Saturday, August 30, 2014

Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence




2014 – Interscope Records
By Phillip Smith; Aug. 30, 2014

Lana Del Rey’s latest album, Ultraviolence, is one my favorite releases of the year.  Primed with beautifully haunting melodies and angelic vocals, this thirteen track recording is destined to be a timeless classic. 

“Cruel World” kicks this musical journey off, with ghostly echo-filled guitar licks and poetic psycho-dramatic lyrics.  Del Rey, like Pink Floyd, is a master when it comes to dropping radically unsettling lyrics into calming, yet sometimes psychedelic musical settings.

Title track, “Ultraviolence”, disturbingly and insightfully reveals the inner thoughts of one trapped in a tumultuous codependent relationship. The song plays out like a James Bond film theme, with hypnotic vocals lightly accented with ultra-smooth synthesizer music.  I love Del Rey’s playful vocals on “Shades of Cool”, a high ranking song on my list of favorites.  Blake Stranathan lets loose a ripping guitar solo that blows through a wall of chaotic sound.  Then as the dust settles, the listener is gently tucked away into a calming bed of Del Rey’s lulling voice. 

The more I listen to Ultraviolence, the more I want to listen to it.  This album, and Lana Del Rey’s voice is almost as addictive as the underlying subject matter she sings about.    



 


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Micke Bjorklof & Blue Strip - After the Flood




2013 – Hokahey! Records
By Phillip Smith; Aug. 23, 2014



Whether tackling the blues Texas style, in a Mississippi swamp, or with a taste of funk, Finnish band, Micke Bjorklof & Blue Strip plays with excellence.  Singer/rhythm guitarist/harmonicist Bjorklof is backed by lead guitarist Lefty Leppänen, bassist Seppo Nuolikoski, drummer Teemu Vuorela, and organist/pianist Brian Coogan.  After the Flood is a splendid recording of twelve original songs which are immersed in blues and roots music.

“House For the Blues” energetically gets things started.  Bjorklof sings about tearing down a shaky old barn and building in its place, a house for playing music.  Leppänen tears it up with great guitar licks reminiscent of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s. Then, Bjorkloff tops it off with some howling harmonica.  The ‘wow-factor’ on this track is high.

I love the swampy tones created on “Jack the Black Hat” and “Ramblified”.  Killer slide guitar and superbly haunting backing vocals give the song about Mojo-man Jack the Black Hat an aura of coolness.  Then there’s “Ramblified”: a timeless and outstandingly written treasure.  This one screams traditional country blues.

There’s a funky side to the album too.  “Water From Your Shoe”, breaks out the funk midway through, following a borderline gospel beginning fitting for the church scene from the film, The Blues Brothers.  “Gumbo Mama” is a fun track as well.  Lefty lays down a funky groove while Bjorklof rolls out vocals a la Anthony Kiedis of The Red Hot Chili Peppers on the chorus. 

Industrial percussion and the dark boozy lyrics of “King Alcohol” bring to mind one my favorites, Tom Waits. This one is an unexpected treat.  “Woogie or Die”, takes a walk on the dark-side as well.  A cool revved up intro and ominous unsettling chords set the mood for this heart-racing song about being forced ‘Sopranos style’ to play music for a private after-hours party.  

Micke Bjorklof & Blue Strip is not your ordinary run-of-the-mill blues band.  The songs these guys have to offer are forged from top-notch and original writing, and performed with an excellence in musicianship.  Do yourself a favor and give it a listen.    





Saturday, August 16, 2014

Leroy Miller - Temple





2013 – TML Records
By Phillip Smith; Aug. 16, 2014


I’m not really sure how Leroy Miller’s five song EP, Temple slipped by me last year, but I am so glad it recently caught my attention.  It is downright phenomenal.  Miller masterfully wrote, sang, and played all the instruments on this album, much like Prince did on his first albums.  Temple is lush guitar-centric blues at its best akin to that of George Thorogood and Stevie Ray Vaughan. 

Miller kicks the album off with “Integrity”, a high-energy track reflecting his preference of maintaining principles and being alone, over being someone else’s stepping stone.  “One Woman One Man”, is blues infused with a lot of soul. The keys give this a little Booker T Jones flavoring while his guitar riffs remind me of fellow MGs guitarist Steve Cropper. 

When “Going Back Home” starts out, I want to reach over to the dial and turn it up a notch.  Exceptional guitar playing and a traditional blues melody give this track an instant familiarity.  Miller enthusiastically lays down more terrific guitar licks on another fantastic track, “Dead Man Walking”.  Soaked heavily in Texas blues, this western-themed melody is sung from the perspective of one whose cards have been stacked against them since birth. 

Temple is as solid as an EP can get.  Every track shines with splendid performances.  I just wish there were more to hear.


 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Sam Morrow - Ephemeral




2014 – Forty Below Records

By Phillip Smith; Aug. 9, 2014


Ephemeral, the debut album from singer/songwriter Sam Morrow is anything but ephemeral.  Before I had finished listening to the first of ten songs, “War”, I knew this album was something special.  Singing country-flavored roots songs with a sharp edge of truth, Morrow’s voice reminds me a bit of Eddie Vedder’s.  Morrow delves deep into his own experiences, revisiting the often unpleasant obstacles life blindly tosses around like little grenades.              

Setting the tone for the rest of the album, “War”, invites the listener into Morrow’s melancholy world with despairing lyrics about a husband and father who looks to the bottle for happiness.  Morrow shows great range as a vocalist and writer in the heart wrenchingly beautiful song, “Old Soul”, about the hurt of lost love, and the self-destructive thoughts which go along with it.  “Run” seems to pick up where “Old Soul” leaves off, leaving thoughts of self-destruction behind and replacing them with feelings of anger and declarations of love.  I’m really drawn to its haunting melody, fortified with a cool drum cadence and symphonic strings.  In a Tom Waits fashion, Morrow reexamines the broken relationship with booze, after two years of sobriety, in “December”, a song of reconstruction, remembering and longing.  This softly played guitar and violin tune tugs on my heart strings.

Ephemeral is such a beautifully constructed album of brutal honesty, I can’t get enough of it.  Morrow shines as a writer and performer, and I highly recommend this album.



Friday, August 1, 2014

Doug Gillard - Parade On



2014 – Nine Mile Records

By Phillip Smith; Aug. 1, 2014


Parade On, the third solo release from Doug Gillard is a refreshing double-dose of indie-rock.  Gillard is a renaissance man when it comes to music.  Singer/Songwriter aside, he takes on responsibility for performing every instrument on this album (guitar, bass, keys, percussion) with the exception of drums. 

Gillard breaks the seal on the track list with “Ready For Death”.  Here, he cleverly marries sullen lyrics sung from the agonized perspective of one just ready to let go, with a lovely upbeat melody which could easily be mistaken for a long-lost track from Electric Light Orchestra.  Then, as if the dial had been turned from the Seventies channel to the Eighties channel, “Angel X”, with its slightly fast tempo, takes me back to the days when the band Squeeze ruled my stereo. 

I can get lost in the melodically beautiful “Your Eyes”.  Sugary and poppy, it instantly puts me in a good mood.  Other favorites include “Come Out and Show Me”, a throwback to the early Who, and “I Shall Not Want”, which seems to draw more influence from George Harrison.

Gillard masterfully ties these eleven pop-infused songs up in one neat little package, to make Parade On, a damn cool aural treat.


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