guessing as to what he’s going to play next.

The first four songs on the album are jaw-droppers. Brion sinks deep into his craft and draws out some incredible emotions and word pictures in his starting track, “Foursquare.” The song begins with a rising crescendo of electric guitars and a drum track that will make the listener’s head nod, as Brion fleshes out original sin, the darkness inside all of us, and the possibility to be better. The lyrics are really spectacular “Oh, it’s not the place we stayed/it’s where we’re heading.” The vocal style here will remind the listener of Muse, in a good way. The song ends with a wonderful, glittery guitar outro.

“I Was a Lover,” the next track, is a bluesy, soulful song with a fantastic rhythm and more powerful lyrics. “When a tree gives birth/she falls to the earth/then it has to die.” The impressive quality about Brion’s lyrics is the ability to wander through many themes without losing the interest of the song.

A guitar whine introduces the gospel-styled blues track “Emergency Exit Routes,” full of clever underpinnings and rock-solid rhythm. Brion shows his vocal chops here, climbing to a wail during the choruses, and having a choral moan in the background. All of the guitars crunching in the background and the stylistic, very heavy Western influences actually add to the song without making it seem cheesy, which is a hard feat to accomplish. Absolutely no lyric feels out of place here, and there are a few dynamic changes that are very tasteful and powerful. “Emergency Exit Routes” is full of mood, style, and attitude and is one of the best tracks of the album.

Speaking of best songs of the album, “More of Less” rises above all of the rest with one of the most powerful choruses that the listener will have heard in a long time. The song is a bittersweet ballad of people that accept less than what they need, and the story is told in some extremely well placed dialogue and songwriting. Fans of Matchbox 22 will have a lot to love about this track.

The next two songs, “Such a Liar” and “Walls and Wargames,” almost feel like they are from a completely different singer. Because of the production values and great lyrics of the last four songs, these feel a little slow and drawn out. Luckily, Brion gets back on track with “Hold,” a wonderful, soft ballad about holding on to things that are important to you. “Times That We Forget” has a beautiful guitar-heavy feel to it, and every word is written with clarity and depth.

The album flows well throughout the rest of its journey, although “The house on the hill” mentions a repeat word picture that has already been used. The closing track, “Futility,” a song with heavy, crunchy guitars wandering through the landscape and dark lyrics, is especially memorable and ends the album perfectly.

Mediocrity is an Adequate Lover may not be for everybody, but for those who understand it, it will be an album that they won’t take out of their CD player rotation anytime soon. Bristling with style and attitude, full of clever songwriting, and with some truly memorable songs, Brion has created an album that speaks loud, travels deep, and leaves a mark.

Review by Bobby Jo Valentine

Lawrence Genova “Aviano”

28 Jul, 2011 Bobby Jo Valentine

Imagine if Nirvana had a little bit of electronica in the mix, and then throw in a pinch of the darker side of Phantom of the Opera, and you would be getting close to the album that Lawrence Genova has created in Aviano. With vocals reminiscent of Brett Dennen, Lawrence Genova’s subject matter is anything but, dealing with serious matters of life, morality, and significance. Experimental, dark, and full of mystery, Aviano is a wonderful, unique experience, full of passion and disturbance, glistening with energy, and definitely worth listening to. It’s not an album for the shallow, but people in the mood for a deep plunge will find this a refreshing addition to the musical landscape in a world made mostly of kiddie pools and sand bars these days.

“The Last Scene” is an interesting, experimental piece full of punchy electronic rhythm and a pounding piano background, and a superb introduction to the alternative style of this album. The evolution of sound is really powerful here as the song crescendos with creative electronica distortion. Lawrence Genova has a wonderful, progressive way with words, and knows how to turn a phrase to make the listener think. “Who is me/I’m not sure/You’ve probably never met me before.” The arrangement is stunning on this track, at times minimal, at times crunching and vibrating with electronic sound.

Another minor key song, “Strassendiernen” has Lawrence’s voice echoing through a plodding, Nirvana-like sound landscape. The lyrics are dark and eerie, and could be talking about a thousand different broken relationships. Towards the end, there is this beautiful rising climax where a choir of voices takes the chorus to a whole new level. This is beautiful and haunting, another great addition to the album.

“They keep me here under the sea of superficial tendencies.” The lines of “The Underestimated One” tell of a dissatisfied soul; someone not allowed to reach their full potential. The chorus is defiant, inspiring, and packs a hopeful punch. Full of depth and insight, and beautiful chord and melody changes, “The Underestimated One” is probably one of the best tracks of the album.

There is a playful lilt to “The Devil All Along,” an epic story about mankind and original sin and angels and devils and war and peace and…oh, you’ll just have to hear it. It’s amazing. “Why do we fight on opposite sides/when we share the same ground.” The length of story that is told in the short amount of time is amazing.

With unique percussion and a minimalist chord choice that would make The Broken Bells jealous, “In My Bowl” is a fantastic word allegory about life and the darkness that enters uninvited. “Excuse me, mister dude, there is a fly in my soup, I didn’t ask for it, don’t tell me that I’m stuck with this in my bowl.”

The album flows along smoothly, with lots to say and little in between. “Fall on Me” is a track worth listening to again and again, as Lawrence goes freestyle against everything he disagrees with. There are some great lines here that the listener will really enjoy.  The grand finale track, “The Other Paths,” has a wonderful chord progression, with the piano falling in and out of the song beautifully, and Lawrence tells a powerful fable.

All in all, Aviano is a powerhouse of a record, with lots of experimentation that works, lyrics that hit home, and some great, expressive, unique vocals by Lawrence Genova. Listeners looking for lighter fare might want to look somewhere else, but for those who appreciate deeper, more important material, Aviano is the perfect album.

Review by Bobby Jo Valentine
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Glowbox Lemonade “This is the Life”

05 Jul, 2011 Bobby Jo Valentine

Glowbox Lemonade is the acoustic trio powerhouse of Dave Eisel, Rohn Kramer, and Elise Baker. Choosing to go for more of a live sound instead of a commercialized, produced record, this group has put together a group of songs that’s as close to a live performance as anyone’s going to get. Soulful songs, intriguing lyrics, and great vocals by Elise make this an album that new acoustic fans will enjoy and long-time listeners will be sure to appreciate.

The album starts out with a thoughtful track, “Better Off Alone,” with the group singing about the importance of being a humble person if you’re going to be a part of a community. If not, you’re better off alone. Catchy and with great harmonies, it’s a great start-off to the album. “Find Me” is a wonderful, well-written slow love song that is bittersweet and touching.

It’s when they go a little bluesy in “Devil in the Cornfield,” though, that Glowbox Lemonade really has a chance to show off their chops. Elise really gives a show stopping vocal performance on this track. The lyrics are thought-provoking and the word pictures are great here. “There’s a devil in the cornfield/that’s where the boogeymen go/there’s a devil in the cornfield/you better run, he’ll get your soul.” Delightfully moody and full of attitude, “Devil in the Cornfield” is one of the best tracks of the album.

The album flows smoothly through different genres of music. “4 Ever and A Day” sounds like an older Beatles or Beach Boys, with bright harmonies behind the vocals and fun lyrics. “The Last American Dream” has a slow, beautiful guitar hook throughout the track. “She Remembers” is a catchy, bittersweet track about losing someone you love and hoping that memories linger on. “I still think of her like she’s golden/There’s a piece of her I’ll always be holdin.”

One of the most memorable things about this album is the true live feel of the tracks. There are some moments within these songs that feel magical, and you usually don’t capture those in the studio after weeks and weeks of recording the same song.  The result is something that you feel truly special listening to.

A few other tracks stand out. “All the Jobs Are Gone,” a bluesy song about the recession in America and the causes of it all, has some great moments. Although this track’s subject material is a bit depressing, it’s timely and appropriate, and the performances are solid here.  “A Promise in the Dark” is another wonderful song with an old-rock feel. “We were kids it was then when the music stole my heart/so I’m still giving my all and my promise in the dark.”

The album finishes with a track with the band’s name as it’s title, and after a slow intro jumps into a catchy guitar riff and basically a theme song for the band’s philosophy of life, their attitude about singing, and their positive spirit. It’s a great, catchy finish that will leave the listener smiling after the last chord is struck.

For many people, they’ll prefer a more professional recording and studio-focused sound than what Glowbox Lemonade has created. But there’s something magical about the live, raw sound of This is the Life, and although the recording quality prevents some tracks from being able to be played full volume, it’s still a great testimony to the music that 3 people can make with their guitars. Charmingly flawed, but with many bright spots, This is the Life is a great introduction to a raw, folksy, talented trio that have many years of music ahead of them.

Review by Bobby Jo Valentine

Helen Austin “Song of the Week”

24 Jun, 2011 Bobby Jo Valentine

Friendly, accessible, and utterly charming, Helen Austin has the eclectic, irresistible goofiness of Kate Nash, and at many times in her new album “Song of the Week,” she proves that she can be much better. Filled with clever hooks, witty phrases, and beautiful vocals, “Song of the Week” is a powerful experiment in tasteful, minimalist alternative folk and will be sure to please new fans and old alike.

“Ordinary Girl” starts the album off with a catchy, friendly introduction to Helen’s clever witticisms. Helen sings about a simple love with beauty. Talk a little longer so I can stay to hear/talk a little quieter so I’ve got to get real near. There are some clever lines in this song. Get a little closer so I can feel your breathe/get a little nearer but don’t quite kiss me yet. The melody is wonderful, and there’s a little Cranberries feel mingled in with Helen’s quirky, original songwriting. “Happy” is a wonderful, short track about loving somebody so much that every detail of their life delights you.

“All The Letters” is a showstopper of a folk track, with Helen whispering the alphabet and a sentiment for each letter. You can easily see this on the next Juno-style independent movie that goes big. There’s a wonderful whistling track in the middle of the song.

Helen goes a little serious with “Stuck to You,” a song about letting go and loving someone anyways. I’m not waiting to see/I know there are things you need to be/things that don’t include me. This is easily one of the best tracks of the album, with a tender sweetness and a bittersweet songwriting style that is almost heartbreaking. The listener will definitely identify with every word in this song. It’s absolutely breathtaking how Helen is able to take the simplest of concepts and weave poetry and clever metaphors into the most basic of truths, slipping through the cracks and reaching a place deep inside a person. Once again, her songwriting takes center stage and blows away everything else.

The album flows so smoothly that every track seems to melt seamlessly into the other, creating just enough diversity to keep the listener’s attention while keeping with Helen’s soft-spoken sound. There are several tracks that the listener will want to listen to again and again. “When We Were Young” has Helen singing wistfully about the jubilant, naive certainty of youth. “I Can’t Cry,” is another heartbreaking ballad about missing somebody close to you. A cute, affectionate take on an energetic lover, “High Maintenance,” has some wonderful background vocals, and could easily be written into a Broadway play.

A wonderful acoustic guitar picking track compliments a dual vocal in “Nearly Dry,” a wake up song that’s cheerful and full of heart. It’s a song about getting over bad things that happen, loving through sadness, and believing that there’s going to be another day. Aren’t you glad you opened up your eyes? Take a look, they’re nearly dry.

While all of these are amazing songs, Helen saves the best for last. The last four songs are incredibly well-produced and will make the listener glad that they stayed until the end. “Three’s Company” is a fantastic, catchy Beach Boys song. “Toeing the Line” is a song about not rocking the boat in a relationship and being scared of finding something new. “So Stay” is a request for a lover to stay in the midst of a difficult time. There are some great lines in this song. I have to do this marathon/so why can’t we belong.

The album finishes off with a song reminiscent of old Death Cab for Cutie. Background vocals sway and swoop through a simple story of love and loss. Melancholy, heartbreaking, and another showstopper, this is the best track of the album.

There aren’t enough words to describe the simplicity, purity, and charm of Helen Austin’s latest album. It’s just absolutely beautiful. Her personality shines through and creates a portrait of a sweet, deep songwriter, writing songs about things she loves, pain she’s experienced, and beauty in the midst of it all. Frankly, there isn’t a listener who won’t love this album.

Review by Bobby Jo Valentine
Rating:  5 stars (out of 5)

Robert Lauri “Western and Country”

14 Jun, 2011 Bobby Jo Valentine

Born into a family of musicians and artists, it was almost inevitable that Robert Lauri would become involved in the arts in some way. As a young boy he learned to play piano and guitar. Not content with just performing, Robert was soon composing great melodies to accompany his lyrics. Throughout his career, Robert Lauri has always been “an original”, remaining true to himself and his creative drive, unfettered by the ebb and flow of fads and fashion.

This short biography helps define Robert Lauri’s new album, Western and Country. It’s a very dedicated theme album, brimming with Western soundtracks and full, gutsy sounds, but this dedication works. What results is a fantastic album, full of wonderful sounds and experiments. Robert Lauri has created a Western/New Age hybrid, and he has created it well. Some wonderful orchestration and musical adeptness by Robert makes this album stand out as an enjoyable musical masterpiece.

Robert dives straight into the country/western theme in the album with “Obsession” and the listener will find a lot to love about this track. Different creative percussion instruments fade in and out, Indian flutes sway and swoon, and vocals flicker in and out of the soundscape. Church bells chime. Sirens whistle. This is a great, atmospheric instrumental track, and will have the listener leaning close to hear what Robert will play next. “The Last Day” is a swelling, anthemic track, with an Indian-style wind sound floating through the track, which changes rhythmic styles several times. There is almost a dance feel to this track.

“Crepuscle” continues the feel of the former track, even some of the melody, and feels almost like a sequel. It brings in a military-style rhythm and more of an epic feel. There are some wonderful string swells and dynamic shifts in this track.

“The Gun” changes gears a little bit, and instantly gives a musical picture of a showdown, two fighters bristling and ready to draw their weapons. There are sounds of horses galloping and stomping throughout this track, and the strings are wonderfully arranged. This album, many times, feels more like the soundtrack of a movie, with the listener allowed to imagine the storyline that was playing in Robert’s head as he wrote this.

“Cheyenne” starts out with an 80’s western vibe, bringing back the bell chimes, and quickly transitioning to a quick, up-tempo drum track. This is an especially powerful and catchy track, and will have the listener nodding along to the rhythm as banjos and violins swell and sway throughout the musical landscape, bringing the musical picture of a traveler on a journey, on a mission even. “Daydream” is a fusion of a catchy dance beat and a western melody, and has a fantastic feel to it.

The album takes a break from the album’s instrumentals, bringing in a gospel church choir, with the lead singers rasping through the ethereal lyrics and adding vocal sound effects as another country story is told. “Rock Jeans” will bring a smile to any listener’s face, and is full of attitude and blues-style guitar riffs and great orchestration.

All of the tracks have a wonderful feel to them, and the listeners will find themselves caught up in the feel and theme of the album. “Someday” is a wonderful, haunting song, full of great vocal performances and powerful, energetic musical arrangement. It is followed by a beautiful instrumental track that fleshes out all of the arrangement and different pieces of the song. “Away From You” is a fantastic closer to the album, with wonderful gospel vocals and slide guitars wandering and weaving through the sound landscape.  This is easily the catchiest song on the album, and has some absolutely breathtaking moments of inspiration.

Robert Lauri is a musical genius that has done what many people fail to do. He has taken a theme and, instead of walking around the edges, has dived in deep, pulling out all the musical implication that one genre of music can have and exposing them with tasteful musical touches. There isn’t one note out of place, one word that isn’t said with power or conviction. The instrumental tracks are powerful and thoughtful. This is movie soundtrack material, and will be sure to find its place onto many modern western and country films. For every listener, of every age, Western and Country will have a definite audience that will appreciate Robert Lauri’s talents and musical adeptness.

Review by Bobby Jo Valentine
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)