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The Yellow Hope Project “Even The Beautiful Get Lonely (Sometimes)”

30 May, 2012 Justin Kreitzer

The Yellow Hope Project has just self released their debut album Even The Beautiful Get Lonely (Sometimes). The twelve person band led by songwriter, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Arnold Kim blends pretty much every traditional American musical style known to man such as folk, rock, pop, soul, country and blues into a crafty and cohesive sound that is engaging from the very first note. The band is rounded out by members, Isaac Alexander (Wurlitzer), vocalists Holly Bradley and Indy Grotto, violinist Tim Brogan, guitarist Buddy Flett, Paul Griffith (drums and percussion), bassists Chris Michaels and Christopher Thomas, Chris Sater (organ), Greg Spradlin (guitars, Wurlitzer, organ), as well as Jason Weinheimer (vocals, guitars, Wurlitzer, organ, mellotron) who also expertly engineered, mixed and produced the album.

Opening the album is “Cross My Heart” with a slice of somber yet sweet Californian folk and our formal introduction to Arnold’s smooth, crooning vocal style. The sweetly melodic and nostalgia-laced “She Lights up The Room” follows with a shuffling beat, bellowing organ and a 50’s guitar tone that would’ve made for the perfect song as the last dance at a sock hop. “I Have To Stop Loving You” with its upright bass and dueling mellotron and Wurlitzer organs reminds me of the superbly arranged indie pop/roots rock hybrid that Margot And The Nuclear So and So’s made famous on their debut. Built upon a slow waltzing upright bass-led rhythm, “Past My Prime” puts the band on the front porch along with a banjo for an easy going jam session. “It’s Not Fair” is a soulful tune with charm to spare and rich, room filling organ along with an aching vocal performance that drips with emotion. “Vanish” features a stuttering beat and some lively violin playing that complements the banjo and dobro on the country-leaning track. Much of the album is kept at a soft hush except for “Don’t Want To Believe”, which rises above the more quieter tracks with soul and a bluesy bravado for a standout moment. The heartbreakingly emotional “I Was A Fool” features gentle, well placed piano notes that tug on your heartstrings, in the song of loss and regret. Arnold adopts a slight southern twang to his vocals on the classic Country & Western style of “Sorry” that comes complete with a walking upright bass riff and melodic guitar runs that will pull you right into the saloon with the band. As a change of pace, the band displays their power pop chops on the upbeat standout track, “You” with jangly guitars, sun-soaked melodies and close knit harmonies. “Time Is Taking Me Away” is a percussion-heavy acoustic strummer with reflective lyrics that showcases the band’s broad depth of style. Shimmering guitars, Gospel-drenched organ and a melodic guitar solo build the backdrop and match the intensity of the earnest and pleading vocals of “The Answer”. And the thirteen track album closes with the stripped down “Next To Me” which features just Arnold alone with his guitar, focusing the spotlight sharply on his excellent songwriting and smooth voice.

Though the album’s final sounds are of singer-songwriter Arnold Kim finishing the song, then walking to a door and exiting it, you will not want to walk away from The Yellow Hope Project’s debut album Even The Beautiful Get Lonely (Sometimes) as hastily. Although the album is full of relatable heartache and sorrow, a glimmer of hope remains; and that hope and the laid back charm and effortless way the band blends their rootsy styles will have you coming back for more and more.

Review by: Justin Kreitzer
Rating: 3.5 Stars (out of 5)

Stephen Harrison “Today Tomorrow”

03 May, 2012 Justin Kreitzer

Veteran Edinburgh singer songwriter Stephen Harrison released his new album, Today Tomorrow at the beginning of this year on his own indie label Close Up Records UK. It is available on CD through his website and digitally on his Bandcamp page. Harrison has been creating music now for over thirty-three years, starting back in 1979 with his post punk band Metropak, and following to his solo work that leaned toward the rock end of the spectrum, until recently, he has sharpened his focus on the intimate acoustic-based folk-leaning singer songwriter fair that makes up his sixth solo album, Today Tomorrow. Stephen possesses a rich and commanding voice that fits somewhere in between David Bowie and the booming baritone of Matt Berningner of The National. His fingerstyle guitar work on the album has a melancholic and dulcet, Nick Drake-like tone with added piano, bass and the occasional lilting string section to lend some additional emotional weight.

The title track “Today Tomorrow” opens the album, setting the tone with a dusky love song with gently picked acoustic guitars and some romantic, moonlit melodies. The touching lyrics to the song are also the only lyrics included in the CD liner notes, making them that much more meaningful. Likewise, Stephen Harrison know that so much of music is about the feeling it gives you or the memories you have of when you first heard the song and the nostalgia-laced “Imagination” will capture yours with cascading guitars and imaginative lyrics using scenes in nature to evoke a night around the campfire with old friends. The more upbeat “Graffiti On A Wall” features a synthesized horn section with a melody that is instantly hummable but unfortunately sounds just a little bit too fake and distracts, feeling out of place with the beautiful organic folk that surrounds it. However, the synthesized strings propel the song with an emotional depth that matches the intensity of the lyrics. Elsewhere, the haunting and heart aching “Don’t Cry” spotlights the veteran songwriter’s knack for subtle yet ear-worming melodies set to an understated and unadorned arrangement. Cyclical guitars churn on the atmospheric standout track “Sphinx City” which paints picture of a barren and desolate city of one, dripping slow burning emotion with every note. Another standout track, “And If” is a touching and intimate ballad of love, regret and renewal that features soaring synthesized strings and a lively piano riff that nearly mirrors the guitar in a way that blends together into one, for the album’s biggest, most powerful sound. “Looking Back” shines the spotlight on Stephen’s guitar work with several melodic guitar runs that complement the hypnotic rhythm he creates with his fingerstyle guitar sound. “Shoegaze People” features a more ornate folk-leaning arrangement with banjo, bright piano chords and sparkling guitar melodies for a bit of a change of pace as Harrison sounds like a less melancholic Leonard Cohen on the standout track. “River Of Time” rides in on a wave of slightly bouncy acoustic guitars with little else accompanying it, showcasing the simplicity and great power a great voice and guitar can hold. Saving the best for last, “Nobody There” closes out the ten track album with gorgeous, breathy guest vocals from singer Karen Edward that are the perfect complement to Harrison’s molasses-thick vocals.

Although he isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel with his album, Today Tomorrow, Stephen Harrison does reveal a softer side as he steps out of his life-long rock music comfort zone to come full circle and focus more on the folk-driven, singer-songwriter material he started his career with and the resulting album is perfect for rainy day listening and a tribute to his sharp songwriting skill, deft guitar playing, and smooth voice.

Review by Justin Kreitzer
Rating: 3.5 Stars (out of 5)

Bogdo Ula “Prisoners Of Freedom”

25 Oct, 2011 Justin Kreitzer

Finnish avant-garde instrumental jazz-rock trio Bogdo Ula self-released Prisoners Of Freedom, their fifth album in as many years, on September 24th.  The talented and very prolific band was named after a majestic mountain near the city of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and formed by guitarist Samuli Kristian and drummer Ivan Horder.  To round out the rhythm section they added bassist Jean Ruin just last year.   Inspired and influenced equally by John Coltrane and Frank Zappa, they create a transcending fusion of free jazz, punk and prog-rock with a free-flowing improvisational spirit.  Prisoners Of Freedom was recorded live in the studio with the one exception of overdubbed guitars on just one of the songs.  It was also produced, mixed and mastered by the band themselves, showcasing their broad talent and DIY approach.

The aptly titled “Lava Flow” opens the album with tumbling drums and winding guitar notes that flow just like liquid-hot lava down a mountain.  “Sounds From The Moonbog” follows with flickering, funky Primus-like bass licks and scaling guitars while the drums careen wildly off of every note.  The longest composition on the album lasting nearly eight minutes, “From Now On, We Move Only By Night” plays out like a suite with chiming guitar harmonics on the atmospheric beginning, while boiling slowly to a frenzied jam session in the middle, and culminating into a hypnotic end to the song.  On the other hand, “Identify Yourself” is two straight minutes of furious, seemingly out of control jamming with traces of the flighty paranoia the title implies.  “Chicane Runway” is built upon spacey guitar textures with a just a touch of early blues rock’s emotional weight that would surely make Jimi Hendrix proud.  “Sacred Service” represents the middle of the twelve song album and this would be the point where the average listener would maybe start to lose interest, as the noodling may seem like it is starting to meander a little too much.  And in fact, some of the songs are just begging for some sort of release or to settle into a head-nodding groove for even just a few seconds, but that is just for those uninitiated with the improvisational avant-garde art form.  Either way, stand out track “My Heart Is On My Sleeve” and its more traditionally jazz-oriented sound and sweeping drum patterns, overdubbed guitars and an excellent bass line, pulls the listener right back in to the fold.  And one of the more experimental songs, “Towards The Star” is highlighted by shimmering guitars that create the mellow melodies representative of cool Jazz along with an off-kilter rhythm and a plucky bass line for a nice contrast.  “Dolphian Scale” proves to also be titled appropriately as the dueling bass and guitars seem to be having an atonal, underwater conversation while the frantic drums crash like waves on the beach.  “The Sand Of These Dunes Is Recommended By The Sandman” is set to soaring guitars that sound more like confident, rock-n-roll soloing than the jazzy, up and down guitar runs of the previous songs for another standout moment.  The energetic title track “Prisoners Of Freedom” continues with a more rock-leaning sound and some jittery, finger-tapping guitar shredding that showcases guitarist Samuli Kristian’s depth of range and the band’s excellent improv skills as a whole.  The album closes out with the spaced-out and atmospheric breathe of air, “Pick Up The Beams”.

On first listen to Bogdo Ula’s Prisoners Of Freedom, your brain is almost trained to expect to hear a high-pitched, prog-rock vocal invade at any second but after a just few minutes, you forget all of that as the music captivates and transports you to another place altogether.  And that is what great music does.

Review by: Justin Kreitzer
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)