Monday, October 27, 2014

CD Review: Roxanna's 'Exotica'


Born in Iran and based in North America, Roxanna brings a classical voice to the forefront in world fusion and pop-based songs on her latest, seventeen-track release, Exotica. Roxanna's sensual voice is matched by Chris Botti's sensuous trumpet sounds backed by a fusion of pop and world music arrangements. The Latin and flamenco-tinged, "Unforgotten," is an exotic medley of sounds that evoke nothing but magic and mystery. "The Air That I Breathe" is a slow, jazzy, pop standard song with breathy vocals and swishy percussion backed by jazzy piano melodies. "Only You" begins with sparkling guitar sounds and flamenco-like rhythms. Roxanna's vocals are akin to another fellow countrywoman, Nazanin (a former Miss World). Every song is different, but they do not touch urban, dance, rock, or classical genres. Exotica is a great mix of world music styles backed with a great voice. The result is a winning combination that is highly-desirable. 5 Stars (out of 5). ~ Matthew Forss

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

CD Review: Quinn DeVeaux & The Blue Beat Review's 'Originals'

Quinn DeVeaux & The Blue Beat Review
QDV Records

Delta blues, rockabilly, folk, roots, gospel, and early rock & roll influences wrap up the gist of the new album, Originals, by Quinn DeVeaux & The Blue Beat Review. Quinn grew up in Indiana, but found inspiration living in Washington and California later on. Quinn's songs are classic compositions inspired by the music of the early 1900's. There is a bluesy, jazzy, and folksy element with rustic piano, horns, and percussion that are perfectly executed throughout the entire album. Quinn's vocals and guitar work are something that should have been on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. This is not really country music, or bluegrass music, for that matter. Instead, Quinn brings together a mix of early Americana rock & roll, folk, blues, jazz, and swing music for a contemporary era. If Darius Rucker (ex-Hootie & The Blowfish) would explore the folkier side of Americana, Quinn would be the genre purveyor in that regard. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Backbeat Soundsystem's 'Together Not Apart'

Backbeat Soundsystem
Together Not Apart
Easy Star Records

Reggae from the U.K.? Yes, indeed. The eight-piece reggae-roots band, Backbeat Soundsystem, fires on all cylinders with their latest, hook-laden release, Together Not Apart. The group comprises the talents of Dean Forrest, Darren Kendall, Zac Jesus Esquela Harkavy, Jon Symons, Sam Parsons, Elf Forrest, Lawrence Willoughby, and Tom Neale. The music contains catchy, bass-laden beats with hooks that will grab everyone's attention. There are twelve tracks in all. Each song is unique and blends reggae sounds with pop, rock, and urban jazz. The fluid sounds of reggae and punchy percussion are all positive attributes that make Together Not Apart stand alone as an impressive recording. Fans of Easy Star Records will find this a necessary recording. Also, fans of reggae will love it. ~ Matthew Forss

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

CD Review: Xylouris White's 'Goats'

Xylouris White
Other Music Recording Co.

Xylouris White is a group formed from George Xylouris and Jim White. George is a very talented Greek lute player with one vocal song on the new album, Goats. Jim White is a percussionist from Australia with a penchant for creating rhythms characteristic of goats traversing rocky hill-sides. The lute adds an element of surprise to the entire album with diverse tunings, playing styles, and an unabashed ability to create diverse and engaging tunes. There are nine total tracks, but only one contains vocals and George is the vocalist. The entire album is around thirty-five minutes in length, but it should not be ignored. The triumphant silences and sounds of the opener, "Pulling The Bricks," intrigues the listener with its divergent sound. The minstrel-like lute sounds of many of the tracks suggests a Medieval presence, too. Overall, Xylouris White is a great duo that knows how to entertain humans and goats with ease. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Beautiful Mess' 'Words Getting Around'

Beautiful Mess
Words Getting Around

The Northeast-based group, Beautiful Mess, is spearheaded by Chris Ehrhart and his nephew, Tim Ehrhart who have a passion for writing, playing, arranging, and sharing songs of a heavenly side—on their latest release, Words Getting Around.  The five-track release showcases jingly pop and rock songs with a positive message about the realities of life.  The music is more than a voice, guitar, and drums, as other instruments come into play throughout.

“Alright” opens with plaintive vocals and a briskly-played, acoustic guitar with a kind of flamenco style.  The vocals are backed by light percussion through mid-song.  The vocals feel very organic and unaltered by heavy mixing or sampling.  The last half of the song incorporates a few spoken word vocals with symphonic, rock arrangements and louder vocals by the end of the song.  However, the vocals are still discernible.  The rock arrangements are a fitting end to the song that actually ends with a few acoustic guitar chords, as delicately as it started.

“Crazy” begins with clap-like percussion, a few piano notes, and swishy percussion with great vocals.  The up-tempo beat sparkles with guitar, piano, and arrangements.  After the first few verses, a punchy rock beat occurs before a vocal only line that signals the last few lines of the song with full-on percussion, guitars, piano, and vocals in a pop-rock structure.  The pop vocals at the end of the song appropriately round out the song’s best features.

“Holding On” opens with an acoustic guitar in a folksy, raw manner.  The vocals begin, as a rich, percussive sound accompanies the vocals and guitar.  After the first few lines, a symphonic chorus incorporates a little pop-rock splendor.  There are lush back-up vocals throughout amidst the jangly percussion.  The end of the song ends as charming as it begins with plaintive guitar and vocals.

“Home Forever” begins with piano notes and a heartfelt vocal line.  A percussion arrangement kicks in with an ambulating beat and delicate taps.  A swishy cymbal clang signals more dramatic vocal performances with back-up vocals during the first chorus.  The next few verses escalate with pop-rock charisma in a more majestic tone with lush guitars, symphonic washes, and rock guitar beats.  The triumphant vocals are fueled by powerful lyrics of Christian rebirth and eternal living.  After the climax of the last chorus, the song fades out with organ sounds and percussion arrangements.

“Words Getting Around” opens with a jingly acoustic guitar tune and organ sounds with swishy cymbals and drums.  The bluesy and folksy tune is jingly and full of pop-rock splendor with vocals akin to Dave Matthews.  Even the bluesy melody and guitar arrangements are akin to something by Dave Matthews.  At any rate, mid-song features back-up vocals in a bluesy or gospel context.  The vocals are manipulated in parts by back-up vocals and some programming effects.  The back-up vocals, instruments, and arrangements come together in the end for a party-like sound of indiscriminate vocals.  The mish-mash of music is a fitting end to the song.  

Beautiful Mess is a group that is inspired by things beyond this Earth and they harness that energy and turn it into great music arranged in innovative ways by incorporating a mix of instrumentation.  The music is also catchy.  Though, only five songs are included on the album. Still, the five songs are all very good without any faults.  A mix of jazzy, folk, rock, pop, Christian, and gospel elements make the music shine without any shortcomings.  Anyone with an interest in the abovementioned genres will find happiness (and meaning) in the songs.   

Review by Matthew Forss
Rating: 5 Stars (out of 5)

Find them on bandcamp!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Digital Review: War Poets' 'Hot And Cold: American Relationships'

War Poets
Hot And Cold: American Relationships

Minneapolis-based duo, War Poets, is the result of Rex Haberman and Jenny Case forming a voice and guitar group with lyrically-relevant and catchy pop-rock songs. Jenny's vocals are akin to Michelle Branch and Nina Gordon (ex-Veruca Salt), while Rex's vocals are equally-intriguing and reminiscent of Springsteen, The Wallflowers, and R.E.M. The basic pop-rock structures are here on the new six-track, digital EP release, Hot And Cold: American Relationships. "Ones Who Love" is more of a rock-based song with an R.E.M.-type beat and vocalizations with a hint of Bruce Springsteen and The Wallflowers. "Perfect One" contains a classic pop-rock beat with influences from the 1960's, but Rex's voice is timeless and backed by an incredible, catchy melody. "Bits And Pieces" is the only song on the release that features Jenny's lead vocals. The melody is catchy and the vocals very similar to a cross between Michelle Branch and Nina Gordon. Overall, the new release explores some catchy songs with great lyrics and memorable hooks without sounding forced or on-the-nose. Check out Sound Cloud for more info and downloads. 5 Stars (out of 5). ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, October 9, 2014

CD Review: Abelardo Barroso's 'Cha Cha Cha'

Abelardo Barroso
Cha Cha Cha
World Circuit

The year is 1925. Through the smoky clouds of a Havana jazz club, one can spot the unmistakable Abelardo Barroso and his Orquesta Sensacion. The classic sounds of Abelardo's voice are backed by bouncy piano, authentic strings, and airy flutes that are arranged in cha cha cha, son, and similar music styles of the era. The folksy, jazzy, and danceable grooves of the music are very indigenous and familiar to anyone with an interest in Cuban music history. The heavy percussion in parts keep the music moving along. The poignant tunes are somewhat cinematic and breezy. In the same manner, the music is ideal for relaxing, dancing, taking a cruise, or dreaming of a place sunny and warm. Whatever you call it or make it, Abelardo Barroso's great voice and backing orchestra make the music come alive (and stay alive). ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Alex Skolnick's 'Planetary Coalition'

Alex Skolnick
Planetary Coalition
Artist Share

Alex Skolnick is a true world music pioneer--coming from the worlds of metal, jazz, rock, and now ethnic--Planetary Coalition is a global album with over two-dozen artists contributing to its production. There are some great instrumentals on this album, as well as great vocals coming from only two tracks featuring Kiran Ahluwalia and Yacouba Sissoka. The instrumentals are jam-worthy, flamenco-tinged, alternative rock incarnations, and avant-garde expressions of musical tastes from far-away lands. Some of the instruments include bass, santoor, horns, several different guitars, tabla, violin, qanun, darbouka, accordion, piano, pipa, riq, oud, and more. Most of the songs are original, too. Fans of world guitar music, global tunes, and instrumental variations will love Alex's new release. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Awa Sangho's 'Ala Ta'

Awa Sangho
Ala Ta

Mali's Awa Sangho is a very talented singer with a passion for music and incorporating traditional instrumentation in a contemporary setting. The music is fresh, catchy, and full of rich textures. The melodies and rhythms are equally-astounding. There are thirteen delicacies on this album and not one of them are identical. In addition to Awa's youthful vocals, the album is graced with guitar, bass, percussion, ngoni, kora, balafon, talking flute, ndjarka, bolon, bass guitar, and djembe. "Tambin Y Tambor" is a perfect blend of international instruments coming together for a relaxing and intriguing tune. "Denko" is a jazzy, Afro-pop tune with stellar vocals and sounds, "Emama" is a gritty, guitar tune with rippling sound effects and a Congolese-like rhythm. All of the songs are easy to listen to and void of anything distracting, disruptive, or unnecessary. Anyone with an interest in contemporary Malian music will love it. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Yom's 'Le Silence de L'Exode'

Le Silence de L'Exode
Buda Musique

Yom is a composer and clarinetist with a passion for making music inspired by the Old Testament's Book of Exodus describing the forty years of Jewish people wandering in the deserts of Egypt. The result is an album of plaintive, yet powerful sounds that evoke magical feelings of hope, love, and conquest. The music is rather laid-back and poignant with all of the music created by clarinet, cello, double bass, zarb, daf, and bendir. There are no vocals. The music is very cinematic in parts and aimless in others. The rather varied tones represent a mix of emotions and feelings in the listener. As a result, the tunes are not named in order for the listener to determine his or her own exodus journey. It is a rather consistent one-hour journey that is both nostalgic and refreshing. The instruments move about in dizzying ways at times, while other times the music is very dreamy. At any rate, anyone will find Yom to be an excellent guide for those seeking salvation in music from a heavenly source. ~ Matthew Forss

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

CD Review: Jubilee Riots' 'Penny Black'

Jubilee Riots
Penny Black

Jubilee Riots (formerly Enter The Haggis) is a Canadian band that brings Celtic and Scottish jam songs to the forefront in a swirling concoction of pop songs based on fan letters and stories. There are eleven songs on the album that are all different, but very memorable. The vocal chants, European charisma, and evocative lead vocals on "Astray" highlight the power of overcoming life's cruel world. "Two Bare Hands" opens with a folksy vocal line that blossoms into a power-pop medley of ear-friendly candy that is not too unlike Mumford & Sons and Paul Simon. "Trying Times" is an alt-rock song with soul, European, and dance elements. "Unsteady" is a classic song with great melody and rhythm and male and female vocals in a folksy setting. "Porch Light" is a twenty-second, alternative piano melody in a new age context. It serves a perfect half-way point thru the album. "Traveler" is a poignant guitar, horn, and percussion song with excellent vocals. Overall, Penny Black is littered with catchy lines, melodies, and rhythms without sacrificing quality. If you want great music--this is it. Anyone interested in alternative folk, pop, and European music will love Jubilee Riots. 5 Stars (out of 5) ~ Matthew Forss