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John Gaar “Brighter Side Of Maybe”

12 Aug, 2011 Vinny Marini

When you have been on the road for some 30 years, and you have played with countless musicians and bands from Louisiana to California and back and you have played every genre from Americana to R&B to Zydeco, it would be difficult to say your musical influences were not varied enough.

John Gaar is the musician in question and he has released his second album entitled Brighter Side Of Maybe, a collection of 10 original songs brought to life by Gaar and keyboardist and producer Ron D’Argenio, who worked with Gaar on his first project, the 2004 release Bittersweet Success.

Gaar put together a fine group of musicians for his latest project including; bassist Mark Harris, drummer/percussionist Cody Banks, vocalists Malford Milligan, Michael Cross, Ginger Leigh with Warren Hood & Brian Standerfer creating the strings.  Together they take Gaar’s compositions and turn them into solid, musical treats.

Three songs stand out on Brighter Side Of Maybe. The opening track “It Is What It Is,” comes at you with full-force Southern-infused rock and roll.  Containing a catchy chorus and multiple guitar lines by Gaar layered over one another with a solid rhythm base built by Harris and Banks.  Throughout the album, this duo provides the rich soil upon which Gaar’s instrumentation and vocals blossom.

A softer side of John Gaar is shown in “Angel Flew Away,” a rock ballad with an anthem feel to it.  Gaar’s vocals are urgent throughout and he hits his sweet spot.  The song showcases Gaar’s storytelling skills in a country-rock setting; “…Today you are living, but in a blink that all ends.  Living life so precious, but tomorrow never begins.  The Angels are smiling; he’s made the journey home to stay.  Should have had a lifetime to say all the things we wanted to say.  But the Angel flew away.” Combined with the overlaying of Gaar’s multiple guitars, an ethereal sound to match the subject matter is created.

“Between The Lines,” is the third standout on Brighter Side Of Maybe. This one features the talented keyboard playing of D’Argenio and the solid drumming of Banks, with a strong chorus line: “So many questions, so many whys. Searching for answers between the lines.”  Gaar takes full advantage of his vocalists and builds strong harmony runs.  This is the song on the album that could be an AOR break out for Gaar.  The guitars dueling, a chorus of voices, and pounding drums builds the song to a crescendo, and in the middle of it all a soft almost angelic piano line.
The one miss, in terms of being so far away from the other songs, is “Sooner Or Later,” which is more Alice In Chains than Atlanta Rhythm Section.

Definitely check out “The First Step,” which shows off a taste of the jazziness found in NOLA while surrounding it with straight ahead guitar-flavored rock and roll.  The combination works as Gaar moves from a Rick Derringer style guitar solo and flows seamlessly back into a jazz-funk inspired tempo.

Other notables on the album include the title song, an upbeat pop-rock number with a heavy layered B-3 underneath it all and “Shoulda Been A Good Day,” which begins with Gaar on acoustic guitar and transitions into a full wall of sound ballad complete with strings adding another dimension to Gaar’s story-telling.

Gaar is a talented songwriter, guitarist and vocalist and on his second release he is ready to show the music world those talents and the music world should give him its ear.

Review by: Vinny “Bond” Marini
Rating:  4 Stars (out of 5)

Brion Riborn “Mediocrity Is An Adequate Lover”

28 Jul, 2011 Vinny Marini

In the liner notes for his new album, Mediocrity Is An Adequate Lover, Brion Riborn tells us that the album began as a cosmic joke.  He describes it as “a few guys brainstorming how amazing it would be to create an iTunes-only album that consisted of a bunch of horribly written songs and also one AMAZING song–so amazing that you just HAD to have it.  But the catch would be that you could only get that one amazing song if you bought the entire album.  The amazing song would be an iTunes “album only” song.”

Now, sit and listen to the album and decide for yourself whether they continued their cosmic joke, or did they actually put together a collection of amazing songs.

“Foursquare” opens the album. The song is in full stride once the volume is raised.  A foot-tapping number with a solid bass beat and drums leading the way.  Riborn seems overly intrigued by the cycle of life and death all humans must navigate, and right out of the box he hits this theme, “The earth gave birth to me, and I gave birth to sin.  Well, sin gave birth to death, and then it started once again.  And now, my bones, they fertilize, the old familiar soil.”

On “I Was A Lover,” Riborn goes softer with acoustic guitar strummed in time and Riborn’s vocals, which might remind some of John Mayer.  The song has a light feel to it and compelling lyrics.

Riborn has mixed the album up with lighter songs, such as “I Was A Lover” and some darker, heavier songs that sound like they could come from a totally different artist.  “Emergency Exit Routes” is full of feedback, sustained notes, reverb and darkness.  A slow, steady beat and a heavy bass presence surround the song.  “Such A Liar,” and “Walls and Wargames” are both in the same vein with the same heaviness to them.  On the latter, we are subjected to what seems to be the clicks and pops of an old vinyl album under the clarity of Riborn’s vocals.

When he is in this vein, the music tends to get repetitious and not as compelling as his songs that fall more into the folk-rock style.  These could possibly be those “horribly written songs,” and if they were meant to be, then Riborn might of succeeded.

“This Endless Sky,” could just be that one Amazing song on the album.  It is a simple song, void of heaviness, with an acoustic guitar and Ribron’s vocals.  It’s precise and very well executed.   The subject matter is still life and death, but not done as from the grave.  His lyrics on this song are wonderfully written, “even though this life is over before it begins, the snow flies, right through this bitter wind, that keeps us frozen, the icy spires, are like a memory, that’s cold and confusing.”

That song flows into the next, “On The Eve Of The Death of A beautiful Girl,” via sounds of a babbling stream and birds.  He has written another simply stated song with a sweet guitar line throughout.  There is a hint of Leonard Cohen’s delivery on this song.

Overall, Brion Riborn shows his talent as a songwriter.  This talent is much more welcome when he does not go to that dark place musically.

Review by: Vinny “Bond” Marini

“EP” by Moonlight Social

08 Jun, 2011 Vinny Marini

The band name is Moonlight Social and their debut self-titled EP contains 6 songs that show off the talent of the main ingredient of the band, Jeremy Burchard and Jennica Scott.  Six songs that will surround you with sounds filled with feeling and warmth.  Like a sweater on a chilly evening these two musicians have created a sound that, while familiar at times, is also unknown yet satisfying. Both contribute vocals and all instruments are credited to Burchard.

They met at the University of Texas while playing in the Longhorn Band; Scott as a member of the trumpet section, and Burchard as a member of the drum line.  Finding time to explore music on their own they began to jam and then play gigs around town.  Officially forming only a few months back, the duo has honed their performance chops in and around the Austin area.

“Neither Are You,” is our first introduction to Moonlight Social.  Opening with a tasty guitar lick over a rhythm guitar, Scott then joins in with her vocals.  The song is upbeat and moves from a soft, subtle tone, to a full explosive sound as Scott sings the chorus.   The tale of letting go of a bad relationship “harder to save the ships, once they are in flames” and “how does it feel to be left behind, no one is coming back to you this time,” with Burchard adding a harmony line that offsets Scotts lilting tones.

Burchard opens “The Finer Things In Life” and you get to hear his rich tones.  Each takes a verse, back and forth, and then BAM, the song explodes.  Burchard rips off some tasty guitar licks over-dubbed on each other.  Much more a rocker than the previous song, you can hear Burchard’s rock influences.  A solid rhythm line from the drums and bass during the choruses, along with a hard edged guitar, turns this into a radio-friendly tune.

Lyrically, Moonlight Social find their inspirations in relationships lost.  There is hurt and disappointment in their songs, yet you feel the light at the end of the tunnel these disappointments will bring forth.  On “Slow Release (Wounds To Words),” Burchard sings “Struggling to find some sort of life line, Convinced it’s better than watching something die.  For all these things we are left to search for peace I found my whispering, embrace this slow release,” over a duo of acoustic guitar lines and a steady solid drum beat.  You are drawn in to this song and can not help but close your eyes and feel it envelope you.

“Weight Off My Shoulders” is more country-tinged and you really hear Scott’s country influence on this one.  She belts this one out and you feel the pain as she sings, “But eloquence isn’t everything, And, love, your words are strangling me.  Just bite that tongue so I can breathe, It’s over now.”  Burchard fills the chorus with rich full sounds, while during the verses it is a medley of guitars weaving in and out of each other, a deep bass and a skilled drum line.  His time as section leader of the Longhorn drum line certainly influences his playing on this album.

Burchard’s new ambition, the banjo, is showcased on “Even If,” which opens with his basic picking and the two harmonize over each other as the banjo plays the lead line and an acoustic guitar plays the rhythm.  Simple and elegant, this song feels as though it would be a stand-out in a live environment.

Closing out the EP is the song “So Long (San Antonio).”  Burchard has created another solid piece of music here and it might be the best example of Scott’s vocal prowess.  Again, a song of relationship lost, but again a song of brightness and hope; “I came back you were waiting there for me when those ten numbers flashed across my screen.  I set it down, let it ring and you wrapped your arms around me about the time he heard the beep.”

Success is all around Moonlight Social as evidenced by their winning the GRAMMY U Summit in April, giving them the chance to record with GRAMMY-nominated producer Chris “Frenchie” Smith, and being asked to play Ray Benson’s stage at SXSW this past year.

As the public becomes more aware of this duo, that success is bound to continue.

Review by Vinny “Bond” Marini
Rating:  5 stars (out of 5)

Fur Eel “Elephant Summer”

17 May, 2011 Vinny Marini

Coming out of Regina, Canada is the band Fur Eel.  Consisting of Justin Sheppard on vocals and guitar, Thomas St.Onge on guitar, Travis Reshaur on bass and James Belle on drums, the bands name comes from the ubiquitous phrase “for real.”  Fur Ell is just that: real.  After little more than a year together, Elephant Summer is their debut album.

“Déjà vu” opens the album, and might confuse one who reads the band’s self-description of a funk, rock and soul experience, as it evokes early Emerson, Lake and Palmer with the guitars taking the place of Emerson’s keyboards.  It immediately grabs the listener’s attention and announces that this is not just another run of the mill band.  “Entertainaz” follows and the funk comes out strong.  With a hint of the Red Hot Chili Peppers mating with James Brown, the song has a heavy funk rhythm underneath and includes a Stax-type guitar and B-3 organ arrangement.  The song comes complete with handclaps, and, near the end, the band cranks up the speed three-fold before breaking down and allowing the two guitars to play off each other.

The band has mixed the album so one song moves into the next with barely a pause, which allows the listener to become fully emerged in the sound without the annoying silent gaps.  “Don’t Feel Like Coming Down” allows Sheppard to stretch his vocals a bit more than the previous two songs.  The guitars are heavily influenced by wah-wah on the song.  Belle and Reshaur are a tight rhythm section and allow Sheppard and St.Onge the space to experiment.  This is the top groove song on the album.  “Sting” is listed as one of the group’s most popular songs, and it’s easy to hear why.   Starting with a funk guitar line, again heavily influenced by wah-wah, the tempo of the song is slowed down and Sheppard gets to sing over a simple rhythm line.  This is also the first song where you hear the guitar skills of Sheppard and St.Onge.  With Belle laying down a simple backbeat interspersed with rolls and offbeats, the guitars play back and forth in the background and the harmonies are stylish.

All songwriting credits go to Sheppard and St.Onge, and the subject matter leans heavily on women and relationships.  What else can you expect from a group of twenty-somethings.

There are two songs where Sheppard’s vocals are not as solid as the rest of the album.  They seem to be the softer, lighter material that calls for something different than his range.  “Meritocracy” is one of those songs.  There is softness to this song with some intense lyrics, but Sheppard’s vocals just seem out of place.  That is not to say they are bad, the song just calls for a vocal scale different from his.  Reshaur and Belle do a fantastic job on the rhythm parts on this song.  Belle has a true ability to make complicated offbeats seem perfectly natural.  The other is “When We Feel Alone,” which smacks of a late-night lounge and a nice jazz combo playing.  The wah-wah is a favorite of the band as there is use of it again on this song.  Sheppard talk-sings parts of the song and tends to draw out the syllables in some words and it feels overdone and not necessary.  This is a song that provides some nice guitar breaks, the best harmonies on the album and horns in the background to fill out the sound.  Those harmonies help to disguise the inability of Sheppard’s vocals connecting with this song.

In total, Elephant Summer is a solid effort by this group of newcomers.  In concert, the band plays their original material as well as covers by Prince and Queen.  As they work on their sophomore effort, let’s hope they stick with their solid core, funk and R&B.  Sheppard might need to hand the microphone off on a few songs, but even if he does not, the band can make noise.  They are a talented group of musicians, and their lyrics are well written and engaging.  As you listen, you can feel the tightness of this unit, and are sure to just keep getting better.

Review by Vinny “Bond” Marini
Rating:  4 Stars (out of 5)

Baby Brother “Strange Things”

17 May, 2011 Vinny Marini

On Strange Things, Baby Brother comes at you like a runaway train, only this train includes kazoo players and is rocking hard.  Baby Brother is Jeremy Beazlie on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Vincent Vitek on lead guitar, Ben Longwell on bass guitar and Ian Hardie on drums. The four come from different parts of the country and formed a band after playing together on and off in a variety of clubs.  Now based in Brooklyn, NY they list their music as rock, rhythm and blues with super infused punk-country undertones.

What they bring is raw rock and roll, with songs that range in subject from ghosts who rob trains to songs of love and life.  The album opens with screeching guitars and Beazlie talk-singing the lyrics.  The guitar sound is rough and fuzzed underneath the vocals.  Hardie begins to hit his bass drum and the song continues.  The song is called “Texas,” and after almost 1:50, the band kicks in and finishes off the song rough and ready.  “Abuse” is another song with fuzzed out guitars and hard driving drums.  It is similar to early Clash, all crashing cymbals and heavy rhythm guitar lines under Beazlie sing-screaming the lyrics.

Strange Things” shows a different side of Baby Brother.  Acoustic guitar begins the song and Beazlie sings in a falsetto-style, and you hear he has a voice that has tone and range.  The song does change with the entire band coming in, but it never reaches the punk level of noise.  Instead, the band shows their skills as musicians.  Baby Brother is a group of skilled musicians.  Vitek shows he can be a stylist guitar player when he is not pounding out hard rhythm lines or fuzz-laden guitar breaks.  Allowing the notes to form and to compose a stirring backing lead run is a trait that in so much music today.  Vitek needs to do more of this in the future.  The rhythm section of Longwell and Hardie work well together laying down a solid base for Beazlie and Vitek to experiment over.  The songs tend to feel the same with a few exceptions.  There are times when Beazlie’s voice sits perfectly with the music and then there are times when it is uncomfortable to listen to him.

“Lived On A Farm” is a fine example of where Baby Brother hits it out of the park from a music standpoint. A funky backbeat gives the direction for the two guitars playing rhythm sections against each other.  Lyrically it does not hold up to the level of the music.  For most of the second half of the song the lyrics “you lived on a farm” seem to be repeated 100 times and then the song ends on a mess of feedback and noise.  On “David,” Beazlie pulls out his Kentucky upbringing and sings most of the song with a country twang in his voice.  Envision a country singer with a punk band behind and you get the idea.  Vitek adds another solo and again it is covered up in a mash of fuzz and feedback.

“Ghost Train Robbers” starts like something from Grand Funk Railroad. A train-chugging beat set up by Hardie and the bass line being played by Vitek on his upper strings, distorted by the ever present fuzz.  The song actually holds together and does not fall apart like so many others.  Lyrically it is also the most mature of the songs on Strange Things.  The album closes with “The Rodeo Song,” made famous by Garry Lee and then David Alan Coe, only the Baby Brother version is sped up and, because of that, it falls apart.

Baby Brother calls themselves rock, rhythm and blues with super infused punk-country.  After listening to Strange Things, they should drop the R&B from that description.  The music is certainly rock-punk-country and there are some signs that the band can put together music that will be played on radio stations, but at this time they need to continue to work on their lyric writing skills and continue to build on their musicianship to take the next step in the business.

Review by Vinny “Bond” Marini
Rating:  3 Stars (out of 5)