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Archive for January, 2011

John Hill – John Hill [EP]
October 25, 2010

Meet John Hill, an acoustic folk/rock act from the Netherlands. If you have never heard of him until now, there’s a good reason for it. The “John Hill” EP is his first release. The feel of his music has been compared to masters like Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens for example.

Inner Ear Media was approached to shine its light over this debut EP. And after a good number of listens I came to the conclusion that this is very solid singer/songwriter material. I wouldn’t go as far as to compare it to Dylan or Stevens right off the bat, but I do admit there’s a genuinity to the music that reminds you of forgotten musical eras. Hilgenkamp’s vocals are pure and honest and they envoke emotion, not only in himself and his music, but also in the imagination of the listener.

This is quite an accomplishment, because for singer/songwriters it is essential to make that personal connection with the listener, one way or another. Hannes Hilgenkamp, under the John Hill moniker does this in its purest, most honest way and, in a way, he invites the listener to accompany him in his music.

On the opener Does It Still Hurt the empathic vocals reach across, right into your heart. The storytelling presentation of the song gives the song even more credit. The more uptempo Sailin Home is a track that is pleasant to listen to and would have a decent chance on the regional and smaller radio stations in the country. Easy Prey is a little edgier and is just an extremely well-executed song. The final two songs, Hidin From Me and Decency are also of a very high quality. Especially the closer (Decency) is very subtle and comes across very personal. Additions from Florien Hilgenkamp (classical vocals) and Serge Bredewold (former bass player for Twarres and 16Down) shows he selects musical partners that can meet the high standard he set with his tracks.

Hilgenkamp proves to be not only a very accomplished songwriter as his songs are musically and lyrically relevant and accessible. He doesn’t dabble into easily available rhymes and shameless variations on melodies that have been used a million times, no he truly writes songs that don’t just sound fresh and original, they actually are fresh and original. He also proves he’s a true balladeer in the way he personalizes the song and enables the listener to do exactly the same. He brings across the story and makes an actual connection to those who open their hearts to these songs. It may only be a debut EP but it sounds like this man has been writing and performing songs for decades. He surely knows his stuff.

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Massy Ferguson – Hard Water
October 19, 2010

For those of you who enjoy the southern charm in music, a strong mix of ballsy southern rock and the gentle rootsy/americana influenced storytelling, from now on you can just as well find it in the Northwest. Massy Ferguson, hailing from Seattle is not the next grunge sensation, no, they don’t play grunge, but they might well be one of the newest sensations in country-rock music.

All through the past 6 decades there have been huge acts in this genre. The heydays may have been in the late 60s to mid 80s, but still the music has a huge following. And with their sophomore album, “Hard Water”, Massy Ferguson is bound to tap into that following. With an Eagles-like flair and sometimes the grit of Springsteen they release an album in the tradition of Uncle Tupelo and The Jayhawks. It doesn’t quite reach that level yet, but the band is starting to get awefully close.

“Hard Water” features 10 altcountry songs that are very pleasant to listen to and show a lot of musicality. There’s a certain honesty in this album that helps it flourish. Combined with the strong melodies and the passionate performance makes it a very strong release.

Standout songs are Freedom Country, Wenatchee Eyes & Dreams of St. Petersburg, but the whole album deserves a listen. Massy Ferguson is a band to watch. Their debut album may not have been top of the bill yet, but this second one surely belongs up there. And if they continue to evolve with this pace, there’s no telling where their story ends. One of the best albums in the genre in 2010.

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RevoltRevolt – Chordata
November 17, 2009

Even though this album was released in 2009 I was contacted recently with a request to shine my light over this album. I’ve been listening to it for some time now and while overall the album shows a certain promise it wasn’t able to grab me by the throat or thoroughly convince me of it’s power or ability to reach out to a wide audience.

There is a strong sense of songwriting and thinking outside the box in this band and some of the songs come off nicely. The opener reminds me a little of an old LA based band called Untyde, though I must say The Infection doesn’t sound quite as tight and doesn’t have the same vocal power Untyde could provide. There are a couple tracks that aren’t too memorable, but Golden Age is a very solid track. ReVoLtReVoLt shows more power and fire in this track and with the slightly funky approach to the song the vocals have more shine to them.

This middle part of the album is actually the strongest part. Songs like After The War and All Alone show this band can come up with songs that have some power and conviction to them. But on the whole “Chordata” isn’t the top album the band may have hoped for. On the whole take, the vocals aren’t very strong, the timing of the songs is off at times and the production is just so-so.

You have to give ReVoLtReVoLt an A+ for trying, but the end result doesn’t quite cut it. Not yet at least. They show they have a knack for songwriting and arrangements and they have some interesting ideas what to do with songs. But they need to work on the execution and production of their songs if they really want to grow out into a band of name and fame. Thusfar they managed to release an album that’s okay, but I doubt many people will take notice for long. “Chordata” is a first step, but a lot of work will need to be done to get higher up the food chain.

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Lauren Bateman – I’ve Been Waiting
May 21, 2010

Lauren Bateman has slowly been building a name for herself in and around Boston over the past few years. With a full-length release ready she now sets her aims on the rest of the world.

“I’ve Been Waiting” features fairly simple singer/songwriter tracks that sound very smooth and Bateman’s vocals, though a little nasal at times, are fairly pleasant. The album’s not groundbreaking or anything but keeping in mind it’s a debut album it’s actually a pretty good release.

While the tracks may be fairly simple, the simplicity of the songs actually benefits them. Because Bateman didn’t fall into the trap of trying too much at once she focuses on doing it well. The songs are strong and the lyrics are accessible without becoming too obvious or cliché, which is an accomplishment on itself.

Civil Again was the first song on the album that convinced me as it showed a little more fire than the previous tracks. Beautiful Face and Happy Ever After are pretty good songs. Especially the latter. Very good vocal performance and the arrangement has a couple of subtle, yet strong accents that give the track more power and sincerity.

With Linger and I Gave, Bateman shows a grittier side of herself. With more rock influences these songs have more power and energy and this is the side of Bateman I’d like to hear more in the future. Because the songs have more body they come off more convincingly and the songs benefit from the richer arrangements. Especially I Gave is a very strong track. Probably the strongest track on the album.

The closer Everything’s OK is decent but not the most memorable track on “I’ve Been Waiting”. All in all it’s a debut that shows a lot of promise and with a full band behind her, Bateman could grow out to be an interesting act to follow around. Her vocals have a lot of power and when there’s a little more fire and energy in the songs she allows herself to really get into the music. And those are the moments she excells. With a little more experience and more recordings under her belt I reckon this is only just the beginning for Lauren Bateman.

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Unknown Component – The Infinitive Definitive
October 12, 2010

Keith Lynch, better known as Unknown Component has been at it for nearly 10 years. This October marked the release of his 8th album “The Infinitive Definitive”, which you can get your hands on through his website, for a very sweet deal I might add.

As with his previous releases, Lynch did everything by himself. Singing, playing the instruments, creating the artwork, producing, recording, engineering. You name it, he did it. This is worthy of praise on itself. But he manages to release solid album after solid album. And while I don’t think “The Infinitive Definitive” is extremely imaginative it is another strong release. The album is filled with hooks and recognizable post-grunge arrangements.

Vocals aren’t Lynch’ strongest asset, but the clever use of instruments and knowing his limitations hides that very well. On songs like Collections of the State and Future Circles it actually sounds just right.

Overall the music is strong and the arrangements carry the songs to a higher level. But even though Lynch’ did a decent job when it comes to the engineering and producing of the album it wouldn’t have been such a bad idea if someone with more expertise and experience in that department had lend a helping hand. Because at times instruments get drowned out or snowed under cause of the production. However, in songs such as A Heavy Heart or an Empty Stomach, Foundation of Rebellion and This Machine (bonus track) you can hear that the arrangements and instrumental ingenuities are structurally sound.

On the one hand there’s a certain charm to it that Lynch does everything by himself but you might also say that he could be in his own way if he is looking for that illustrous breakthrough. There’s no question of Lynch’ talent as it is abundant, there’s also no questioning his ambition and discipline, because it is impressive what he manages to get done on his own. “The Infinitive Definitive” is a testament to his talent and his work ethic, and it’s an album that more than justifies recognition. And that may just be where things could start rolling for Unknown Component. With recognition comes attention and that could very well lead to other people lending a hand. With a touch of outside perspective and a little cooperation from other professionals, Unknown Component could very well grow out to be a force to be reckoned with on alternative and rock radio.

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Allie Moss – Late Bloomer
October 11, 2010 (UK Only)

Allie Moss’ full-length release “Late Bloomer” starts off with the catchy single Corner. It’s one of those songs that you will have in your head for the rest of the week after you listened to it. And Corner is a good representative for the whole album. Allie Moss showcases strong songwriting and a unique vocal color on this album.

Many of the songs that appear on “Late Bloomer” also appeared on her previous EP release, “Passerby”, but on this album these songs are accompanied by a few newer songs. Dig With Me, which was played in the TV show ‘Pretty Little Liars’ is a heartfelt song that’s perfectly suitable to be used in TV shows. The sympathetic sound and the build up into the chorus accompanied by the supporting keys arrangement makes for a rich song which is very accessible.

Another newer song is the jolly Melancholy Astronautic Man. Allie’s been playing this song live for some time and it almost always gets a very good response. The uptempo and easily recognizable chorus has you singing along in no time and the playful vocals only accentuate that. The title track Late Bloomer was one of the tracks that probably impressed me the most. It has a certain honesty and purity over it that instantly reminded me of Joni Mitchell.

A song I was very curious for was Leave It All Behind as I heard Greg Holden joined in the recording of this tune. And as I had expected this track turned out to be another very good song. It doesn’t always work when you put two talented people together, but in this case it turned out beautifully. I can still hear the “oh oh oh” in my head.

The rest of the album consists of the tracks that were already featured on “Passerby” and those songs haven’t lost anything of their power. Once again I would have to say that the believablity and honesty in the music, combined with Allie’s unique vocals is what makes it stand out. Key tracks like Melancholy Astronautic Man, Late Bloomer & Passerby are excellent examples of how good this lady really is.

“Late Bloomer” covers different bases as Allie Moss is able to go from uptempo to slower paced songs with ease. She varies not only in tempo, but also in moods and intensity without ever losing any credibility or pop sensibility. It’s not something that hasn’t been done before but the power is in the delivery. There are thousands of singer/songwriters out there and many of them are quite good, so it’s hard to really stand out. But with the sincerity and honesty Allie Moss is able to embed in her songs there is no question that she stands out among many of her peers.

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Taylor Carson – Defending The Name
September 14, 2010

Taylor Carson is a storyteller. An old-fashioned balladeer. In the tradition of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, James Taylor, Josh Ritter and the likes. You may notice I refer to some of the very, very best in the history of storytelling music. I do this on purpose to accentuate how Taylor Carson steps up his game on “Defending The Name”. He’s been out there for awhile, releasing music every so often. But with this new release he takes a huge leap forward and this album is bound to give him some well-deserved recognition.

Right from the opener, Moonshiner, this (sort of) autobiographic album starts to paint he picture of Carson’s family tree. He continues this trend down throughout the album, which features 16 songs of the highest quality. And through the classic mold of balladeering Carson doesn’t lose sight of the pop sensibility in his songs. Listen to Five, Freight Train or Smoke for example to hear what I mean.

“Defending The Name” is an album that is versatile. You may think that is a bold statement, but some of the songs tell a story that you just want to hear until the end, some of the songs are so endearing you can’t let go and there are songs that are simply beautiful in their simplicity.

Carson uses the lyrics as an additional instrument and enriches his songs by interweaving the music, the lyrics, the story, the feel, the message, the rhythm, the melody, everything to a collection of songs that breathe life, that breathe emotion. “Defending The Name” is by all means a modern-day masterpiece and Taylor Carson shows he’s ready to take the step into the spotlight that he now more than deserves.

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