“Pilgrim” is the kind of song that instantly draws you in—with a folky vibe and catchy beat, it is truly one of a kind. Veltlite is new artist from Spring City, Pennsylvania, and his music is a refreshing blend of Americana and rock.
Xtra Mile Recordings just might boast the most talented artist roster in the rock industry these days. The label boasts RARAsFarm favorites Frank Turner, Against Me!, A Silent Film and Larry And His Flask, and a few dozen other talented rock acts. One of those acts is PJ Bond.
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Bond’s new single “The Better Option” is a delicious slice of Americana. He’s a songwriter with a comfortable yet distinctive sound, delivering heartfelt lyrics on the back of captivating lyrics on this excellent offering off of his soon to be released Sophomore album Where Are You (out May 4th).
The music is folksy rock delivered with a bit of an edge. The songs explodes with a killer acoustic riff and boasts that same instant familiarity that I feel when listening to Jeff Tweedy or The Old 97’s. The mixture of guitar offerings throughout the song makes the song even more interesting than similar offerings from the aforementioned contemporaries. The heavily distorted guitar spotlighted in the middle of the song is pure 70’s genius and almost as good as the wilting guitar that carries the song to it’s excellent finish.
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The Americana music space has been dominated recently with talented singer-songwriters. Night Beds, the creation of talented twenty-three year-old Winston Yellen is another fresh offering in that genre. Yellen, a Colorado native who now calls Nashville home, brought his distinctive country-twinged Indie Rock sound to Orlando’s cozy Will’s Pub this weekend.
The music on Country Sleep, the band’s first full-length album, is dominated by tender, vulnerable songs with heart-touching lyrics. The songs spotlight Yellen’s fantastic voice, which translated well for the live show. Yellen’s mature voice belies his youth, but on-stage we saw several raw, unpolished glimpses of his still developing visage as an entertainer.
The show started just as the album does with a cold a cappella vocal and the song “Faithful Heights.” It was a brave and stirring start to the show, and Yellen pulled it off well. Most of the selections this evening were from the debut album, including the bouncy crowd favorite “Ramona,” which had the crowd dancing. It was one of a select few upbeat songs this night which was dominated by more mellow acoustic selections spotlighting Yellen’s dynamic voice.
Listening to Country Sleep, I was drawn to comparing Night Beds to Justin Vernon’s critically acclaimed Bon Iver. Watching Yellen and mates on stage, I certainly saw the potential for them too to reach such heights. Today the band is solely about Yellen and his majestic voice, but there’s room for them to grow as they’ll hopefully incorporate the other band members as they evolve.
Yellen seems like he’s becoming more comfortable being “the man” in the spotlight. He joked around with the crowd several times during the set, including playfully offering, “You’re the best crowd ever, but this heat does make me hate you.” It was one of several fun interludes during the show.
“Vulnerable” was a prevalent theme to this show. Yellen’s voice perfectly accompanies the soul-searching lyrics. He’s a young man with a great propensity to convey his most heartfelt feelings and life experiences in his songs and lyrics. He’s humble, as well. Before kicking off “Borrowed Time,” Yellen noted “I like singing low like Randy Newman. I hate hearing my voice singing high.” He delivered a nice version of the song in his “low” voice, but absolutely undersold the pure quality of his higher falsetto voice.
The highlight of the show were the last two songs of the evening. The other three band members, including Yellen’s brother on drums exited the stage for a delicate acoustic version of “Cherry Blossoms” followed by the rousing full-band closer “Head For the Hills,” which ended with Yellen jumping into the crowd and personally thanking many of the ardent fans in attendance.
Stephen Kellogg – Blunderstone Rookery Album Review
Similar to the Dickens’ character who Blunderstone Rookery was named in honor of, we experience the album as poignant autobiographical vignettes of Kellogg’s life. The collection of songs is as creative as it is supremely enjoyable. It’s a rambling tour through Kellogg’s memories and a great listen.
He’s spent most of the past decade fronting the critically acclaimed Stephen Kellogg and The Sixers. When the band announced they’d be taking a hiatus in late 2012, Kellogg was provided the opportunity to once again create something all his own. The result is a fantastically diverse album that is destined for year-end “Best Of” lists.
Blunderstone Rookery is the boyhood home of Kellogg’s favorite Charles Dickens character, David Copperfield, and appears to be a metaphor for the shaky foundation he has recently experienced in his life with the loss of his grandmother and mother-in-law, as well as the aforementioned break from his longtime band. It’s a great backdrop for songwriting, and Kellogg capitalizes, without portraying his protagonist as too desperate or depressed, but rather hopeful and positive.
The breadth of the album is nicely spotlighted in the differences of the first three tracks, all quite different, yet quite strong in their own right. The introspective “Lost and Found” is a comfortable acoustic track, backed up by the bluesy romp “The Brain Is A Beautiful Thing,” which is one of many tracks with deep contemplative lyrics. The third track is “Forgive You, Forgive Me,” a bouncy country-rock groove reminiscent of the Traveling Wilburys. Kellogg’s vocals are excellent throughout, whether the song is a powerful rocker or tender ballad.
The remainder of the album follows the same recipe; yup, the one where Grandma just grabbed a handful of this and a little bit of that, casually threw it together and delivered a fantastic memorable meal.
Other highlights include the touching ballad about a rocker’s life on the road “I Don’t Want to Die On the Road,” a song just as poignant as Jackson Browne’s “Load Out” – the stuff that is destined to stand the test of time. “Good Ol’ Days” is probably the most hit worthy song of the bunch and is 4:02 of good ol’ honky tonk rock, nicely accented with sax and impeccably mixed. It’s just one of many examples of the superb album production of Kellogg and and his longtime collaborator Kit Karlson (of the Sixers). The effort is exceptional with various instruments purposefully meandering in and out of the tunes at the precisely perfect time.
The penultimate track, “Thanksgiving,” is a masterpiece. It’s ten minutes that flies by; an epic ode to nostalgia; a musical journey that offers deep personal reflections, observations and desires. It ebbs and flows through sadness, bitterness and hope. Perhaps, something to finally supplant Alice’s Restaurant” as a Thanksgiving radio staple. It’s a fantastic track (that should have closed the album) that will appeal to any music fan.
“Blunderstone Rookery” is not perfect, but it’s pretty damn good. Make sure you pick it up June 18th.
Jeffrey Gaines is back on the new music radar with his first album release in eight years. The Live in Europe album is a solo acoustic CD that features his soulful voice and heart-felt lyrics, recorded on a 2010 tour across the European continent supporting Joe Jackson.
Gaines’ voice, once touted by Rolling Stone as “the voice of a new generation” is still as powerful and poignant as ever and his guitar playing is excellent throughout. The collection of songs that he performs includes some selections from earlier albums, as well as some previously unreleased tracks all performed with a fresh new light.
The highlight for me was a killer version of “Five Years,” the masterpiece opening track to David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (unbelievably recorded forty years ago), about the impending end of the world. The vocals on this track are superb.
Other highlights included the second track, “Scares Me More” and the poignant “Headmasters of Time,” two tracks off of his debut album, recast twenty years later by a more seasoned rocker, but still possessing the same raw emotion and gritty vocals.
His biggest hit, “In Your Eyes,” the Peter Gabriel cover (which was better than Gabriel’s original), is not included on the album, which gives us more time to focus on the rest of his excellent catalog. We’ll reflect on relationships, the state of the world, war time and other introspective moments. It’s a nice collection of tunes.
Gaines will be touring throughout the Northeast over the summer in support of the new album. In the mean time, grab a drink, kick up your feet and enjoy this quick trip to Europe with a classic storyteller.
You can’t go more than a few minutes on any Alternative rock station without hearing the latest folk rock band and their twist on Indie-Americana. So much of today’s music blends together, post-Mumford and Sons malaise, but the latest release from River City Extension, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Your Anger truly stands out. I’m guessing it never reaches the heights of Sigh No More, but it should, as it’s better and deeper.
The second release from this talented octet out of New Jersey is a musical and lyrical journey well worth a listen or two (or twelve). It’s an album packed with original sounds and with each listen a different track stands out.
Joe Michelini, the band’s singer and guitarist is the primary songwriter and he takes us through a varied collection of memories. He offers: “Half of this record is love songs, and the other half is ‘I’m sorry that I fucked up’ songs,” and he writes about both in a compelling way.
The album kicks off with Glastonbury,” a beautiful song that ebbs and flows magnificently as it builds up from a stripped down start to the full eight piece ensemble, then ultimately winds down with just Michelini on guitar and vocals. It’s a microcosm of the album and a good preview for what’s in store for the next sixty minutes. Michelini’s vocals are damn near perfect, and showcase his broad range, both on the opener and throughout. On “If You Need Me Back in Brooklyn” we hear a nice boy/girl duet with Sam Tacon, but for most of the album it’s all Michelini expertly carrying the vocals.
The musicians accompanying Michelini are quite talented, and the diversity of instruments offered is musical bliss. With superb production, we hear all eight musicians blend together perfectly, nicely highlighting each of the various instruments without overloading our senses. Mike Costaney on drums and percussion offers an amazingly creative approach which is an absolute highlight of the album. Jenn Fantaccione’s cello is a refreshing change. The cello is an under-utilized instrument in the rock world, but as River City Extension proves, there’s a definite place for it. It was refreshing to hear, and one of the features that sets this band apart. You’ll also hear mandolin, trumpet, banjo, piano, melaphone and so much more – a feast for the ears.
There are a few cuts on the album that absolutely scream out for airplay. Hopefully, we’ll be hearing tracks like “Welcome to Pittsburgh,” “Down, Down, Down” and “Point of Surrender” gracing the airwaves at some point in the future.
My two personal favorites highlight the diversity of the band, “Ballad of Oregon” is a fantastic introspective tune that spotlights all of the band members as it travels through Michelini’s troubled search for love; and “Lord I Have Changed” which is a stark introspective peek into Michelini’s past with him accompanied solely by Costantey’s drums, an interesting conclusion to an excellent album.
Don’t let this excellent new album pass you by, pick it up and give it a few spins. You’ll be happy to have found this Alt-Americana gem.