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Karim Douaidy, A Countdown To Genesis EP

27 Jun, 2014 Justin Kreitzer

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Karim Douaidy is an international guitarist and composer – formerly of progressive rock band MUTE – who recently released his stunning solo EP, A Countdown To Genesis.  The four-song EP showcases the in-demand film composer’s acoustic-based progressive and experimental style.  He effortlessly blends together organic elements of classical, smooth jazz and even new age and prog-rock for a carefully crafted and wholly unique sound.  Douaidy was born in Paris and has lived in Lebanon and Boston before finally settling in New York City where he composes music for commercials, movies and other multimedia projects.  For his solo recording, he brings his well-travelled experience and a palpable passion to his music that shines through.  Each song is an epic opus in and of itself and blooms with his tasteful and not overly “showy” finger-style based guitar playing.

“Neugeneration” opens the EP with Flamenco-inspired flair alongside his fluid fretwork and complex layers of bright melodic arpeggios that sparkle and jangle.  All of the songs were composed, performed, produced, and engineered by the multi-talented Karim Douaidy with the exception of “Myst”, which was co-produced by guest David Grinbaum, who also contributes his guitar playing to the song.  The aptly-titled standout track is both mystical and wispy like a mist but disappears just as quickly, urging you to play the jaunty tune over again in order to catch every last detail and nuance.  “Elodie, ma Melodie” follows with an upbeat propulsive rhythm; the song also recalls the late New Age guitar mastermind Michael Hedges except that Douaidy adds a slight classic country & western twang to the gorgeous pinging harmonics for another standout moment.  Closing out this set of songs is “Eddy Boy”, the most dynamic song of the bunch; as it opens with several melodic scaling guitar runs and a driving rhythm before relaxing into a laid-back groove of gentle strumming and subtle jazz-informed flourishes that end the EP on a high note.

Unfortunately a lot of instrumental music gets a bad rap; with some sarcastically and even lazily labeling it as “boring”, “background music” or “something to help them sleep”.  But right from the start, Karim Douaidy’s A Countdown To Genesis EP engages and entrances the listener with his hypnotic and complex yet highly-melodic guitar playing and songwriting skills.  The only actual disappointment is that the four-song EP is much too short and it only serves to heighten the anticipation for the release of a proper full-length album from the virtuoso.  So put on your headphones and immerse yourself in Douaidy’s world – savoring each and every note – I promise you will not regret it.

Reviewed by: Justin Kreitzer
Rating 4 out of 5 stars

Mark Birchall, Home Recordings (2011-2013)

21 Mar, 2014 Justin Kreitzer

Independent folk artist Mark Brichall recently self-released his new album, Home Recordings (2011-2013), which is for sale via his website, markbirchall.com.  The new album is the second in an on-going series of sonic scrapbooks in which he compiles and collects his various home recordings that were written, performed and self-recorded in his home studio located in Liverpool, England; it is the follow up to his well-received debut album, Home Recordings (2007-2009).  Birchall’s experimental sound incorporates spoken word samples, field recordings and the unique sounds of many different strange folk instruments such as the diddley bow, jaw harp, ocarina, gope, autoharp and various African hand drums.  He further expands his sound to include everyday household items like, bottles and cans and pots and pans to great measure.  His soft-spoken voice gives way to understated folk-pop melodies that hover just above the intriguing instrumental arrangements that combine to create a dynamic world of lushly layered soundscapes meant to get lost in.

The album opens with “Meikron’s Blues” which is outfitted with jaw harp, a stomping beat that includes clanging glass bottles, and some sloppy blues guitars as Mark trades off vocals with spoken word samples.  His sound is most reminiscent of the fractured folk of Califone and Modest Mouse’s forays into folk.  “All The Birds Started Singing” follows with a heavy, grungy blues rock riff and driving percussion that dissolves into quieter passages with a bittersweet vocal melody before launching back into the riff again.  The chaotic instrumental, “Warmongers” sounds like a recording of a back porch jam session with the television left on in the other room set to the news channel with bomb blasts and news reports interspersed with folksy guitars.   Next, “Saint Tudno’s Cave” is a pastoral folk tune where swelling harmonica melodies and cyclical acoustic guitars set the scene for a tale written about a helpful 6th century monk and the cave he inhabited in Llandudno, Wales.  “Flowerfield Missionary” is built upon a jittery, percussion-heavy rhythm along with sliding guitar melodies, ukulele and sun-soaked Hawaiian-inspired vocal melodies.

Now, much has been made of Anne Frank and her diary written during the Holocaust but with his song, “Rutka Laskier”, Birchall pays tribute to the young Polish girl (the song’s namesake) whose diary was found under a staircase in Poland just a few years ago – with hushed vocal melodies, bits of Polish dialog, old world folk charm and powerful and moving lines like, “skin and bone as the future started falling all around her, all alone in the pages of her journal when they found her”.  The more upbeat “Living On The Run” is highlighted by female guest vocalist, Diane Sweetman whose hauntingly beautiful Gillian Welch-like voice gives the standout track a lift alongside some twangy acoustic guitars and rebellious lyrics.  “It’s A Dog Eat Dog World” features tinny banjo strumming and pinging-ponging melodies over top of a shuffling beat and the album’s catchiest and most humorous vocal lines.  Another standout, the much too short “Tal y Fan” is highlighted by a staggering, piano-led ragtime rhythm and elastic guitars along with haunting female background vocals for a strange little tune that I kept listening to over and over.   The ten-song album closes out with another instrumental piece; the aptly-titled “Dreaming Backwards” with its warped reversed samples that float like ether from your speakers and create a dreamy and introspective mood.

With the latest installment of his Home Recordings series, singer-songwriter Mark Birchall has crafted a very interesting and engaging collection of songs that are surprisingly cohesive despite the album’s title and shares with us his distinct brand of fractured folk with all of its strange instruments and immersive imagery.

Reviewed by: Justin Kreitzer
Rating 3.5 out of 5 stars

 

Justin DiFebbo, Turn Out The Light, Turn On The Stereo EP

27 Feb, 2014 Justin Kreitzer

Philadelphia based multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Justin DiFebbo released his debut solo effort, Turn Out The Light, Turn On The Stereo via his Bandcamp page in late January.  DiFebbo’s passion for music was ignited when he was just nine years old, playing flute and piano for various church and school performances. Later, he lent his flute playing services to Matt Pond PA’s debut album, Measure.  Much later, he joined Philly blues rock band K-Floor as their touring keyboardist, playing all things vintage including the Hammond B3, Fender Rhodes, and Wurlitzer 200A.  After an exhausting yet gratifying five years and over five hundred live performances later, Justin set out to tell his own story with his well-seasoned brand of retro-styled folk rock that incorporates everything from sunny Beach Boys vocal harmonies and Beatles-esque melodies to bluesy rhythms and hints of psych-rock for a dynamic keyboard-heavy sound all his own.  DiFebbo self-produced and engineered the album in his home studio and contributed vocals, guitars, bass, ukulele, mandolin, piano, organ, keys, flute, and percussion.   He was assisted in the studio by his musician friends, bassist Michael DiFebbo, Jr, drummer Zil, guitarist Avery Coffee as well as vocalists Brian Cullen and Todd Oakes.

Standout track “Coffee” opens the seven-song EP with swaying melodies and a catchy sing-along chorus that displays the virtues of the caffeinated drink and its ability to unite.  It also provides the perfect introduction to DiFebboo’s warm, inviting and slightly nasally voice that recalls that of Eric Johnson from indie folk-rock band the Fruit Bats and also brings to mind Brian Wilson fronting the Counting Crows.  Another standout, “Play It Slow” follows and opens with a blend of reggae-tinged guitars and swaggering blues rock that effortlessly evolves into soaring, paisley-printed psych-pop that is reminiscent of 90’s cult favorites Jellyfish with its charming Beatles-like melodies.  “She Refused” features rafters-reaching church-service worthy organ and swirling layers of lilting falsetto vocals along with a very melodic extended guitar solo from guest, Avery Coffee.

Next, DiFebbo takes you to a fantasy world on “Stained Glass Window”, a proggy acoustic folk tune in which he also breaks out his flute alongside trance-inducing cyclical acoustic guitars and close-knit layers of dreamy vocal harmonies.  “Storm” is filled to the brim with cloud-scraping swells of vintage Hammond B3 organ and twinkling piano.  “Certain Company” is built upon laid-back acoustic guitar strumming, a slow-waltzing beat and a bluesy guitar solo but the spotlight is focused squarely on DiFebbo’s smooth and soulful vocal style.  “Float Down River” closes out the EP with some sun-soaked ukulele-led folk-pop for yet another standout moment to close the album out on a high note.

After playing nicely with others over the years, Justin DiFebbo steps out to the front of the stage and makes a strong case for the spotlight with the soulful and psychedelic blues-drenched folk-rock, memorable melodies and creative arrangements of his very promising debut solo effort, Turn Out The Light, Turn On The Stereo.
Reviewed by: Justin Kreitzer
Rating 4 out 5 stars

 

R.X. Bertoldi, Step Up To The Present

21 Dec, 2013 Justin Kreitzer

Hailing from Everett, Washington, veteran singer-songwriter R.X. Bertoldi just self-released his long-awaited sophomore studio album, Step Up To The Present on November 25.  His rootsy style of country and folk inspired Americana is influenced by the off-kilter folk narratives of Tom Waits and Bob Dylan along with original blues legends such as Robert Johnson and Lightnin’ Hopkins.  Where his debut album, Stronger Not Bitter – released in 2005 – was a purely solo effort recorded on a four-track recorder, Bertoldi steps it up on this new album with the aid of a full studio production and a host of expert Seattle-area studio musicians that helped to shape his musical vision.

“Miracle To Me” opens the album with a sweet and touching love song that references Jesus’s miracles and is set to swells of church-worthy organ and a laid back acoustic guitar-driven groove to start the album off on a high note.  That love doesn’t seem to last though as, Bertoldi asks to get off of the “Broke Down Carousel” on the next song, which follows with cascading acoustic guitars, close-knit vocal harmonies and a harmonica solo.  Bertoldi’s introspective and honest lyrics about love and life are universally relatable and the memorable melodies he ties them to will stick in your head well after you have finished listening.  Switching it up a bit, “Step Out Of The Way” is a rollicking and fun blues rock tune that comes complete with a melodic guitar solo.  “My Closest Friend” stands out with some classic country & western ornamentation like a shuffling drum beat and aching pedal steel melodies that set the scene as Bertoldi’s smooth vocals are matched up with a female vocalist whose honeyed voice complements his quite well.

Also included on the album is a pretty faithful cover of the Faces’ easy going classic rock song, “Ooh La La”, though to make it his own, Bertoldi replaces the original’s honky tonk piano riff and rousing beat for harmonica and a gentler, loping beat to great effect.  The nostalgia-inducing “Feeling So Fine” is an upbeat yet bittersweet tribute to a long lost loved one that pulls on the heartstrings alongside accordion and flickering mandolin figures for another standout moment. Once again Bertoldi breaks out his old school country croon on “Dark Shadow (On The Cold Hard Ground)” which is a saloon-worthy Hank Williams-like, “tear-in-my-beer” sing-along that could be a radio hit anytime in the last forty or fifty years.

Another standout track, “Heaven Bound” is propelled by a driving acoustic guitar rhythm with a confident blues rock swagger.  Next, R.X. Bertoldi best showcases his lyrical prowess with the stories of faith he weaves on the uplifting “Till The Morning Light” with such poignant and thought-provoking lines like, “Don’t ya think you put too much distance between Heaven and earth”.  “Playing Games” features cyclical acoustic guitars that mingle with swampy slide guitar melodies and harmonica as he cleverly calls out someone who is unaware of their deceptive ways.  As the epitome of “roots rock”, “Repaired And Found” finds Bertoldi tracing back his ancestral roots with a thankful heart set to a soundtrack of old world style instrumentation and the catchy, repeated refrain of “I can feel the traces…”.  The twelve-song album closes out with “Bridge To Everything Good” and its feel good message and foot-tapping rhythm that will leave the listener wanting more.

The professional recording and full band treatment that R.X. Bertoldi gave to his new album, Step Up To The Present brought out the best in his songwriting for his strongest and most cohesive album yet.    Artist: R.X. Bertoldi

Album: Step Up To The Present
Reviewed by: Justin Kreitzer
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

Twae Left Feet, “Guess Into Frank’s Reel”

04 Sep, 2013 Justin Kreitzer

The Boston-based Celtic folk duo Twae Left Feet may have just recently formed in late 2012 -fittingly on St. Andrew’s Day – but they have already taken the local scene by storm with their danceable versions of traditional Irish and Scottish folk tunes.  The duo of Galen Fraser on fiddle, and Scott Burn on the traditional, tambourine-like bodhrán are currently writing and recording for their debut album set to be released later this fall.

In anticipation, they have released their first single titled, “Guess Into Frank’s Reel”.  The song is a medley of two songs, one original and one traditional and their marriage of the two is effortless.  It opens with the steady beat of the bodhrán and the introspective and swaying fiddle melodies on their original tune, “Guess”, which builds slowly until the rhythm of both the fiddle and the  bodhrán are joined in whiskey-soaked unison for the much livelier and danceable jig of the traditional Scottish tune, “Frank’s Reel”.

The original part of the medley, “Guess”, was inspired by their trip to the Isle of Skye during their tour of Scotland, and possesses a timeless quality, sounding like a traditional tune itself.  On the other hand, their unique take on “Frank’s Reel”, showcases their ability to honor the history of the music, while giving it their own flair and a slight modern touch.

If Twae Left Foot’s infectious first single, “Guess Into Frank’s Reel” is any indication, the highly-anticipated upcoming debut album from this emerging Celtic folk duo will have listeners up and dancing as well as raising a pint and singing along with their perfect blend of original and traditional Scottish and Irish folk instrumentals all across the world.
Review by: Justin Kreitzer
Rating: 4 out 5 stars