SoundPress.net Presents Sights and Sounds of Note February 2016

by Richard and Laura Lynch

richard-lynch_soundpress-netSure, February is the shortest month on the calendar. But, there’s no shortage of quality in the product that has crossed the threshold of our offices in recent weeks. In fact, we’re leaping for joy as we shake our bones to the great music coming out of our speakers. Here’s a taste of what we’re listening to.

David Bowie (www.davidbowie.com) was a living legend at the time of the release of his 26th studio album Blackstar. Sadly, he passed two days after it hit the shelves marking this work now as a posthumous return to form for The Thin White Duke. Make no mistake, the songs on Blackstar are dark and disturbing as they reveal a classic rock icon in his death throes. But, many of the elemental qualities of his daring and groundbreaking career are in place making the seven tracks on the chart-topping release pure Bowie.

David actually sounds in fine voice on songs that are mostly spooky and somber, lacking in melody and driven by a dirge-like downbeat courtesy of an abundance of pre-programmed drum tracks. But, alas, all of this works perfectly in the context of a man acutely aware that his time on earth is slipping away. The images of death and dying begin early and often in the moody title track. “Lazarus” and it’s accompanying creepy video makes a lot more sense in hindsight. The closer “I Can’t Give Everything Away” finds Bowie with one final lament acknowledging his lack of time left on this plane. We’ll miss you, Starman!

Early reports indicated that Dream Theater’s (www.dreamtheater.net) ambitious new 34-song double album clocking in at over two hours and ten minutes would be a record that echoed themes from classic concept albums such as 2112 and The Wall. That early synopsis is fair as the epic opens in the not too far distant future where music has been marginalized and mechanized in an austere authoritarian society. But, the spark of song still exists in the form of The Astonishing hero Gabriel who has born with the gift of music.

The tantalizing tales that unfolds as he faces down his oppressors while creating the soundtrack to a revolutionary movement that will restore freedom, liberty, dignity and the pursuit of musical happiness to their repressed way of life. The tracks on the concept project are shorter and more concise than the usual Dream Theater fare and they ask the most of lead singer James LaBrie who is tasked with voicing eight distinct characters in rock opera style. Shining moments from co-writers John Petrucci (guitars) and Jordan Rudess (piano, keyboards) carry this all to a triumphant and astonishing conclusion.

The last time Squeeze (www.squeezeofficial.com) released an album I bought my first house in 1998. Fast forward seventeen years and I sold that house and the masters of Brit-Pop have finally released their follow-up Cradle to the Grave which in itself marks a much larger passage of time in fine fashion. The songwriting team of Difford and Tilbrook have picked up right where the height of their creative partnership left off without seemingly missing a beat. The 12-tracks on the record sound fresh and are built around the framework of inspiration provided by a recent season of a popular television show in the U.K. of the same name.

This setting offers a unique jumping off point for the quintessentially British quintet to begin weaving their trademarked witty and wordy narratives once again for the world to hear. The opener “Cradle to the Grave” is 3 minutes and 20 seconds of pure power pop perfection and proves that the lads are a long way off from their dirt nap.

Coincidentally, Jason Minton (www.jasonminton.net) is a Tennessee native who grow up with New Wave English Pop/Rock artists such as Squeeze and Crowded House. Over the years, Jason an experienced musician has merged these influences and his country boy roots into his own muse. Somedays his latest 12-track release reflects his past in modern well-structured songs with catchy refrains paired with reflective lyrics.

“I’m In Love With You” starts the CD off with a snappy love ballad followed by the more serious “Somedays”. Strings and other instruments are woven into Minton’s songs to enhance the mood. Other highlights included the pensive piano driven “Let Me Go” which also features fine fret work along with strings. It is countered by a feisty “Fight” and then an expressive “I’m Still Waiting”. The CD closes with an acoustic version of the lyrically strong “Let Me Go”. Jason Minton’s Somedays is a solid record from start to finish.

Hawaiian musician Jake Shimabukuro (www.jakeshimabukuro.com) has taken an unusual road to stardom as revealed on the Life on Four Strings DVD. Jake’s instrument of choice since age four has been the ukulele. Jake’s mastery of the ukulele has allowed him to tour the world. His latest CD Travels tells the story of his journey through rhythm and stringed instruments. Shimabukuro respects the traditions of the ukulele yet adds his own sophisticated and spontaneous approach to the four strings. Highlights of his 17-track CD includes innovative versions of “Low Rider” and “I’ll Be There”. The snappy title track flows on a smooth jazz vibe. “Passport” is peppy yet progressive. “Kawika” along with “Red-Eye” features pretty layered instrumentation. Travels is a spirited collection of songs from a passionate player who understands the history and future of the ukulele.

Although If Sorrows Swim is not a new release it is the latest from the innovative Greensky Bluegrass (www.greenskybluegrass.com). For this 5-piece band the sky is the limit when it comes to rocking out traditional bluegrass instruments. Their sound is clean, crisp and spirited. Layered instrumentation paired with insightful lyrics makes for a colorful 12-song collection. The opening track “Windshield” starts off delicate before it swells with desperation with all the string instruments punctuated the narrator’s potent points. “Burn Them” ignites with a peppy pace and pointed prose. “Kerosene” is another fluid tune with a lot of spark. If Sorrows Swim is a stellar record allowing Greensky Bluegrass to run the range from sassy to serious in melodic shades that take bluegrass music into the stratosphere.

A’Mericana (www.facebook.com/americanamusicband) describes themselves as a collective musical consciousness. Their latest release Salvation Unkind journeys through a diverse sonic landscape with a nod to the lost art of birthing a record in the studio. In other words ideas coming together in a room and then recording them. This 10-track CD reflects that spontaneity as it travels through the worlds of bluegrass, country, folk, rock and roots. The opening track “Say You Will” flows at a quick pace as the narrator quips about faith in a style reminiscent of T-Rex. “Merci” grabs the listener with gritty lyrics and vocals. “When the Night (Turns to Day)” has a Stonesesqe, dreamy quality and the rousing “Restitution” is another attention getter on the insightful Salvation Unkind.

In addition to solo work, Lisa Aschmann (www.lisaaschmann.com) a composer, educator and singer has had her songs recorded by major artists. Lisa explores a broad range of styles in her music although The Elephant could be considered adult contemporary. The idea behind this 15-track collection was to compile songs that Aschmann had written over the years that she did not want to forget (hence the title). The CD opens with “Four Tables Away” a pensive piano based chronicle of strangers in a coffee shop. Lisa’s warm voice blending with her rich storytelling is comparable to a fine cup of gourmet coffee. The flavors only get stronger as her tuneful tales such as “Rocket Surgery” unfold. She writes lyrics to linger over with production that is sharp. Lisa Aschmann’s The Elephant is album worth remembering.

Emily Maguire (www.emilymaguire.com) is a British singer/songwriter with an expressive vocal style. Emily pens astute lyrics that she weaves into layered compositions. Bird Inside A Cage her most recent 10-track CD is filled with imagery and insights. The opening track “Beautiful” pairs Maguire’s pretty voice with a polished piano part. Other highlights include “Rain” along with “North & South” – songs filled with rich visuals flowing at a pleasing pace. Strings are used effectively throughout this CD especially on the nostalgic “Old Valentine”. “Avatar” starts off subtle before swelling to more instruments and soaring vocals. Emily Maguire is a strong songstress who is flying high on her melodic Bird Inside A Cage.

EVEN MORE NOTABLE RELEASES! Young gun country crooner Ty March (twitter.com/Tymarchcountry) has begun his march up the charts with a new series of strong songs celebrating the good times and thrill of the chase. This rising Nashville star has an amazing and hook laden sound featured on his new song “Amazin’ ” and the rest of his latest six-song EP…

Brooks Dixon (www.brooksdixon.com) just finished up his new EP called Weather The Storm. Recorded in Music City and branded as “Spirited Folk-Pop meets Soul” the five songs here are fine roots rock fair with a driving back beat supported by good backing vox and B3 passages…

John 5 (www.john-5.com) has had an illustrious career collaborating with chart topping artists such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ricky Martin, and Rod Stewart and he’s performed on critically acclaimed world tours with Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie. Now he’s back with a sweet sounding instrumental track called “Behind the Nut Love” recorded with the help of a 1950 Fender Broadcaster…

New Jersey has made many rock and roll dreams come true and now comes Dream Eternal Bliss (www.dreameternalbliss.com) with an EP full of catchy, melodic, modern rock tunes that take some classic ’80s New Wave influences and blends them tastefully with elements of modern pop and progressive rock to create new music that is at once catchy, powerful, full of energy, musically inspiring and performed by some real great music players on tracks such as “This Time”…

Hailing from down under, Call The Shots (www.calltheshotsofficial.com) is a five-piece who are renowned for their well-crafted, infectious and high-energy live show and stage antics. Their new single “Fantasy” has just dropped and finds these Brisbane-based pop-punk rockers breaking new ground with strings and a new musical mood that is pretty fantastic… See ya next month!

CURRENT EDITION OF SIGHTS AND SOUNDS OF NOTE:
http://www.soundpress.net/files-features/arts-sson-current.php

About SoundPress.net: This column is authored by Richard J. Lynch and Laura Turner Lynch – the founders of SoundPress.net (http://www.soundpress.net), an Internet-based music industry magazine and review site, online since 1999.

Laura is a published author of the inspirational Positive Power Secrets From A to Z (http://www.positivepowersecrets.net). Rich regularly interviews famous rock stars for the site’s radio show and he has recently launched his own recording career at (http://www.richlynchband.com

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