Loner’s Society Impresses On Autumn + Colour Debut

Courtesy: Autumn + Colour

Courtesy: Autumn + Colour

The Charleston, South Carolina based indie band Loner’s Society is set to release its new live EP King City Sessions next month. The five-track recording is a good introduction for those that might be less familiar with the band and just as enjoyable for those that are more familiar with its works. What’s most interesting about the band’s new release is the sound of the songs included in the recording. The songs are interesting in their own right because of their musical and emotional depth. But they don’t exactly sound like the description of the band’s sound on its official Facebook page. According to the band’s official Facebook page, the band is “comparable to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers if The Heartbreakers had been comprised from members of: Pearl Jam, Rancid, and The Temptations.” That wording comes verbatim from the band’s Facebook page. And it’s quite a mix of influences. But as listeners will notice right from the recording’s outset, its sound is more comparable to Bob Dylan and certain classic Country Western acts than any of the acts noted on the band’s Facebook page. Where Loner’s Society does finally start to bear more of the Pearl Jam meets Rancid sound is on the recording’s fourth song, ‘Autum Breeze.’ These two songs (and the recording’s remaining trio of live tracks) make King City Sessions quite the live recording even as short as it is.

Loner’s Society opens its upcoming live EP with the song ‘LaGrange.’ This song is an interesting introduction because of the throwback vibe that it conjures up among listeners. Vocalist/guitarist Matt Megrue openly states in the song in almost Lou Reed style, “And we recorded a record/Then we loaded the van/The last thing the world needed was another punk rock band/So I spent the next five years just barely getting’ by/Cause as time goes by it’s certain/That certain things’ll change/And you can spend your whole life working/Trying to stay the same/But plan on doin’ doubles till you die/At that diner in LaGrange. The line about the last thing the world needing was another punk rock band is very telling. It goes back to the previously noted difference in the sound of the songs included on this recording versus the band’s own description of its sound. This song sounds anything like a punk rock band. It’s more of a Country Western style piece interestingly enough. Even that first verse’s remaining lines line up more with old school Country Western than punk, Pearl Jam, and especially The Temptations. For all of its deep introspection, there is one funny moment in this song in which Megrue sings about things he’s seen in his life. He sings “I’ve seen marriages, divorces, babies, and divorces.” That must be one heck of a lot of divorces. Whether or not it was meant to be joking, it’s such a subtle joke that one can’t help but laugh a little bit hearing the emphasis on divorces that have been seen. That subtlety set alongside the song’s more heartfelt introspective musical and lyrical elements make it an excellent introduction for the band in every sense of the word.

‘LaGrange’ is a solid opener for the band’s new upcoming live recording.  It’s just one of the recording’s most interesting of points.  The recording’s penultimate performance of ‘Autumn Breeze’ is another of those high points.  It is more along the lines of the band’s described sound.  It starts off gently enough, but eventually picks up and bears more of an indie-folk/rock sound.  Listeners can feel such emotion as Megrue sings, “I can feel that Autumn breeze/Blowing in from Tennessee/It soaks my nights in whiskey dreams/Old cruel winds just speak to me.”  There’s a certain pain in Megue’s voice as he sings this verse that tugs at the heart.  The song takes a more driving feel from there.  Even with that more up-tempo feel, the song doesn’t lose the pained emotional state established early on in its near five-minute run time.  It all makes for what is easily one of the highest of this live EP’s performances.

‘Autumn Breeze’ and ‘LaGrange’ are both great additions to King City Sessions.  Regardless of whether or not audiences are familiar with these songs or the others included in this new EP, every listener will agree that they and the EP’s other trio of songs make this recording a welcome new release from the band.  If the five songs contained on this EP aren’t enough for some, then fans need not worry as they’ll get their chance to hear the band live in person, too.  Loner’s Society is currently scheduled to perform at the Deep South Bar in Raleigh, North Carolina this Saturday, January 18th.  The performance is an 18+ show.  Tickets are $5.  They can be  purchased online at http://www.ticketfly.com/purchase/event/428839?__utmx=-&__utmv=-&__utmk=206623635&__utmz=1.1387914625.3.3.utmcsr%3Dgoogle%7Cutmccn%3D%28organic%29%7Cutmcmd%3Dorganic%7Cutmctr%3D%28not+provided%29&__utma=1.1393594094.1385825001.1387914625.1387926374.4&__utmc=1&__utmb=1.1.10.1387926374&wrKey=28A0D047C3315AD262485FE7F569EDFE.  The show is currently scheduled to begin at 6pm.  Fans of Loner’s Society can find out about all of the band’s tour updates, news and more online at http://www.lonerssociety.com, http://www.facebook.com/lonerssociety and http://twitter.com/lonerssociety.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Eagle Rock Keeps Soaring With Santana’s Latest Live Release

Courtesy:  Eagle Rock Entertainment/Eagle Vision/Montreux Sounds

Courtesy: Eagle Rock Entertainment/Eagle Vision/Montreux Sounds

Thank goodness for Carlos Santana.  And Thank goodness for Eagle Rock Entertainment.  This has been stated before already with the 2012 release of Carlos Santana: Greatest Hits Live at Montreux 2011.  Now Eagle Rock has finished what it started with the release of Santana’s performance that same year with fellow guitar legend John McLaughlin (The Mahavishnu Orchestra).  It has already been noted of seeing Carlos Santana and company live before that to see these musicians perform live is to not just see a concert.  Seeing Carlos Santana and his band mates live is to truly take part in a musical experience.  That applies in this brand new release just as much as in Eagle Rock’s previous live Santana Blu-ray.  The musical experience is just one portion of what makes Santana & McLaughlin: Live at Montreux 2011 such a joy for music aficionados.  Tied directly into the experience is the show’s set list.  Just as with Santana’s previous live release via Eagle Rock, this show’s set list feels more like one giant jam session than a specifically structured set list.  This is far better than anyone could realize.  And lastly, audiences with HDTVs will appreciate the clarity of the recording’s sound and picture.  Those with surround sound home theater systems will especially appreciate that clarity.  Together with the set list and the general performance, it is one more factor that reminds audiences why Eagle Rock Entertainment is the leader of the pack in live recordings.

Taking in a performance of Carlos Santana and his band mates is more than simply taking in a performance from the highly talented musicians.  Taking in a performance of these individuals is taking in a full musical experience.  This is just as true in Santana & McLaughlin: Invitation to Illumination as it was on Carlos Santana: Greatest Hits Live at Montreux 2011.  It is incredible to see Santana and his band mates sharing the stage throughout the two-hour plus performance.  Unlike so many other bands out there today, Santana steps back on multiple occasions, allowing his band mates to get their fair share of time in the limelight.  Simply put, he not only talks the talk, but walks the walk, too.  Such humility, willingness to share the spotlight, and talent shows why Santana is still one of the greatest guitarists in modern music history.  Audiences that have not yet gotten to see Eagle Rock’s previous performance from Santana and company will be in awe at the talent of both drummers Dennis Chambers and Santana’s own wife, Cyndi Blackman Santana.  Blackman Santana’s skill with the sticks is unparalleled.  Watching her perform whether with the rest of the band or by herself on her drum solo is like watching controlled chaos.  By contrast, Chambers’ own performance behind his kit is the picture of talent and composure.  Chambers’ body language is one of someone that is entirely relaxed.  Yet his playing would seem otherwise.  It’s an amazing juxtaposition.  The band overall presents such talent throughout its performance. 

The band’s performance throughout the two-hour plus concert is the central point of the recording.  Also to be taken into consideration in the overall presentation is the show’s set list.  The set list for this concert was comprised largely of songs from the classic 1973 album, Love Devotion Surrender.  However, fans will also take note early on of the medley of songs including covers of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’, Bob Dylan’s ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ and saxophonist John Coletrane’s ‘Peace on Earth’.  It even contains a cover of Albert Ayler’s ‘Our Prayer.’  The cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ was the highest of highlights throughout the medley of tunes.  From the guitar work of both Santana and McLaughlin to David K. Matthews’ keyboards to every part in between, it is a cover that would make both Jimmy Page and Robert Plant proud if they see this performance.  The same can be said of the late John Bonham’s son, Jason, too.  While it’s a cover, one can’t help but think to one’s own self, which version is really better?  Zeppelin’s version or this updated take on the classic song?  That’s a tough call.  But what can be said is that it is just as good as the original, if not better.  It is an amazing point in the overall performance.  Audiences will of course each find their own moment that they will call their favorite.  This is just one of so many from which audiences will be able to choose.  And it’s just one of so many that make Invitation to Illumination such a joy for audiences of all ages.

The set list and the general performance work together with this new release to make it one of the year’s best live recordings.  There is one more factor that audiences should consider in examining what makes it one more expert release from Eagle Rock Entertainment.  That factor is the presentation’s audio and video mix.  The audio and video mix of this presentation is right on par with each live recording already released so far by Eagle Rock Entertainment this year.  Those with home theater surround sound systems and the ability to set the audio on their HDTVs to a music setting will especially appreciate this.  Those audiences will be entirely enveloped by the concert and see just why taking in a performance by Carlos Santana and his band mates is in fact not just taking in a performance, but being part of a true musical experience.  Santana & McLaughlin: Invitation to Illumination Live at Montreux 2011 is available now in stores and online.  Fans can keep up with the latest news and more from Carlos Santana online at http://www.santana.com and http://www.facebook.com/carlossantana

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

American Playground Another Enjoyable Compilation From Putumayo Kids

Courtesy:  Putumayo World Music

Courtesy: Putumayo World Music

Putumayo Kids has taken young listeners all around the world all from the safety of their own homes and classrooms thanks to its series of compilations featuring music from different regions of America and Europe.  With the release of its latest compilation, American Playground, Putomayo continues that well-established tradition this time by examining a number of children’s favorites set to bluegrass, folk, and gospel settings. 

The ten track compilation includes a solid mix of folk, bluegrass and blues pieces along with a trio of adaptations of hits from Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and jazz composer Irving Berlin.  The cover of Berlin’s ‘Blue Skies’ stands out as it’s the only jazz piece on the compilation.  But it is still an impressive rendition of the jazz classic nonetheless.  The pairing of Aaron Watson and Elizabeth McQueen for the song is especially interesting considering that both singers are more versed in country music than jazz.  Had listeners not known this, they would never have known that the pair had no background in jazz.  This is in itself a tribute to the choice of artists and songs picked for the compilation’s sequencing.  Watson and McQueen’s take on Berlin’s ‘Blue Skies’ is a solid interpretation of the jazz classic.  It is impressive enough that one wonders if Putumayo will eventually release a compilation of jazz standards for both kids and their parents.  There is rumor that another album is due out before 2013 is over.  So it would be interesting to see if that in fact becomes the alleged new compilation.

The cover of Berlin’s ‘Blue Skies’ is a nice touch to this compilation that is otherwise centered largely on roots music.  Of course the roots music compiled for this release is enjoyable in its own right, too.  The cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Forever Young’ is a fitting and touching song.  It shows a side of Dylan that many casual listeners might not otherwise have known about.  Most people know Dylan for his protest songs.  This song is the exact antithesis of those works.  Singer/songwriter Randy Kaplan makes the song even more interesting with his rendition of the song both with this musicianship and his voice.  He actually sounds very similar to a young Bob Dylan with this record.  Its slight gravelly sound and gentility perfectly complements what sounds like a mandolin used in the place of a guitar.  He gives the song a whole new meaning with his rendition that is still powerful in its own way.  It is one more enjoyable piece that parents and children alike will enjoy.

The cover of Dylan’s ‘Forever Young’ is another high point to this instantly enjoyable record.  It’s not the last, either.  The compilation closes out fittingly with a cover of Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land is Your Land.’  After taking listeners on a musical journey across the country on the previous songs, this song is a good bookend companion to the compilation’s opening number, ‘She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain.’  Listeners are taken from up high in the mountains in the compilation’s opener, down to the plains, looking up at the blue skies and across the heartland to the final notes of Guthrie’s classic song.  Younger listeners won’t catch it.  But older listeners might catch that one specific line was removed from this rendition of the song.  Why that was done is anyone’s guess.  Even with one specific portion of the song omitted in this rendition—intentionally or not—it doesn’t lose any of its enjoyment.  Along with the remaining material on this compilation, it serves as just one more impressive addition to what is an overall enjoyable compilation for listeners of all ages.  It is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered online direct from the Putumayo online store at http://www.putumayo.com/americanplayground?section=kids

Parents and kids can keep up with all of the latest releases from Putumayo and Putumayo Kids online at http://www.facebook.com/putukids, http://www.putumayokids.com, and http://twitter.com/putumayokids

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Crain’s Third Record One of 2013′s Early Sleeper Hits

Courtesy:  Ramseur Records

Courtesy: Ramseur Records

Samantha Crain is one of the music industry’s best kept secrets.  This twenty-six year old Oklahoman has been making waves with her upcoming third full length studio release, Kid Face.  Crain’s new album has been getting attention from both the public sphere and that of public broadcasting with positive reviews from Rolling Stone magazine, Spin, and National Public Radio.  What’s most intriguing about the album isn’t so much its songs, but the ability of the songs to keep listeners’ attention throughout the course of the record.  Considering that the album was recorded and mix over the course of just nine days, the album becomes that much more impressive.

Crain’s third album is a solid piece of county/folk that not only Crain’s fans will enjoy but also those of fellow female artists Nora Jones, and Regina Specktor among a handful of others.  Its opener, ‘Never Going Back’ makes for quite the interesting starting point for Crain on this album.  The song, as Crain herself writes of it, is about an individual who had been involved in an affair but has made the life altering decision to not go back; thus the song’s title.  It goes completely against the mold of the stereotypical country song.  Instead of someone singing about having lost a partner, this is an empowering song about someone who has made the decision to get out of a relationship that would have otherwise led to such a country song.  She writes in ‘Never Going Back’, “The ending of ten thousand dreams/My soul has finally been set free/From his cool eyes/I’ll hide myself in softer storms/Crawl out of holes/Become reborn/To my surprise…I’ve stayed afloat in quicker sand/But now I have a place to stand and call my own/I had a deal with man and God/One let me down and one did not/So I made my way back home.”  The uplifting and infectious sound of the song and the equally positive lyrics make this a good start to this record.  On top of that, the two together make for a song that is sure to be an instant hit for Crain’s fans.

Crain doesn’t note in writing about the songs on this album the roots of ‘Never Going Back.’  More than likely, it had no influence from any personal bearings.  Though in reading through what she had to note about other songs, many of the other songs on this album did in fact come from personal experience.  And one of the best of those songs is another song that goes almost completely against the grain of standard pop song writing.  That song comes late on the album in the form of ‘Somewhere All The Time.’  Crain writes of this song that its influence comes from her life on the road.  She notes that travelling is in fact, her “obsession and her method.” Although sometimes she does need a break.  And thus this song was born.  It’s a response to the people who ask her if being on the road so much is difficult.  She writes of those who ask her, “Everybody wants to go somewhere/Everybody wants to go all the time/Don’t you ever want to sit down some/Take a little time.”  Her response is two-fold.  By and large, she writes of the joys of touring despite things like vehicles breaking down and people who seemingly get paranoid when she’s out on the road.  For everything that she loves of being on the road, Crain does explain that need to get away as she sings, “Somebody better say a prayer for me/Cause I need a break from this whole scene/Spend some time in the grasslands/And my man to love me/Could you forget about me for a while.”  As with the album’s opener, this is another nice upbeat piece all the way around that fans will instantly enjoy.  It’s really one of those classic storytelling style songs that will especially impress fans of singer songwriters the likes of Neil Young and Bob Dylan.  And it makes for one more piece of the whole that will make this album a favorite both for long-time fans and for those who are new to Samantha Crain’s music.

As has already been noted here, a big part of what makes Samantha Crain’s new album so impressive is her ability and seeming drive to go against the grain of standard music and general human standards.  As the album nears its final notes, listeners get one more song proving that in ‘Ax.’  It really comes across as a song of social commentary, so to speak.  Crain writes about the song that ‘Ax’ is her response to the seemingly increasing negativity in the world today and that while it seems “against her own nature most days”, she wrote this as her own “call to try and be one of the giving and humane.”  In simple terms, ‘Ax’ is proof that people can be good.  They just have to try.  She writes, “You can put your ax back in its place/Your face is wearing all that awful hate/It’s tough to be afraid/But you have to let it lay.”  This is such a short verse in an equally short song.  But being such a short song and short verse, it proves that less is more.  She says so much in so few words.  The gentility of the song’s musical backing adds even more emotion to the song.  It’s just her singing along with a piano and guitar.  The minimalist approach—both lyrically and musically–harkens back to another era of music’s greatest eras past.  That being considered too, one can’t help but appreciate this song even more both in itself and as a part of the bigger picture that is Crain’s new album.

Samantha Crain offers audiences a lot of impressive material, both musically and lyrically, as has been noted here.  The songs already mentioned are just a tiny picture of what audiences can expect from her upcoming release.  It offers eight more tracks of which listeners will each find their own favorite.  The album will be available February 19th on Ramseur Records.  In celebration of its upcoming release, Samantha Crain will be touring in support of the album.  Her tour starts January 23rd in Raleigh, North Carolina at the Berkeley Café.  Doors open at 7pm and the show begins at 8pm.  For full information on the show, including ticket information, go online to http://www.berkeleycafe.net.

Her performance in Raleigh will be followed up by a set of dates in Wilmington, North Carolina and Pembroke, North Carolina between January 24th and 26th.  From there, she will be heading up to New York before making her way through the Midwest.  Fans can get a full tour itinerary online at http://www.facebook.com/Samanthacrainmusic and http://www.samanthacrain.com.

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Jennings Shows His Talent, Originality Again On New LP

Courtesy:  Black Country Rock/Entertainment One

Courtesy: Black Country Rock/Entertainment One

Shooter Jennings is one of the most underrated individuals in the music industry today.  The son of music royalty, Jennings has made his own identity throughout his career, making music the way that he has wanted.  The result is two impressive modern country albums and an equally impressive and brave experiment in the form of his previous record, Black Ribbons.  When Jennings released Black Ribbons, the initial reaction was mixed.  But it showed his versatility and thus not only kept most of his audience, but also brought in a whole new faction of fans.  Now on his most recent release, Family Man, Jennings has shown just as much versatility.

Family Man bears little resemblance, if any, to Shooter Jennings’ previous recordings.  Its opener, ‘The Real Me’ is classic outlaw country with a touch of blues mixed in.  Lyrically, it’s classic Shooter right along the lines of fellow outlaw country artists Hank Williams Jr., and Hank III.  The song’s chorus is the best evidence of that.  He sings in the song’s chorus, “I’m a double-talkin’/Chicken-lickin’/Meaner than the Dickens/Sick and wicked/Hole-diggin’, pickin’/Son of a gun/And I’ll love you like the devil/Bite you like a snake/And then forsake and break/Everything I don’t take before I am done.”  The chorus itself is lyrically the heart of this song.  But it’s the lyrical delivery of the chorus that makes it really hit.  It’s almost a rap style delivery, for lack of better wording.  Just hearing Shooter deliver the chorus in this manner is impressive.  It’s something that audiences have rarely heard from him.  Set against the rest of the song it simply stands out and makes the song that much more enjoyable.

Shooter shows more of his outlaw country side in the album’s opener.  But he doesn’t stay in his safe zone on this record.  He branches out, showing quite the mix of influences time and again.  Just one example of that bag of musical influences is the album’s lead single, ‘The Dollar & The Deed.’  Jennings’ vocal style set against the music makes for an interesting combination of Bob Dylan meets Kenny Rogers mixed with a modern country love song.  Stylistically speaking, Jennings’ vocal style in ‘The Deed & The Dollar’ invokes images of Bob Dylan.  Coming from a musical standpoint, this song is classic country all the way.  One of the best comparisons that can be made is to the likes of Kenny Rogers.  Lyrically, the song is a good fit for any happy couple or hopeful happy couple to be.  He sings, “She’s got a special way/Makes me happy every day/What do the old folks say…When I feel alone/She reminds me that there’s always tomorrow/I kinda wonder if she knows/My sun comes up/Just to hear her call.”  If that’s not the basis for a romance, it’s anyone’s guess what is.  And with Valentine’s Day already right around the corner, this would make for a fitting song to set a romantic mood.

Shooter gets soft at times on his new album.  But he also shows that he’s got that outlaw still in him later in the album in the song, ‘Family Tree.’  This is not just country.  It’s pure outlaw country and is bound to become one of his biggest hits with fans both on the album in live.  He sings in this song, “We’re southern by God/Our name is mud/We’ve got each other’s backs/Cause we’ve got the same blood/Let the stock market crash/Cause we’ll always be free/We may be trash/But we’re family.” Simply put, this is an anthem for Shooter’s fans.  It will light a fire under his fans and have them singing along and pumping their fists with pride at every one of his shows.  And it’s just one more example of that makes this new album yet another success from one of this generation’s greatest all around musicians.

Jennings recently wrapped up his most recent tour in support of this album and is currently putting the finishing touches on a new album that’s due out in early 2013.  Fans can keep up with his progress online at his official website, http://www.blackcountryrock.org/shooterjennings and his official Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/ShooterJennings.

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Idelsohn Society’s New Album This Year’s Best Holiday LP

Courtesy:  The Idelsohn Society

Courtesy: The Idelsohn Society

‘Twas The Night Before Hanukkah is the best of this year’s annual crop of holiday records.  The record, which was released by the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation, is subtitled The Musical Battle Between Christmas and the Festival of Lights.  The catch is that this record is anything but a musical battle.  Rather, this record does exactly what music is said to do.  It’s a unifier.  It joins two distinctly different cultures through the medium of music.  On a side note, The Idelsohn Society for those who perhaps may not know was named for its namesake, musicologist Abraham Zevi Idelsohn.  Audiences can learn more about him and the Idelsohn Society’s website, http://idelsohnsociety.com/about-us/

‘Twas The Night Before Hanukkah is just the latest in a series of releases from the Idelsohn Society For Musical Preservation.  The compilation features thirty four tracks from across both the Jewish and Christian faiths.  Those songs celebrate, as the subtitle notes, both Christmas and the just ended annual celebration of Hanukkah.  What makes this double disc compilation even more interesting is that both the songs of the Jewish and Christian faiths are sung by both those in the Jewish community and those with Jewish roots.  Among some of the more notable of those artists are the likes of: Mel Torme, Benny Goodman, Lou Reed, The Ramones, Bob Dylan, and Herb Alpert just to name some.  Adding even more interest to this already worthwhile listen, the music presented by the variety of artists makes the record even more multi-cultural.  Some songs are standards, while others are more original, crossing the cultural borders of the music industry. 

All thirty-four tracks in this compilation present enjoyment thanks to their cultural variety.  One of the most enjoyable and interesting of the songs in this compilation comes not from the Christmas side, but from the Hanukkah side.  Gladys Gertwiz’s presentation of ‘A Chanukah Quiz’ is a wonderful starting point for young members of the Jewish community.  Gerwitz sings to her audiences of a “Hanukkah riddle” of sorts.  In reality, this song is a history lesson both of Hanukkah and of Jewish heritage.  She tells parts of the history, and leaves parts blank for listeners to answer (in song form) back.  It’s fun and creative.  On a completely different tangent, ‘Twas The Night Before Hanukkah also offers a Latin style holiday song in the form of ‘El Die de la Navidad.’  It’s one more example of just how multicultural this record is.  The upbeat sound alone makes this another enjoyable song.  Add to the danceable sound the lyrical holiday celebration and listeners get another enjoyable addition to this release.  It’s just one more of so many enjoyable songs included in a record that is simply put the best holiday record of the year.  The album is available in stores and online now.  It can be ordered online direct at the Idelsohn Society store at http://idelsohnsociety.com/store/albums/

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Chacon’s Self-Titled LP A Solid Sophomore Effort

Courtesy: Pie Records/Kayos Productions

Folk/country artist Thom Chacon’s upcoming sophomore self-titled album is quite the listen.  Typically, the case with sophomore albums is that much like movie sequels, they rarely live up to the expectations created by the first opus.  That’s not the case with Thom Chacon.  His new album carries a similar feel to that of his 2010 Pie Records debut, Featherweight Fighter.  But it has an overall different sound.  Whereas Featherweight Fighter sounded like something that Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder would have crafted for a solo record, this new record shows more influence from the likes of Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and even Bruce Springsteen to a lesser extent.

Chacon’s sophomore release carries the influence of Dylan, Springsteen, and Petty both musically and lyrically.  The album’s opener is proof of that.  ‘Innocent Man’ is an obviously Dylan influenced song all the way around.  Chacon sings mournfully about a man who has been wrongfully convicted of something he didn’t do.  He sings, “I swear on the lord, I’m an innocent man.”  Even when he becomes more defiant, singing, “You can all go to hell, I’m an innocent man”, his response is so subdued.  That subdued nature makes this a tragically beautiful song.  That being noted, it does the job setting the tone for what listeners can expect in this new release.

The follow-up to ‘Innocent Man’ is just as painful and real.  ‘American Dream’ comes across as a commentary on the housing crisis in America.  He sings, “Got a letter in the mail today/said we’re gonna foreclose/I wanna check out of this place but/I’m broke/I’m living the American Dream/For sure/I’m worth more dead/Cause baby, I owe.”  Chacon doesn’t pull any punches here.  He puts it right out on the table.  This song instantly conjures images of the damages done to the American housing industry since about 2008.  And the way in which he sings the song, it makes those images that much more vivid in listeners’ minds.  That’s a powerful statement when a musician can hit home so hard so easily with a few words.

The few words of ‘American Dream’ make up just one more of the many interesting tracks here.  For all the harsh realistic songs that Chacon has on his new album, he does offer listeners something more upbeat in the form of ‘A Life Beyond Here.’  What really makes this song interesting are its spiritual aspect and his love for his mother.  He sings, “I tried and tried the faith/It just wouldn’t take/Now I’m a man/who never believed/But maw/When you left this world/I was able to see/There’s a life/Beyond here/I don’t’ know much/But I know you’re near/Don’t believe in anything/But this much is clear/that there’s a life/Beyond here.”  It’s a bittersweet song, yes.  But it’s also more positive than the album’s other songs, too.  It will easily bring tears to the eyes of anyone who really listens to it and takes his lyrics as he meant them to be heard. 

As is noted here, the songs on Thom Chacon’s new self-titled LP will hit home in so many different emotional avenues.  They make for a hit for anyone that is a fan of real old school folk/country style music.  But the lyrics aren’t all that make the album a success for fans of said genre.  The songs’ length is another positive to this record.  The longest of the tracks on this record clocks in at less than four minutes long.  The shortest comes in at two minutes and eleven seconds.  So not only do the songs paint powerful pictures in listeners’ minds, their length makes them that much more easy on the ears and minds of listeners, too.  The two factors combined add up to proof of the old adage that less is more.  Each song is a short story that paints a big picture. That ultimately is what makes Chacon’s new upcoming release a welcome new collection of songs for both his own fans and for fans of the folk/country style as a whole.  Chacon’s new album is set to hit stores in early 2013.  While audiences await its arrival, they can go online to get the latest news and more from Thom Chacon online at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Thom-Chacon/188502570061 and at http://www.thomchacon.com

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Gillies’ New Post Silverchair Project One Of 2012′s Surprise Hits

Courtesy: ABC Public Relations

Ben Gillies’ name likely doesn’t ring a bell to most audiences.  But with the release of the debut album from his new band, Bento, the former Silverchair drummer’s name may become far more prominent among music audiences.  Diamond Days is such an intriguing record in that its sound is something similar to a hybrid of indie pop and rock.  The album’s title track opens the whole thing.  It’s a solid opener that’s driven largely by a moving piano part and equally solid drumming.  The song’s lyrics do their own part in the song’s success, too.  Gillies sings happily, “These are the/Diamond Days/My vision/Of golden sands/They were the/fractured dreams/No more/Of broken hearts/I got this feeling long ago.”  The whole positive, upbeat spirit of the song makes it not just a solid opener for the album, but an instant hit for the band.  It is without a doubt the best possible first impression for Gillies and company on this new project.

Gillies and his band mates keep the positive vibe moving in the album’s second track, ‘Words of Love.’  The title alone leaves no question as to the song’s topic.  And the lyrics back that up, as Gillies sings, “Take this heart of mine/And make it yours to keep/It’s your gift here waiting/It’s your cherry tree.  Again, the band leaves little doubt about the song’s topic.  The standard sappy love song lyrics aside, it’s still a good song thanks to that continued up-tempo vibe of the song’s musical half.  Even those people who aren’t fans of the love song genre will enjoy this song if only for the fact that it’s a forward moving piece.  For that matter, it’s another highlight of this debut release from Bento.

Gillies moves in a different direction after ‘Words of Love.’  The album’s third track will take children of the 80’s back in time with its keyboard part.  It’s a throwback to the nu-wave sound of the 80’s.  From there, he moves back to a more light rock oriented sound on ‘Glue’, another of this album’s high points.  This song especially would be a good fit at any mainstream rock radio station, given the chance.  It actually boasts something akin to a classic rock vibe.  Some might even compare it to material from music legend Bob Dylan.  It’s another song that comes across as being about personal relationships.  But that aside, the music makes it another great listen, and one more piece of the overall successful musical picture that is Diamond DaysDiamond Days is available in stores and online now.  It can be ordered online direct via the official Bento website, http://wearebento.com.  Fans can also get all the latest news and more from Bento on its official website, as well as http://www.facebook.com/wearebento, http://twitter.com/wearebento, http://www.youtube.com/wearebento, http://www.wearebento.tumblr.com, and http://www.soundcloud.com/wearebento

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OCMS’s New LP Will Impress Fans New And Old

Courtesy: ATO Records

Old Crow Medicine Show has only released four albums so far in its time together.  In that time, the band has amassed legions of fans around the world.  Listening to the band’s previous three full length studio releases, it’s no wonder why so many people have become fans of this Nashville, Tennessee based bluegrass band.  The band’s most recent album, Carry Me Back is even more proof of that.  The album is old school bluegrass at its finest.  Even having gone through a lineup change after the release of its last album, OCMS has shown that it hasn’t missed a step.  If anything this sextet of professionals has gotten even better than before this time out.

Carry Me Back opens with its title track.  The balance of the fiddle, guitar, and mandolin along with the vocals of Kevin Hayes make for a strong link back to bluegrass’ Celtic roots.  For those who perhaps don’t know, much of bluegrass and country is rooted deeply in old Celtic music.  Lyrically, it’s an interesting piece.  It tells of a soldier in the Civil War.  Hayes sings about a person wanting to go back to Virginia after fighting in the war.  He sings, “I’m a rebel boy/Born on the banks of the Shenandoah/In ’61 I went to the war/To win one for Virginia/Yeah my brother went first/Then they called me, too/I was green as a clover in the morning dew/So I marched to the drum/And we sang to the tune/Carry me back to Virginia.”   The song goes on, telling of the soldier’s experience on the frontline, seeing other soldiers die around him, and being sent to the hospitals to have limbs amputated, yet he still fights for his Southern pride.  It’s an interesting piece, and a good opener for this album.

From here, the band moves into what can only be described as one of the album’s most interesting tracks in ‘We Don’t Grow Tobacco.’  That’s first and foremost because of the vocals.  If a listener didn’t know any better, one would think that this song was being sung by none other than the late great Hank Williams, Sr.  It’s somewhat fitting that it would sound like Williams, as it comes across as a true old school style country song in its mournful lyrics.  Presented here is the story of someone looking at the changing of the guard so to speak.  The figure in the song sings about how the old way of growing tobacco for income is no more.  He sings, “Grandpa told me this I know/Change is coming/Won’t be slow/Knocking just like thunder at the door/Fallow fields are all around/Empty barns just falling down/Ironweed is coming up through the floor/Once we growed it by the pound/Now the kids all moved to town/And all that’s left are elderly and poor/Now I sure am sad to say/That I lived to see this day/That we don’t grow tobacco round here no more.”  Anyone who has ever driven through the country sides of this country have seen exactly what this song is about.  It really hits home, thinking about it.  The crux of the song isn’t so much about a region not growing tobacco anymore, though.  It’s more about a way of life going by the wayside.  That’s what makes it such a good song.  Despite that introspective lyrical vibe, the song’s musical vibe doesn’t come across as being too sad.  That mix of emotions makes this song another high point to Carry Me Back

For the emotion of Carry Me Back, OCMS also offers its listeners something with a little bit of an edge to it.  ‘Country Gal’ will put a grin on any listener’s face, male and female.  It’s a laid back song that expertly mirrors the song’s somewhat naughty lyrics with a little bit of word play at the same time.  The title of the song says it all.  The lyrics drive it all home.  Hayes sings in this song, “Baby’s on the bench seat/Ready to go/So if you wanna have fun/honey/Let’s have a roll in the hay/Good lookin’ country gal/hey good looking country gal/Mouse in the corn crib/Pig in the pen/pitchforks turn/Just to circle again/It’s a barnyard two-step/Do-si-do/Raising up a ruckus/’Til the rooster crows.”  There’s no doubt what this one’s about.  Yes, it’s got an edge of sorts to it.  But it’s also a fun song that will entertain any older audience because of how it gets its message across.  It’s just one more of so many enjoyable songs on the band’s new album.  There are also slower pieces such as the album’s closer, ‘Ways of Man’, the Bob Dylan-esque ‘Aint It Enough’, and ‘Genevieve.’  They all come together to make an album that shows where Old Crow Medicine Show has been and where it still plans to go in the years to come.  Carry Me Back is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct via the ATO Records website at http://atorecords.shop.musictoday.com/Product.aspx?cp=126_54314&pc=ATCD106.

Fans can also take in the band’s new album live as the band is out touring in support of Carry Me Back now.  The band will be at the Capitol theater in Madison, Wisconsin on Thursday, November 15th.  It will also have a semi-hometown show later this month on the 25th in Memphis, Tennessee.  Audiences can get a full tour run down and all the latest news from the band online at http://www.facebook.com/OldCrowMedicineShow and http://crowmedicine.com

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It’s About You stands alone among music documentaries

Courtesy: MPI media group/MPI Home Video

Good morning once again, fans.  I told you that things would be busy today.  I think I am finally on track…or at least close to it with the last of today’s new reviews.  To finish off the morning and make my way into the weekend (by the way next week’s going to be real busy too.  So stay tuned and spread the word), I’ve got a look at John Mellencamp’s brand new documentary, “It’s About You.”  The documentary was released on dvd and blu-ray last week.  Director Kurt Markus and his son Ian shot the entire documentary on a Super 8 Camera and a more modern rig, too.  the combination of the two, mixed with the finished product, make it quite the interesting work.  So without further ado, I offer for your consideration, dear readers, John Mellencamp’s new documentary, “It’s About You.”

John Mellencamp’s voice is one of the most distinctive in the music business.  And so is his sound.  The Indiana born musician has been a mainstay in the business ever since the release of his debut 1976 album, “Chestnut Street Incident.”  He recorded that album under the moniker, Johnny Cougar.  Nearly four decades since that release, John Mellencamp is still one of rock’s great names.  His most recent album, “No Better Than This” was released in 2010.  And last week, MPI Home Video/MPI media group released a dvd and blu-ray titled, “It’s About You” that follows the creation of that album and his tour with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson.

“It’s About You” is an intriguing documentary.  It was shot both on Super 8 and on a more modern camera.  The raw shooting style by father and son duo Kurt and Ian Markus sets the documentary apart from so many of the spit shined and streamlined documentaries that are currently on the market.  Kurt even goes so far as to comment on the work by himself and his son.  He notes that Mellencamp had told him at one point that regardless of what the duo did, there was other stuff that would be better.  Whether or not Mellencamp was joking on this comment is anyone’s guess.  But Markus was right in noting how staying out of Mellencamp’s way gave the documentary a much more real feeling.  It helped to pull in audiences.

As an added bonus, the commentary is actually included as part of the documentary, rather than being kept aside as a bonus feature.  Kurt, the elder of the Markus duo, has a tone in his commentary that is a wondeful compliment to the shooting style.  He comes across almost like “This American Life” Ira Glass. The elder Markus’ writing/speaking style is almost poetic in its style and delivery.  It’s especially hard hitting as audiences listen to him discuss the demise of small town America’s “downtown” regions.Americans already know that small town America is dying.  But the way in which Markus delivers his commentary reminds viewers of how devastating it is to communities.  That’s especially the case set against footage of empty buildings once busting ages ago.  He notes how all the businesses have moved to more suburban regions, thus leading to the deaths of the once shining hubs of commerce.

Of course, the commentary and filming aren’t all that make the documentary so interesting.  There is one moment as Mellencamp and company are recording one of the songs for “No Better Than This” in which one of the band members discusses the instruments’ “voices”.  He discusses the balance of each musician playing his instrument at a given level, and the impact that it has on a song.  It nearly mirrors Black Label Society frontman Zakk Wylde’s comment years ago regarding the ability of heavy music to be soft and vice versa.

“It’s About You” runs just shy of an hour and a half.  As a matter of fact, the actual run time is just under the eighty-minute run time on the case for the disc.  Why does this matter, one might ask?  It matters in that even in just under that eighty-minutes, viewers will feel like the documentary flies right by.  When a documentarian can make a film that keeps the audience’s attention for just over an hour (especially with a music documentary), that’s proof of a well made documentary.  And that’s exactly what this work is.  “It’s About You” isn’t for everyone.  But for anyone that’s into classic rock and who is simply a fan of John Mellencamp, it’s an insightful look into how this music legend makes music, and his life on the road.

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