Reviews by ReviewYou
There was a time when an instrumental rock guitar album could maintain a life within one particular genre. Player’s such as Yngwie Malmsteen, whose recordings helped usher in the era of Neo-Classical Shred, were able to play one style and hold an audience’s attention. But, it seems that after decades of releases, guitar audiences’ tastes have grown, demanding more variety from modern players than their predecessors would have had to work with. From a listener’s perspective, the wider variety that players such as Johnny A, Greg Howe and Gary Hoey are bringing to the table these days has only helped to strengthen the genre. Though there are many great guitarists on the scene today, one player that deserves to be mentioned alongside this trio of monster players is Canadian Harant, and his debut album Unleashed is a tour de force of modern guitar techniques and styles.
Harant is truly unleashed on this record as he brings his no holds barred approach to playing on each track. Right from the opening riff of “Good Times,” his solid technique, deep sense of groove and high level of musicianship are very apparent. Though he has the chops to shred at any tempo and over any chord change, he takes his time developing this opening track. By choosing to build his ideas around the central riff and groove of the song, instead of tearing into a blistering solo as he easily could have, Harant draws the listener into the song. He sucks them into the riff before unleashing his chops later on in the song. This level of musicianship and patience with his compositions makes the guitarist stand out from his peers, and is one of the main reasons that the album as a whole is so successful.
There are also moments when Harant cuts loose and lets his chops come to the forefront, as they should, on songs such as “Universal Groove.” Here, the guitarist again builds on a cool sounding riff before trading solos with himself, showcasing the various tones and effects he has in his musical palette. Apart from featuring some of the album’s best solos, the song also features some nice whammy-bar work during the opening section. Moving between lightning fast dives and long, drawn out swells, his whammy work is perfectly timed and always right in tune, both of which are tough to do on a good day for most rock guitarists. Again, this is another example of the guitarist’s musicianship coming to light. Many players would have been happy to just get the “effect” of the whammy bar, but Harant isn’t your average player. Instead, he works out the exact timing and tuning for each instance and nails them on the recording, making for moments that are not only fun to listen to, but act as a clinic in whammy playing for any guitarists out there looking to better their technique in this area.
Overall, Unleashed is a highly entertaining collection of instrumental Rock guitar tracks that bring to the forefront the myriad of skills that Harant possesses as both a performer and composer. His playing is absolutely first rate, his tones are varied enough to keep the album exciting and each song is well written and craftily arranged. If his debut album is any indication of things to come, the Armenian-Canadian guitarist is well on his way to reaching the top of the instrumental guitar world, and most likely sooner than later.
Review by Matthew Warnock
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Temet Nosce “Create Your Own Life”
Leading in with a soft piano and vocal duo, “Create Your Own Life” by the Norwegian rock band Temet Nosce is a powerful rock track that blends elements of both the classic power-ballad and more modern rock-anthem genres. With well-written lyrics creating a storyline that engages the listener right from the opening lines, the music is written and performed in a way that builds energy throughout the track, highlighting the words and vocal line in a way that brings attention to the right words at the right time, while never getting in the way of the melody at any point on the track.
One of the most interesting aspects of “Create Your Own Life” is the vocal melody-line, which is familiar in one sense, drawing inspiration from other classic tracks in the genre, while injecting some very interesting and engaging note choices from time to time that go a long way in making the song personalized, as well as keeping the audience guessing as to where the melody will go next. Far too many modern rock bands fall back on safe and tested formulas when writing a power ballad such as this, but Temet Nosce isn’t afraid to take chances, adding excitement to a genre that can sometimes be predictable and monotonous.
In the rock-ballad tradition, the song also features an energetic guitar solo that enters during the final minute of the track. While the solo is well put together, it does sound a bit out of place at that point in the track. Perhaps it is because the guitar line begins with a flurry of notes, before settling in on a more melodic phrase, whereas most guitar solos in the rock ballad genre will begin with slower, more melodic phrases and build up to a powerful climax. This moment will appeal to some listeners while others may not “get it,” but in the end it will be up to the listener’s tastes as to how effective the solo is in this context.
Overall, “Create Your Own Life” is a well-written modern-rock ballad that is not only based on the traditional aspects of the genre, but one that also takes chances along the way that lift it into the realm of personalized interpretation by the band.
Reviewed by Matthew Warnock
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)
Lindsay May “Shimmer”
Though it is mostly known for its cold winters, beautiful landscape and world-class hockey players, Canada has also produced some of the most successful bands and musicians of the past century. From Rush to Nickelback to Justin Bieber and Celine Dion, Canada has no shortage of talent on the international musical stage. One of the categories where Canadian musicians shine brightest is female Country artists. From K.D. Lang to Terry Clark and of course Shania Twain, the Great White North has produced some of the greatest women on the modern Country music scene. One of the newest names on this list is west-coast native Lindsay May, and her 2012 album Shimmer is a collection of 10 well-written, emotionally performed Country tracks that are not only radio friendly, but engaging on a deep level at the same time.
One of the reasons that Shimmer is so engaging from an audience point of view is that May brings a strong level of diversity to her songwriting and performances. There are toe-tapping, get up and dance number such as “Spinning 45s,” where May and company lay down a powerful groove that, when mixed with the rhythms of the vocal line, combine to be an energy inducing track that will get even the biggest wallflower up and on the dance floor. There are also medium-tempo tunes such as “Hang Around” that are just as fun to get up and dance to with a partner as they are to sing along to while driving down a long stretch of highway.
On the other side of the spectrum, May lays down some intense slow tracks that showcase her powerful vocals and ability to find the utmost emotional context of any lyric and melodic phrase. Songs such as “Stick Around” bring to light May’s slower side, one that brings to the forefront a slower tempo, but with the same intensity as her faster tracks. Her ability to keep an emotional quality, and high intensity level, no matter where the song tempo takes her, is a quality that helps May stand out among the crowd, giving her songs personality and a connectivity that lifts her songwriting to the next level.
Another good example of this approach, and another 6/8 slow Country groove tune, is “Star in the Sky.” Here, May digs deep into the Country ballad genre to produce one of the biggest highlights of the record. There is something very powerful about a Country ballad that has endured those tunes in the public’s mind for almost a century. And when they’re performed with the soft, yet powerful, touch that May injects inter her vocal lines, these ballads reach new levels of enjoyment with the audience. As well as understanding the importance of featuring slower tracks such as this on the record, May also knows when to bring in vocal harmonies to highlight specific lyrical lines and musical moments during important moments on the song. On this track, the background vocals are never done, but they are used to add weight to specific lines that, when combined with the musical accompaniment, draw the listener in to the melody, leading them along the song’s musical journey until the last note fades from the speakers.
Overall, Shimmer is a very strong release for Canadian Country singer, songwriter and performer Lindsay May. It is releases like this that remind people of the deep musical heritage that Canadian artists have developed over the years, and it goes a long way to building May’s reputation as a Country artist to watch out for in coming years.
Reviewed by Matthew Warnock
Rating: 5 Stars (out of 5)
Leanne Regalla “Reluctant Rockstar”
Humor and music have long gone together as a powerful songwriting duo meant to express one’s artistic side, as well as connect with an audience through laughter, wordplay and other humorous touches. While some songwriters bring a large amount of comedy and humor to their writing, others use subtle humor in order to lighten the mood in their songs, allowing their music to retain a high musicality while bringing a smile to listener’s lips at the same time. Southwestern Pennsylvania based vocalist Leanne Regalla is just such an artist, one that knows the value that a subtle humor can bring to a well-written song, and her personalized approach to songwriting can be heard on her 2011 album Reluctant Rockstar. The album, which was named after the thoughts that all artists go through when bringing their music to a public audience, is a collection of eight folk, Americana inspired tracks that showcase both the serious and humorous side of Regalla’s artistic output.
The core of Regalla’s writing is her ability to create memorable textures with her voice and accompanying instruments. Songs such as “Song for a Friend” are great examples of how the vocalist uses myriad texture changes to create interest and energy within the context of a single track. Here, the acoustic guitar lays down a floating 3/4 strumming pattern that acts as the foundation for the vocals and other instruments to build upon. The bass and drum grooves are very sparse, yet perfect for this particular feel and lyrical content. It would have been easy to fill up the background with a drum beat played on a full kit, and a busier bassline. Instead, Regalla and company keep things simple, focusing on the melody and interplay between the various accompanying instruments, something that contributes to the song’s overall success and goes a long way to developing a connection with the listener. To top things off, the mandolin and fiddle countermelodies float in and out of the forefront of the tune, helping to frame the vocal line and add extra layers of interest to the track.
Regalla also inserts a bit of humor into her lyrics as well as some lightheartedness into her music on tracks such as “Far Away From Here,” written by Bob Banerjee. The track, which is centered around a driving guitar strumming pattern and drum beat, brings out the lighter side of the vocalist’s style. While her lyrics will bring a smile to listener’s faces, that’s not to say that the music is not written with the same quality and seriousness as the rest of the album. Mixing lighthearted lyrics and musical moments with well-written melodic and harmonic material, as well as tight grooves, is a staple of Regalla’s writing style, and is something that allows the songwriting to reach out to her audience while keeping a high musical standard at the same time. Both of these attributes are big reasons why the album is successful as a whole, as well as why Regalla is able to bring a strong sense of personality to each track on the record.
To finish off the album, Regalla does something that not many vocalists would do; she includes an instrumental track, sans vocals. “Dreamin’ of One Day” is an instrumental song that features the guitar and fiddle in the driver’s seat as they handle the melodic lines in place of the absent vocalist. While the rest of the album is centered around Regalla’s vocal lines, this track is no less powerful. In fact, having the confidence and musicality to include an instrumental track on a vocal album shows how creative Regalla is as a songwriter and recording artist. While listeners might not be expecting this track to end the record, it is an interesting choice that provides another view into the songwriting world of this talented vocalist and her ensemble.
Reviewed by Matthew Warnock
Rating: 4.5 Stars (out of 5)
Dawson Cowals “Stop the Sun”
Leading with a finger-picked guitar lick, accompanied by sparsely chosen percussion hits, Dawson Cowals’ “Stop the Sun” is a well-written and engaging modern pop tune that reaches out to blend a number of musical genres before the last note marks the end of the song. Building up from the light-hearted intro, the song soon adds in electric guitar, and a driving drum beat during the song’s pre-chorus and chorus sections, helping to add an extra level of interest as well as helping to build the song to the guitar solo and its eventual apex shortly after.
The guitar solo is indicative of how Cowals approaches the rest of the tune. It is highly melodic, rhythmically tight, and builds from a slow start to a frantically-picked climax right before the vocals return in the next section. As well as showing restraint during the guitar solo, using musicality instead of flash to engage his audience, Cowals also brings this approach to the rest of the arrangement. While most musicians try to fill every second of music with either lyrics or riffs, Cowals is content to have moments where the rhythm section takes the spotlight and just lays down the groove. This allows the song to settle, as well as helps to frame the riffs and lyrics when they reenter a few seconds later. It’s hard these days to create something unique in the pop music world, but Cowals manages to do this by trying something many other artists ignore, leaving space, and the results are more than appreciated by the audience.
Overall, “Stop the Sun” is a fun musical journey that is well-written, creatively arranged and masterfully performed. It is modern pop music at its best, and only acts to whet the appetites of listeners for more of the talented singer-songwriter’s output.
Review by Matthew Warnock
Rating: 5 Stars (out of 5)