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madelyniris, Adventures

14 Jan, 2015 Gary Hill

madelynirisIt’s refreshing to hear real vocals in electronic pop music. There has been such a movement toward auto tuning voices in pop music (and particularly electronic music) in the last decade or more that when you hear non-adjusted vocals, it seems unique. There has been a real pushback against auto tune and other processing in recent days, but sets like this with actual vocals are still probably the exception.

Madelyniris is actually one person: Madelyn Munsell. She handles all the vocals, instrumentation production and more. Classically trained as a singer, Munsell seems to have a deep respect for the power of a real voice. She seems to be devoted to the reality that only a genuine voice can bring to a recording. That makes this stand tall. The thing is, Munsell’s singing might be the best thing here, but it’s far from the only thing of value. The whole creation is strong.

The electronic groove that opens “leave and never look back” is a bit trite, but somehow compelling. The vocal performance has a vulnerable, breathy element. At the same time, though, there is a powerful soulful texture, too. The chorus section is dreamy in terms of vocal delivery and soaring musically. Although this song is a bit clichéd (in terms of arrangement, not lyrics), it’s quite strong.

A mellower piece, “ghost” is both evocative and compelling. It has some beautiful melodies and textures. As strong as the music is, though, the vocal performance is what really pushes this one over the top into pure majesty. It’s an exceptional tune that’s one of the highlights here.

The rhythm section to “street signs and white lies” makes it more of a rocker. The piece is more mainstream in some ways. For that reason it’s less distinctive. Still, what it loses in terms of originality, it gains for catchy hooks and a driving energy. It’s not the best song here, but it is definitely not a let down, either.

Although “let’s restart” still has some energy, it’s slower than the rest. It’s very electronic. It has some of the most intriguing and effective musical textures. Yet, again, the vocals are really the key factor here. Multiple layers of vocals lend some exceptional tones and sounds to the piece.

The lyrics to the title track contain some interesting turns of phrase. Musically the piece is among the most diverse here. It has mellower, more stripped down movements, yet there are some really hard rocking sections that share similarities with the sounds of The Cure and others of that genre. There is a definite 80s or 90s rock vibe here. Still, this is modern. Later sections even call to mind Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love album in their wall of sound approach. Many layers of vocals help to fill out those layers, too. Although there have been some particularly strong pieces leading up to this, “adventure” is definitely the gem of the disc. This one is worth the price of admission by itself. That makes it a great choice for both title track and closing piece.

While this is pop music, it’s also a lot more. There is a depth and complexity here that isn’t always present in pop music. In some ways, it shares some territory with progressive rock. At least there are definite incorporations of classical music values and bits of music that are deceptively complex. This is the kind of thing that improves with repeated spins, revealing more layers of sound and art. The only real complaint is that there isn’t enough. Still, there is something to be said for leaving the listener wanting more.

 

 

Review by G. W. Hill
Rating:  4 (out of 5)

Dwight Townsend, Finale: Omega to Alpha

08 Oct, 2014 Gary Hill

omegatoalpha

 

There was a time when crooners like Vic Damone and Frank Sinatra owned the radio airwaves and the music charts. Music lovers who long for that era will find plenty to be pleased with on Finale: Omega to Alpha from Dwight Townsend. While Townsend’s deep baritone definitely seems different than the type of voice usually associated with this type of music, beyond that, it all has an air of familiarity.

While the type of voice Townsend has is usually relegated to backing roles, he makes it clear on this release that it works equally well in the lead. Townsend sings his way through two full CDs of songs, ably mastering all of them. Although it takes a little time to adjust to the different register, once that happens, this will seem like the kind of thing that would have been quite at home on the pop charts of the 1940s.

Many of the songs here are classics. It’s the kind of thing you would expect ranging from jazz and pop standards to show tune type music. It’s a real tribute to Townsend’s songwriting and understanding of the musical idiom in which he performs that it’s hard to tell which songs are his originals and which are not. His music feels every bit as much a part of the bygone era as do the pieces originally made famous in that time period

Townsend is joined by a number of great musicians, including members of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. The music is all exactly what would expect. It’s perfect for the kind of music being presented here. Of course, that level of perfection in terms of the arrangement means that this is exactly what is expected. There are no surprises. That means there is also no real sense of uniqueness making this stand out.

That lack of surprises also tends to make this sort of a flat release. That doesn’t refer to tonal quality or production, but rather that there are no real standouts. This doesn’t have peaks and valleys. That makes it great for background music. This would be perfect for a dinner part, particularly one with a retro theme. It’s also great music for an old-time dance event. It’s not the best choice for intense listening, though.

As mentioned before, it’s hard to find any songs to really mention as standing out because it’s all of similar arrangement and quality. There are quite a few classic songs presented here from “Unforgettable” to “Send in the Clowns” and “What a Wonderful World.” One song, though, does get a special mention. “You’re Just in Love” has an unusual twist with Townsend singing a round with himself. It’s an intriguing concept and works reasonably well. The problem is, since both voices are his, there is a tendency for them to jumble together, the lines seeming to confront one another and muddle together. Still, the attempt has to be respected.

Another intriguing element here is the title of the album. For one thing, “Finale,” represents the fact that at the time it was recording, Townsend had decided this would be his last album. That fact is negated a bit by the news on his website that he’s changed his mind on that one. The second part, though, “Omega to Alpha” is not only a clever twist, but it has significance. This set starts with the last song (to date) Townsend recorded. The closing piece, complete with spoken introduction explaining it, is the first song he ever recorded.

This is certainly the kind of thing that fans of crooner music would really enjoy. It’s perfect for that old school dinner party or dance soirée.

 

 

Review by G. W. Hill
Rating:  4 (out of 5)

fundaMentals, Full Mental Jacket

22 Apr, 2014 Gary Hill

fundamental cover

 

Based on the name of the group and the title of the album, first time listeners will probably expect an act with a lot of humor in the mix. That is a pretty valid assumption. These guys really rock, though. This is a twisted kind of rock and roll. There is a slightly off-kilter edge to it. The vocals are a little rough around the edges and the music has some unusual features. It all works to create a sound that’s unique and fun. It draws from a lot of things, but the end result is a trademark sound.

“She’s Dangerous” starts the set off with a great hard rocking groove. It’s nicely quirky. The mix of sounds here seems to include Frank Zappa, Dr. John and Primus. It’s got some great guitar work running throughout. The vocals are the part that call to mind Dr. John. There is a real rough around the edges charm to them. They are mostly spoken, except on the choruses.

Imagine a sound that’s between Southern rock and Motorhead. That sound would be pretty close to the musical territory occupied by “I Do It All For Rock ‘N’ Roll.” It’s a real noisy rocker. It’s got some cool piano and at times calls to mind Molly Hatchet.

The vocals on “Streets of Time” have the same basic concept as those on the first two tracks. Most of the similarities end there, though. The cut is much mellower and more complex. Keyboards drive it, but the guitar is crunchy and prominent, too. There is a classic rock sound to it, but it almost leans towards progressive rock. The tone and atmosphere has a lot of character and magic. It’s arguably the best song of the whole set. It would be easy to credit the success of this song to a large degree on the piano. The truth is, the guitar works some major magic, too. The whole thing is just exceptional.

The riff that opens “Just Do It” has a bit of a psychedelic fuzz sound. The tune overall seems a bit like old time rock and roll with punk and modern hard rock in the mix. It leans further toward metal than anything else here. The vocals are in the same general vein as on the rest of the set. They seem to pack more punch here, though. Both the bass and the piano get chances to shine here. There is also some particularly inspired and intense guitar soloing here.

“Crystal Web” has a lot of punk in the arrangement. The thing is, the whole tune, vocal delivery included, has quite a bit in common with some of Neil Young’s distorted, raw rocking period. It’s a safe bet that people who like Young with Crazy Horse will enjoy this fuzz drenched rocker. This has some of the most incendiary guitar soloing of the whole set. It’s another contender for best song.

The closing track declares “It’s About to Get Loud.” It has many of the same influences demonstrated throughout the set. It land more in hard rocking punk meets classic rock territory. The Neil Young comparison becomes fairly well-earned here, too. This is another solid rock tune in the same tradition as the rest.

Don’t expect polished productions or musicians who seem flawless. That’s not what this is about. This is about raw power, some humor and a lot of fun. The range of sounds is fairly wide. Yet, nothing here fails to entertain. This is one thing more than it is anything else – rock and roll. One really can’t argue with that.
Review by G. W. Hill
Rating:  4 (out of 5)

Justin DiFebbo, Turn Out the Light, Turn On the Stereo

27 Feb, 2014 Gary Hill

This is really a masterpiece. The mix of sounds here is classic and modern. The album works very much as a whole with a real flow to it. None of the material is weak or lacking in any way. There is enough variety to keep it fresh from beginning to end, yet it’s never a stretch to imagine all this coming from the same act.

As the opener, “Coffee” starts; rich organ sounds lend a retro element to a classic slow moving arrangement. The vocals join adding to the musical concept. The guitar solo is tasteful, tasty and classic. This is the kind of thing that’s tied to old school folk and gospel, but lands more in the modern sound in certain ways. It’s all part of that back to roots movement. It’s also very effective and a great way to start things in style.

That classic organ remains on “Play It Slow.” The cut’s is much more unusual. The early sections feel a bit like something from Booker T. and the MGs, but with a modern twist to it. It turns mid-track to something closer to a soaring Pink Floyd, though. After a return to the earlier modes for the next verse they turn in a full on progressive rock section. It’s really quite powerful. The song segues into the “She Refused.”

With the prog-like atmosphere left over from the previous cut starting it, “She Refused” has an acoustic guitar dominated arrangement. It’s very much a folk rock styled piece at first. The falsetto on this is classy and the also has some progressive rock elements as it moves forward. There are some Beatles-like sounds here, too. The guitar solo lends some nice melodic moments. The organ returns for a solo mid-track. The arrangement keeps getting more and more involved as this continues. Piano ends the piece.

“Stained Glass Window” starts with a little flute section. Then acoustic guitar brings more of that folk rock sound. The vocals come gently over the top, making it feel very much like something from the 1960s. However, comparisons to something more modern like Phideaux would not be out of the question at all. Some of the sounds during the instrumental section that starts around the two and a half minute mark call to mind Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” a bit. Overall, it remains very close to its origins. It’s essentially a folk based song.

Folk music, progressive rock and more blend on the song” Storm.” It’s another cut that calls to mind Phideaux a lot of the time. That said, the vocal hook on this seems much more in line with 1970s folk rock. The piece continues growing and evolving and gets quite involved later. The classic rock sounds are so perfect here. Although it isn’t present prominently or constantly, that classic organ does make some appearances here and there.

Acoustic guitar starts “Certain Company.” As the vocals join the sound is more in keeping with 1970s soft rock music than anything else. This isn’t that far removed from something like America or Bread. Although that kind of texture remains prominent, the electric guitar solo brings some other elements. At times that solo calls to mind David Gilmour and Pink Floyd. At other points they land in more mainstream 1970s rock territory. It works back to the mellower sounds that started it for the last section of the piece. The closing line of the song is the title of the set.

With a title like “Float Down River” one might expect a gentle down-home piece. As ukulele opens the song, it’s obvious that such an expectation will be rewarded. The song is a playful one with a stripped back arrangement. The vocals really deliver that same sense of carefree summer relaxation. Appropriately it drifts out to gentle dreamland to end.

Probably if one needed a quick label for the whole set, modern progressive rock would fit. That’s not completely accurate, but it’s close. The truth is, this set is entertaining and shows a lot of talent. It’s likely it will make it into a “best of list” or two by the time 2014 is over. Yes, it’s that good.

Review by G. W. Hill
Rating:  5 (out of 5)

Kevin Wilson, Rise Up

18 Jun, 2013 Gary Hill

This is quite a good disc.  It’s not as good as it could be, though.  The opening track suffers a bit from some vocals that are jarring.  That makes it a bad choice to start things. Once the listener gets beyond that point, though, things go much more smoothly.  The performances are generally strong.  The only real issue with the rest of the disc is that it’s lacking in originality a bit.  The type of bluesy hard rock that predominates is probably the most over-worked musical territory out there.  It’s hard to really be original or stand out in that style.  So, it’s understandable that there’s not much on the disc that feels at all unique.  It’s still quite good, though.  That certainly makes up for it.  Additionally, there is quite a bit of variety in terms of musical range here.  At times it’s almost Zeppelin like. At other points there are mellow, Robert Johnson like songs.  Certainly while the genre has been over trodden over the decades, it does have quite a bit of territory for exploration.

The title track opens the set, and it’s a down home, old school blues meets country jam. The vocals are a bit of an issue on this tune, though.  The harmonica is a good touch.  The next number, “16 Days” is a much better one.  It’s a riff driven rocker that still shows off plenty of blues elements.  The vocals work on this one and it’s one of the best on the disc.

There is still plenty of blues on “Come a Little Closer,’ but it’s a mellower and slower tune.  It has some definite hints of alternative rock in the mix, too.  “Little Pieces” is more riff driven blues rock. It’s another great tune.  Imagine Led Zeppelin combined with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Molly Hatchet and you’ll be pretty close to the sound on “Trouble.”  It’s got some great riffing and some cool hooks.

“Liars” is cut from the bluesy cloth that is featured throughout the set.  It’s just not as effective (or special) as some of the other stuff here.  “I’m a Criminal” features some particularly gruff blues vocals.  It’s almost like something Robert Johnson might do in terms of the musical element.  It just doesn’t seem to work as well as some of the other material, in part because there are sections that don’t seem to really fit.

“Barn Burner” is an instrumental that seems to call to mind something Joe Satriani might do.  It’s quite a cool piece of music.  Blues based hard rock is the order of business on “What More.”  It’s a good tune, but doesn’t vary that much from the bulk of the stuff here.  Now, “The Hell You Say” is a much stronger piece.  It’s riff driven for the majority of the tune, but also has some variants on that.  It’s just a cool number with quite a few twists and turns that work well.

Next up, Wilson covers the ZZ Top classic, “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers.”  His version lacks some of the magic of the original, but the melodic bluesy guitar soloing makes up for that.  The instrumental section later with slide guitar solo is purely on fire. It really elevates the track.  The closer is an acoustic guitar based take on the title track. It’s very much in that Robert Johnson sort of territory.  It works much better than the electrified version.

If the vocals to the first song were redone, this would be a better disc.  That said, though, it is an enjoyable romp.  This kind of bluesy hard rock is pretty much always entertaining. This might be unique or overly original, but it is quite good. It’s the kind of thing that one puts on to just enjoy.

 

Review by G. W. Hill
Rating:  4 (out of 5)