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The Mailman’s Children, Ride In Your Mind

30 Jan, 2015 Wildy Haskell

mailmanschildren

Winnipeg, Manitoba and Helena, Montana trio The Mailman’s Children return in 2015 with their fourth studio recording, an EP entitled The Spiders We Eat.  The lead single from that effort, “Ride In Your Mind”, is a smooth sounding bit of melancholy that sounds like a cross between Roy Orbison and Morrissey.  There’s a quiet snappiness to the vocal here, in spite of the dirge-like melody.  The juxtaposition of sound and style is a bit intriguing.  And while the lyrics have a dragging sensibility to them, the guitar work keeps it all quietly fresh.  It is a song of contradictions, lyrical and musical, and the net effect is artful and confounding.  In the end you’ll either love or hate the song, but you’ll certainly be talking about it.  Not a bad place to be.  The EP will also include an acoustic version of the track, which is solid but not as quietly dynamic as the regular version.

It’s always difficult (and occasionally dangerous) to judge a release by the lead single, but it’s hard not to be at least intrigued about The Spiders We Eat, based on the introduction of “Ride In Your Mind”.  The ‘I’m So Lonely I Could Die Inside” song aesthetic has been way overdone, and was ideal fodder for the generational angst of the last few decades of the 20th century, but there are so many real world problems today that the genre seems tired and senseless.  Where The Mailman’s Children takes us here is melancholic escapism; a musical escape more appropriate to the day.  Love it or hate the song, respect is due to The Mailman’s Children.

Rating:           3.5 Stars (Out of 5)
Review by:   Wildy Haskell

The Jellybeans, Look At Us Know

30 Sep, 2013 Wildy Haskell

The Jellybeans are a vocal collective of ten young ladies from Our Lady Of Mercy Academy in Jersey City, New Jersey.  The group began performing together in 3rd grade.  During their 6th grade year, The Jellybeans recorded their first album, Back In School as a school fundraising project.  The album was well-received locally, and led to a second album, No Time For A Bad Day.  The young ladies recently graduated from OLM, and celebrated the change with the release of their third album, Look At Us Now.  The album explores endings, new beginnings, and the emotions that go with being a teenage girl.

The Jellybeans sets sail with the title track, an ode to friendship and moving on to new things. The ladies of The Jellybeans charm with a 1950′s girl group aesthetic and simple pop arrangements. The amateur sounding vocal style of the collective is contrasted by professional backing tracks. “This Place I Go” is a solid, well-written ballad. Vocalist Karen Vallo is heartfelt and unpolished, but her voice is full of a simple beauty. “Forever Alone” digs on an insipid backbeat in a teen’s lament about her inability to date. It’s a cute number that’s appealing. The individual vocalists have pleasant voices, but the production and blending of the voices leaves something to be desired.

“How Will I Know When It’s Love” is a swaying and innocent ballad full of the dreamy eyed anticipation of a young girl. It evolves into the angst of unrequited love in “If He Only Knew”, a hand-clapping, foot tapping number you can’t sit still for. The Jellybeans winds down with the middling ballad “How Do I Walk Away Now?” The song explores the inevitability of change and the emotions that surround moving on. The production around the vocals is messy, with little done to unify the vocal lines or blend the varying sounds.  This is not elemental to the voices themselves, but reflects poorly on production value.

The Jellybeans impress with sincerity and grace on Look At Us Now.  With a musical style born of 1950’s and 1960’s girl groups, The Jellybeans offer a fresh perspective on the teen years that’s unfettered by the commercialized angst of the 21st century.  The Jellybeans are real, unvarnished young women moving through difficult and wonderful years, telling their stories as they go.  You’ll find it hard not to be charmed.  The production values here miss on occasion, but you’re going to like what you hear nonetheless.

Review By:     Wildy Haskell
Rating:            4 Stars (Out of 5)

ItsYaBoiH2, Bigger Fish

20 Jun, 2013 Wildy Haskell

Milan, Tennessee native Anthony Brown has been writing/making rap music since he was thirteen years old.  At first he was just writing lyrics acapella, but a couple of years later he was turned on to beats.  Once of the first ones he worked with sounded a bit like a theme to one of the Halloween movies, and Anthony’s first stage name, H2, was born.  Anthony went on to release seven underground albums as H2 between 2003 and 2007 with friend and producer Steven “IGNOVA” Winfrey.  Steven set his sights on bigger exposure, expanding his name to ItsYaBoiH2.  Now he’s back with a new album that’s above ground and running, but it’s clear that ItsYaBoiH2 hasn’t forgotten his underground roots.

Bigger Fish kicks off with “Rickety Boat”, featuring guest TopGun.  There’s an urgent, low-fi feel to this rhyme.  The vocal doubling here is a bit distracting, and ItsYaBoiH2’s loops are extremely repetitive.  “Clap For ‘Em” carries a positive message, but that message might get lost for some listeners as the sound here is just too cluttered.  The vocals are mixed too low, and ItsYaBoiH2 again chooses to double up the rap.  This makes ItsYaBoiH2 harder to understand and creates a messy sound.  “Bigger Fish” reflects ItsYaBoiH2’s intended pivot to a wider world and a larger audience.  The song is angry and petulant, like the ranting of an angry child rather than a man hoping to make a better life.

“Greenbacks” is an entertaining and rhythmic number that flies on a looped vocal recording, with an almost commentary style rap from ItsYaBoiH2.  “Highs & Lows” takes a look at a balancing effect of life, whereby personal and professional trajectories can often run counter to one another.  ItsYaBoiH2 flows in intelligent fashion here, and creates an entertaining joint in the process.  “Scream” is a danceable and aurally enjoyable take on creating music and making the most of the experience.  There is a positive feel here that’s refreshing.  “Deep Water” has a river-like inertia; a wash of sounds that is hard to penetrate but easy to go with.  It’s not the most accessible track on the album, but has a draw of its own.  ItsYaBoiH2 slows things down for “Where I Wanna Be”, employing a vocal/rap style that seems inspired by Eminem.

“Too Dramatic” works with synthesized orchestral instrumentation in a stunning turn.  The message here is about relaxing a bit and enjoying life.  ItsYaBoiH2’s approach once again sounds angry here, but there’s an infectious beat at the root here that draws you in.  “Steppin’” is highly repetitive and angry.  The lo-fi approach noted earlier makes this sound shrill and poorly recorded.  “Jager On Tha Rocks” is a fluff/party piece that’s rough and unsophisticated in production.  With the right production and remix this song could find life on the dance floors of major clubs, but its current presentation is too low-fi and unpolished to get the attention of DJs.  “Lovin This” is a song of angry enjoyment.  ItsYaBoiH2 seems to be playing to type here rather than being genuine.  As a result, ItsYaBoiH2 ends up sounding petulant and sophomoric again.

“Risk” begins like more of an R&B jam than a rap tune, and has a bland feel.  What becomes clear as the album progresses is that ItsYaBoiH2 seems to have little understanding of dynamics in the recording process.  Whether it’s a vocal issue for the artist, or an issue of production, ItsYaBoiH2 seems to have no highs or lows; barreling on at the same level without much tonal variation.  The risk here is that over the course of time the listener becomes somewhat inoculated to the sound.  “Fine Wine” is another angry turn.  The issue is that it’s sometimes hard to tell why ItsYaBoiH2 is angry, as often his anger is mixed with semi-positive messages.  The reason here is a bit clearer than usual, but the anger still seems conjured rather than genuine.  “Student Of Observation” is perhaps the finest track on the album, with a fresh rhythm and fly lyrical flow.  itsYaBoiH2 shows the full depth of his potential as a lyricist here, with a song that could probably cross over to pop/urban play lists as is.  Higher production values certainly wouldn’t hurt, but this song is a potential hit.

“Cause & Effect” starts off sounding like a slow-core horror movie soundtrack with eerie synth and clockwork rhythm.  ItsYaBoiH2 lays down a rap that’s impressive, going freestyle with a stream of conscious flow that’s impressive.  “Ain’t That A” gets back to the disaffected anger based on perceived threats.  ItsYaBoiH2 does this stuff pretty well, but his reliance on this negative stuff just does not reflect on him well.  Bigger Fish closes out with “Sink”, an anachronistic tune awash in dreamy synth and deep reverb.  ItsYaBoiH2 is on to something here sonically, although at times the sound is quite messy.

ItsYaBoiH2 is a rapper of considerable talent grossly undercut by the low production values on his album Bigger Fish.   When unfettered by overt attempts to play to type, ItsYaBoiH2 is an engaging lyricist.  His vocal style does tend to drone at times; this is more of an issue of inflection and tone than anything else and is easily addressed.  Where ItsYaBoiH2 gets in his own way is his devotion to the forms of early gangsta rap.  When he puts this aside and speaks as himself rather than as an archetype he can be quite enjoyable to listen to.  The facilitated anger and misogyny of his boyhood idles does not fit him well, however.  Bigger Fish is an album of potential and of poor choices that hinges on a chameleon-like persona.  Once H2 decides who he really is we’ll have a better picture of what his art will be.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/bigger-fish/id655100722

Review by:      Wildy Haskell
Rating:             3 Stars (Out of 5)

Kevin Wilson, Rise Up

18 Jun, 2013 Wildy Haskell

Kevin Wilson began playing guitar at the age of 13 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Finally settling in Florida, Wilson has gone on to play in a number of bands over the year.  With his musical roots steeped in 1970’s classic and southern rock, Wilson has an expansive musical style that can run the gamut from ballads and story songs to hirsute rockers.  Kevin tried to make a go of the rock and roll dream with a band called Lucian Blaque.  In spite of three nominations as Metal Band of the Year at the Tampa Bay Music Awards, Kevin made the decision after five years to concentrate on a career outside of the music world.  But he couldn’t stay away.  Kevin is back as a solo performer.  His latest release, Rise Up, references his musical past with big bluesy rockers, but also shows his singer/songwriter tendencies as well.

Wilson kicks things off with the slowly infectious blues/rock of the title track, quickly settling into a groove you can’t resist. “16 Days” finds Wilson leaning into a classic rock sound with blues influences. The guitar licks here are well worn and more than a little familiar.  ”Come A Little Closer” has a much more reserved groove with an almost melancholy feel.  The vocal here is a bit unpolished, and the arrangement drags a bit.

“Little Pieces” is a blues rocker that finds Wilson perseverating on the perceived injustices in a relationship.  The song is catchy enough, but there’s a disconnect between the music and the lyrics that is palpable.  “Trouble” has a more classic rock feel, with an urgent, guitar-driven arrangement that piques the interest.  Once again there is something of a disconnect between the lyrics/vocal and the arrangement.  This is definitely a vital track, and a bit more charisma in the vocal lead would elevate this song significantly.

“Liars” is an intriguing number with a steady gait.  It’s a monologue about lies and their impacts on relationships.  There’s a sort of conditional reasoning here that’s amusing, and the guitar work is stripped down and stellar.  “I’m A Criminal” is a monologue/story song that’s well crafted but perhaps a bit overplayed.  The stripped down nature of the arrangement only serves to enhance this sense.  Wilson puts it all behind him with the deliciously catchy rock instrumental “Barn Burner”.  Wilson and his band sound like they’re having fun rocking out to this tune, and the guitar work, while not earth shattering, is very competent and fun to listen to.

“What More” keeps up the energetic vibe with a playful feel.  “What More” flows like water, leading with a dynamic guitar lead and one of the best vocal performances on the album.  Wilson’s vocal energy is the key here.  “The Hell You Say” once again finds Wilson trying to match a less than powerful vocal with a power chord driven blues rocker.  The song is solid, but never fully takes off.  “Beer Drinkers And Hell Raisers” rocks out righteously, but Wilson’s voice simply doesn’t have the strength or intensity to carry it.   Wilson winds down with an acoustic take on “Rise Up”, in what turns out to be the best performance on the album.

Kevin Wilson has an everyman’s voice.  It’s solid and strong enough, although occasionally not grand enough to carry off some of his bigger sounding rock tunes.  Wilson is a competent composer who is generally on the mark lyrically.  Rise Up is a solid collection of songs that are enjoyable to listen to.  There’s nothing here that will shake the foundations, but Wilson is a songwriter you’ll spend a little time with.

Review by:      Wildy Haskell
Rating:            3 Stars (Out of 5)

Kevin Wilson, Thieves Among Us

18 Jun, 2013 Wildy Haskell

Florida singer/songwriter Kevin Wilson has been busy.  His recent release of Rise Up, a collection of blues/rock songs with the occasional heavy edge shows more of his classic rock roots.  The companion album, Thieves Among Us, focuses more on Wilson’s songwriter tendencies, ranging from ballads to anthemic rockers.

Thieves Among Us sets sail with the escapist fantasy of “Run Away”. Armed with a catchy chorus, this song has potential to get stuck in your noggin. The lyrical turns used here are a bit haphazard at times, but the music is a great listen.  ”Going To See You” is a middling love ballad that’s heavier on sentiment than it is on emotion. Wilson talks a good game here, but there’s no distinct sense of authenticity. “All The Same” picks at the universal nature of our humanity in spite of the apparent differences between us. This is a nice songwriting moment that uses one death as a focus for life.

“I Do It Anyway” finds Wilson wavering back into singer-songwriter styles with another middle of the road love song. This one drags a bit, but is full of nice, indirect sentiment.   Wilson aims for a classic rock sound on “Thieves Among Us”, but stumbles on an arrangement and a vocal performance that are underwhelming. The middle bridge with guitar lead shows the most energy of the song, and even here repetition quickly quells the fire.  Wilson picks things up with some vibrant guitar work on the opening of “Said It All”. He keeps the energy going throughout on one of the better performances of the album. “Private War” is a disaffected monologue from a man in a relationship that’s in a downward spiral. The emotion here is real, but there’s a disconnect between singer and song that’s difficult to describe but impossible to ignore.

“Lonely” is a melancholy song full of self-pity and doubt. There are points of faith sprinkled throughout, but also a pervasive sense of loss and loneliness. The song is well written, but dark enough to be a difficult listen nonetheless.  ”So Goes The Sun” keeps up this inner darkness, although to a more lively arrangement. The song is well written, although Wilson does tend to ramble a bit lyrically. “Like Yesterday” is a song full of reverie and regret; a solid singer/songwriter turn on a breakup.  Wilson’s checking in again on his memories and on how his old love is doing.  Wilson gets points for authenticity, but the rambling style of his ruminations might not sit well with some listeners.  Thieves Among Us closes out with “Before It Hits The Ground”, an august rocker that’s reminiscent of a Crosby, Stills and Nash sound, circa 1989.  This is among the better presentations on the album.

Kevin Wilson nurtures his singer/songwriter side on Thieves Among Us.  Together with his other recent release, the blues-influenced Rise Up, Wilson shows a great range and depth of songwriting styles.  His voice and presence won’t work for everyone, but there is a definite everyman aesthetic at work here.

Wildy Haskell
3 Stars (Out of 5)