Reviews by ReviewYou
TUER, Journey Back
TUER is a Christian rock ensemble led by its namesake; composer, arranger and trombonist Travis William Tuer. Together they incorporate elements of 70’s funk, jazz, pop and rock for a genre-bending sound that is both modern and nostalgic. Based out of Spring, Texas, Tuer has long loved music; he first learned to play the piano and then the trombone at an early age. As an adult, he followed his musical muse to become an acclaimed high school band director and a music professor at a college in Houston, while also serving as the trombonist in the 30-piece orchestra for his church, The Woodlands United Methodist Church. With Journey Back – his first recorded work – Tuer revels in the spotlight as both a writer and performer.
In the studio, Tuer leads the way with his trombone as Ray Gonzalez lends his alto and baritone sax and Stephen Kloesel his trumpet skills and he is assisted by vocalist Amanda Waites, guitarist Frank Debretti, and pianist/keyboardist Annette Toenjes along with the solid rhythm section of bassist Conrad Guthrie and drummer Joe Beam.
The album opens with the statement-making “You Are” with its stuttering, funk-rock beat and jubilant horns. Each of the versatile songs on the album could also be used as praise and worship in a church setting. Lead vocalist Amanda Waites brings Tuer’s uplifting Christian-based lyrics to life with her soulful and powerful vocal delivery, especially on the funky and upbeat standout track, “Come Unto Me”, where she sounds like a 70’s disco diva alongside its cowbell-laced rhythm and Spanish flair. Slowing down the pace a bit, “Lift Me Up” is led by piano and somber lyrical themes that are contrasted nicely by a bright horn arrangement and a hopeful message on the catchy chorus. Along the same lines, the emotionally-charged “Lamentation” speaks of the devastating loss of a loved one but offers a ray of hope through faith and glimmering instrumentation. “Can You Hear Me?” follows with its pleading lyrics, flickering guitars and strutting, head-nodding rhythm that gives off a smooth 70’s vibe and closes out with a joyous Southern Gospel-inspired send-up. Similarly, “I Understand Now” is highlighted by a cool, jazzy saxophone solo and jumpy beat as Waites sings Tuer’s lyrics of freedom from sin with Jesus as savior.
One of the album highlights is Tuer’s instrumental take on the campy and well-known Sunday school classic “Jesus Loves Me”. It opens calmly with glassy keyboard chords before bursting to life with a peppy Ska-like rhythm and triumphant horns alongside several different interpolations of the familiar melody and turns for each musician to solo in the spotlight. Next, “When You Sleep” is a sweet and loving lullaby of sorts dedicated to Tuer’s son and nephews and nieces with ascending horn melodies, cascading guitars and a swaying rhythm meant to lull you to sleep with a sense of security as Waites sings, “Have no fear now, I’ll always be right here, when you sleep”. The nine-song album closes out on a high note with the punchy horns and indelibly catchy, sing-along melodies of “Take My Hand” which also incorporates subtle hints of progressive rock and jazz fusion to pay homage to Tuer’s broad range of musical influences.
Journey Back may be Travis William Tuer’s debut recording but it shows promise and reveals Tuer to be a poised and mature composer with a knack for creative and catchy brass melodies. Additionally, it is a nostalgia-inducing collection of songs that are reminiscent of 70’s funk and horn-heavy classic rock bands such as Tower Of Power and Chicago that also double as praise and worship songs with their positive, Christ-centered lyrics.
Reviewed by: Justin Kreitzer
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Stephen Cogswell, Floating
San Francisco based singer-songwriter Stephen Cogswell – formerly of the wildly eclectic Your Mama’s Mama’s Mama’s Band (a.k.a. YoMa) – recently released his long-awaited debut solo album, Floating. After previously collaborating within a band setting, Cogswell set out on his own to shine the spotlight on his own set of songs. Each song has been carefully crafted from the bottom up with extra care put into each meaningful lyric, memorable melody and ornamental instrumental choice. Much like his previously band the music is a dynamic melting pot of musical styles and genres with elements of everything from bluegrass, jazz, hip-hop, rock and reggae, though the unifying lyrical touchstone of love binds the songs together into a cohesive whole. In the studio, Cogswell was assisted by many great Bay Area musicians who helped to shape his singular musical vision. Of note, pianist Trevor Garrod of jam band Tea Leaf Green played a baby grand that was once owned by the legendary Frank Sinatra and a host of other guest including members of ALO contributed. The album was recorded and co-produced by Cogswell and engineer extraordinaire Nathan Winter (Train, Sun Kil Moon, Bob Mould) at the legendary Hyde St. studios where the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane recorded in the 60’s.
The album opens with the rollicking countrified Bluegrass-leaning tune “Whale Song” with its dust-shuffling rhythm, twangy dobro, and jumpy, saloon-worthy piano riffs. The fun, catchy melodies recall the Barenaked Ladies. “Sweet And Wonderful” follows with an aptly-sweet sentiment and some bright, lively bursts of horns that seem to reference both Stax and Ska all at once. Showcasing the depths of his influence and songwriting ability, standout track “The One” features an impressive rap verse from JBrave, an MC from the LA-based band the Luminaries and boasts an uplifting and infectiously catchy sing-along chorus. As a change of pace, the ballad-esque “Teeter”, allows Cogswell to croon with his smooth and able voice alongside swaying melodies and laid-back jazz-inspired instrumentation. Along the same vein, the piano-led “Borrowed” sounds like Randy Newman and the song has a sort of 70’s singer-songwriter nostalgia that the song could easily be the soundtrack to a movie or a TV show.
Another standout, “Thoughts Unsaid” is highlighted by the pretty interplay between piano and flute and also features a jazzy upright bass groove and some fluid fretwork that recalls Phish. The Gospel-inflected and soul-soaked track, “How Beautiful” marries bright horn melodies and rafters-reaching vintage organ along with an almost beach-y rhythm for another track that seems poised to dominate the radio. Fellow San Francisco native, singer Pamela Parker contributes her beautiful voice to the song as well. Next, “Waiting In Divine” is upbeat and soulful with male/female vocals and a start/stop rhythm. The sultry jazz of “Moonlight And Candle” is a gorgeous duet with Cogswell’s former bandmate in YOMA, Jenny Simon, who provides her pretty and powerful voice which perfectly complements Stephen’s smooth style. Another guest, Dan Lebowitz of ALO, adds his wispy pedal steel to “Rest In Your Fields” to give it a breezy classic country & western vibe alongside the honky-tonk piano fills and steady acoustic guitar strumming. The eleven-track album closes out on a high note with the upbeat and joyous “Distance” which features clicky percussion and more jubilant Motown-inspired horns but stands out with the addition of the beautiful melodies provided by the ancient harp-like instrument, the Kona, which was expertly played by Sengal-based Kona player Karamo Cissokho.
With Floating – his very promising debut solo album – Stephen Cogswell has crafted an uplifting, inspiring and eclectic collection of modern pop songs that come fully formed and radio-ready.
Reviewed by: Justin Kreitzer
Rating 4 out of 5 stars
Troy & Paula Haag, Migrate
Singer-songwriters Troy & Paula Haag are a husband and wife duo based out of Northern Virginia. Their intriguing brand of folk-inflected Americana music is bolstered by their gorgeous close-knit harmonies and blends together elements of country, alternative and pop. The duo affectionately describes their music as “a mash up of folk, rock, & Cosmic American” and it fits them perfectly.
As the long-awaited follow up to their very promising and highly-praised 2012 debut album, The Century – their recently self-released sophomore album, Migrate is available via all the major digital music outlets and captures their warm, organic sound. With a DIY approach, the songs were written, performed and recorded by the Haag’s at Southern Gothic Studio in Nineveh, Virginia. Where their debut was more stripped-down and intimate with simpler arrangements, each vocalist is also a multi-instrumentalist with Troy contributing guitar, drums, violin, bass, harmonica and mandolin and Paula contributing piano, guitar, and hand percussion resulting in more ornate arrangements that really compliment the duo’s strong songwriting and versatile vocal performances.
“Another Tale In Hard Times” opens the album with a hopeful yet hard luck tale built upon fancy fretwork and flickering mandolin figures for the perfect introduction for new listeners. “This Is How It Feels” follows with jangly acoustic guitars and a loping bass guitar-led rhythm that recalls the pastoral English folk of the late 60’s and 70’s. “Used Up” plays up to our nostalgic need to look back upon our younger days with its emotionally honesty lyrics alongside a steadily strummed rhythm and a melodic extended guitar solo that comes out of nowhere for a nice surprise. With cascading guitars, subtle hand percussion and swaying vocal melodies, “Samarkand (For Josephine)” offers up a dreamy atmosphere and a standout moment. Another standout, the upbeat “Cries & Lies” is highlighted by blues-infused guitars, catchy Beach Boys and doo-wop inspired background vocals and an infectious sing-along chorus. Additionally, Troy allows his voice to crack just a little bit when singing the word “cries”; a nice little trick that only adds to the song’s emotional weight.
As a nice change of pace, “Emily Dickinson’s Daughter” is outfitted with beefed up percussion and Paula’s vocal harmonies give the song a 60’s psych-pop element that combine with a solo passage featuring playful interplay between the guitar and harmonica. Next, “Maybe It Was Me” offers up a gentle yet driving folk-inflected rhythm that matches the bittersweet sentiment of the lyrics and beautifully braided vocal harmonies. “Touch” features some quick Bluegrass-like finger style guitar arpeggios and layers of light to the touch harmonies that sets the scene perfectly for a wistful tale of love. Along the same lines, Troy really showcases his strong guitar-playing skill on “Fall For You” as well with a bluesy guitar solo offset by mandolin and intricate strumming patterns. Clocking in at nearly six minutes in length, “27” is the duo’s most ambitious track and was lyrically inspired by Neil Young, William Blake, Robert Frost and Edna St. Vincent Millay while musically, it is a rollicking take on Laurel Canyon-esque California folk-pop with bluesy harmonica melodies added for good measure. The 11-track album closes out on a high note with “Lies & Cries”, an instrumental tune with an upbeat, head-nodding rhythm and charming, laid-back guitar melodies that are memorable enough that you will be humming them long after the disc stops spinning.
With their second album, Migrate, Troy & Paula Haag have continued to perfect their sound and have crafted an impressive collection of Americana with memorable melodies and thought-provoking lyrics that sounds both modern and nostalgic all at once.
Reviewed by: Justin Kreitzer
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Zen Juddhism, Zen Juddhism
ZEN JUDDHISM is the brand new solo music project from the Southampton based guitarist and songwriter Jude Ωne Eight. He is best known as the guitarist for the goth and industrial-informed electro-rock band Hybrid 6.0, but now Jude is able to spread his musical wings even further with his first solo effort, as he experiments with catchy, Fountains Of Wayne-like power-pop and forays into folk, soul and goes further down the spiral into metal and indie rock on his self-released and self-titled debut album. The album is available now digitally and on CD in all of the usual online marketplaces via Jude’s own Loosh Rote Records. Allowing his fancy fretwork to speak for himself, Jude has invited several of his friends and former contributors to provide the vocals on the songs, including Marlene Rodriguez, Andy Thomas and Opkar Hans. Each of the very capable vocalists were carefully selected and curated to bring the best out of the song and to fit in with the style and vision that Jude was aiming for.
The album opens with “Chocolate Cake” which is highlighted by some blazing blues rock riffs that channel both the pomp and stomp of Led Zeppelin and the unbridled energy of early Wolfmother. The song also features the first of four powerful vocal performances from guest, Marlene Rodriguez. “Private Banks (So Cold)” follows with crunchy guitars and a propulsive rhythm as vocalist Opkar Hans gives a sneering shot of pop sensibility to the bouncy, punk and grunge-informed standout track. Featuring vocals from former Hybrid 6.0 contributor Naomi Terry, “Want To Be Free” is built upon a knotty guitar lick that unfurls into a laid back jangle on the infectious, soaring chorus for another standout moment. Next, “Concrete Beat” features an appropriately danceable yet driving drum beat, some electro-charged guitars and more vocals from Marlene Rodriquez that blend together to recall mid-90’s Brit-rock faves Elastica and Republica.
If you are looking for the song that most closely resembles Jude’s parent band, Hybrid 6.0, then check out “Heart Removal”, which features roaring vocals from Andy Thomas of Brighton synth-punk duo Half Ghost Third Machine alongside a stuttering stop and start rhythm and a heavy, metallic guitar riff. As a nice surprise, Southampton hip-hop legend Lord Lav is featured on “Clash From Oblivion”, where he spits a tale of an alien encounter gone bad alongside a shuffling beat, strange synth sounds and surging guitars. The standout track also features a catchy, sing-along chorus complete with gang vocal. Sounding like a lost 90’s alt-rock radio hit, “Am I Alive?” is a bittersweet ballad with tumbling tom-heavy drums, fuzzy guitars and more great vocals from Marlene Rodriguez. “Green Eyes” is an upbeat slice of power-pop highlighted by woozy slide guitar played with a coffee mug and vocals from Opkar Hans. Featuring more sultry vocals from Naomi Terry, the darkly romantic single “Hold” sounds like a cross between Garbage and Blondie with more modern touches of Evanescence’s brand of goth-rock. Another standout; “East” is built on a solid foundation consisting of a stomping rhythm and a chugging fuzzed out blues rock riff that would make Jack White proud and also features a swaying vocal melody sung perfectly by Marlene Rodriguez. The eleven track album closes out on a high note with the psychedelic swirl of the Opkar Hans assisted “Temporary” and its guitar-led soft-chugging rhythm and side-winding soloing.
With his exciting new solo project, ZEN JUDDHISM, Jude Ωne Eight has offered up a very promising debut that spans the map musically but is held together by his excellent guitar playing, memorable melodies and solid songwriting.
Reviewed by: Justin Kreitzer
Rating 3.5 out of 5 stars
The fundaMentals, “Locked and Loaded”
A quick Google search shows that there are many bands on the scene with the name “The Fundamentals” but hailing from Port Charlotte, FL the fundaMentals are a veteran five piece band that puts the fun back in rock and roll and are doing it with their own unique style that defies the more commonplace band name. Formed in 2008 by lead vocalist and guitarist The Icon and lead guitarist Danger Dan Goodnight and rounded out by bassist Sir Chas House, keyboardist Big Hoss and drummer John “The Hammer” Marnie, the band has lit up the night life in the Florida area with their age-defying energy and rowdy live shows.
Their latest single, “Locked and Loaded”, showcases their retro-inspired brand of brash, no-holds-barred, good times rock and roll sound that is reminiscent of hard rock legends such as AC/DC, Motorhead and Kiss. The new single – available now at the band’s CD Baby store – opens with a grimy, punk-fuelled garage rock riff that is offset by some sick slide guitar-assisted leads and is built upon a propulsive rhythm that crunches under your foot like an old tin can. The infectious, call-and-response chorus will have you singing along instantly and is sure to be a live favorite. Additionally, the soaring background vocals of Big Hoss and The Hammer perfectly contrast with the gruff, Lemmy-esque vocal style of The Icon.
A more cynical music fan might look at The fundaMentals with their gimmicky costumes and goofy nicknames and write them off immediately. But upon further review, the band reveals themselves to be pretty good musicians with an unpretentious sense of style and quite the knack for a catchy melody. So next time you are in Florida be sure to seek out one of their famous live shows but in the meantime pickup this single and rock out!
Review by: Justin Kreitzer
Rating: 3 out 5 stars