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Archive for November, 2014

MarkCrawfordWilliams_SingASongSing A Song

Mark Crawford Williams

2014


A couple of years ago Mark Crawford Williams released “Tryin’ Man” which he describes as a somewhat barebones acoustic americana LP. This record, however, got him the attention of the right people as he now releases his Nashville-based sophomore album called “Sing A Song”. Much like his debut, the album is filled with the sounds of historic American music with influences from the American folk, country and blues scenes.

You will immediately hear the bluesy twang on the title track. Williams has a solid vocal range and musically the song is a tight package that displays skill and insight. Much the same can be said for the modernday honkytonky Catch That Train, which is one of the most interesting tracks on the album. It’s old school country made current. It’s down to earth, like country should be in my eyes and it catches your ear. The rhythm and the tempo are perfect for Williams’ vocals and the songs pops.

The pace goes down on Lying Next To Me which is served by piano and shows a lot of restraint until it evolves in a jangly little country-pop tune with some jazzy undertones. It becomes cheeky and playful and while I really like this song I felt Williams’ vocal style favors the previous songs a little more than this one. Tryin’ Man has a classic vibe to it. Especially in the chorus, which has that big sound. On Skeeta Williams turns into a more playful sound again but this time it comes out better in my eyes. The vocals are a little fuller and the rhythm caters to his vocals more which makes this a really cool song. The saloon-y piano arrangement is an instant classic.

The Main Thing never really got going for me. It has a strong vocal performance and there’s a really good interaction between vocals and instrumentals but to me it lacks a certain tension or excitement that lifts it up a little further. The tension, however, is felt on I Don’t Run Anymore which really showcases the vocalist Mark Crawford Williams. You can hear the emotion seep through and it makes me think this song is one of the more personal on the album. The way it builds up in intensity and stays so sincere is really very impressive.

We’re in the home stretch of the album with the final two songs coming up. And Mark Crawford Williams finishes strong. One More Song brings together the influences from classic country and current country-pop in this powerballad. It’s very sincere and warm. Williams reminds me of John Denver a little bit on The Party Ain’t Over. The reflective countryfolk with a hopeful tone is both uplifiting and in its own way quite catchy.

“Sing A Song” suprised me. I grew up listening to a lot of country & western, folk and americana music and much in the vein of the artists I used to listen to as a kid, Mark Crawford Williams is able to present music in a way that is accessible to all audiences with down to earth themes, honest deliveries and clever arrangements. Nothing about these songs is fabricated or too ornate. I don’t know if “Sing A Song” will reach a wide audience but I believe it should. Williams understands the tradition of country music and has the soul of a folk troubadour which makes that he can really get his songs and stories across. I’m hoping you will give this record a try. It may not be the most revolutionary album of the year but it is definitely one of the most pleasant ones.

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JasperSlaghuis_BendBend

Jasper Slaghuis

BandBus Records – 2014

Jasper Slaghuis previously played with the band Yukka. Afterwards he chose to step down from the limelight of music life. Recently, working with other musicians and joining Arthur Adam’s Twents Songwriters Guild, he took advantage of the xenogamy of musical influences and expressions in the region. His passion for making music returned and after recording an EP with the Guild he took on the quest of recording a full-length album by himself.

On November 12, 2014, Slaghuis proudly presented his record at the Concordia Theatre in Enschede. And rightly so, because “Bend” is a beautifully crafted singer/songwriter album, containing songs of integrity and passion.

The album opens with the gorgeous title song Bend. Slowly the song increases in intensity and along the way the vocals fill up the holes and it unfolds into a sensitive opener to the album.

Let It Go starts off bold with tons of character and down the stretch it evolves into a relaxed guitar-driven pop tune in the vein of early John Mayer songs. Not a traditional catchy pop tune but it has a certain signature that sticks with you. And in certain vocal expressions Slaghuis reminds me of Adam Duritz in the way that he is able to end words and lines with an emotional touch that keeps resonating.

To my taste the echoing on Better, a piano ballad, is a little over the top. This doesn’t take anything away from the song itself though as it is beautifully composed with emotion seeping through its pores. It’s a classic style pop song of the kind you don’t hear much anymore. It is filled with metaphors symbolizing pain and struggles that are part of love and life itself.

Jasper Slaghuis has proven to be able to strike a sensitive chord. He continues to do this on In Your Sky which may be one of the most impressive songs on the album. Its lyrics are strong and honest and the passionate performance brings out the best. While some may end up criticizing the vocal performance in this song I do believe it is exactly those slight imperfections that create authenticity and achieve the right amount of fragility to make this song shine.

The album continues with a potential radio single, Let Go. It has a nice flow to it and invites the listener to really get into it and even sing along. While it is a strong song that you can’t easily get out of your head, to me personally, it misses that extra dimension I am able to find on some of the other songs.

The next song features a well known metaphor of losing things in the fire. While this metaphor is used in many songs, Slaghuis manages to keep Things We Lost on the right side of the tension balance to keep the song interesting and the slightly folksy undertone aids the narrative which raises this song from good to special.

The next few songs are well-written but might not be the standout songs on the album. Not to me at least. Inside and Here & Now have solid lyrics and clever arrangements but miss those hard to describe elements that leave you with a sense of wonder. A Breeze Like You, however, is another well-composed piano ballad with a calm lead in. After the lead in, the vocals come in and produce a fine teamwork with the warm sound of the keys. As the intensity of the song increases, so does the complexity and the song effortlessly evolves into an anthem, picking up strength. Part of the piano arrangement have a slight Queenesque tone to them which is a nice little feature that adds to the song.

4-11-2008 (Chicago Lady) suggests a song of a personal nature which is reflected in the tone of the song. It’s a fine song by itself but I feel the song doesn’t quite reach its maximum potential. If only it would come out of its shell a little more it could make quite the difference. To some of you the introvert nature of the track may actually be what draws you to it, so this obviously is a personal observation. You Will Always Play That Part tends to come out of its shell a little more. In a way that reminds me of Cary Brothers, Slaghuis is able to emphasize the vocals during “…how am I suppose to make a stop / when I cannot let you go and / why do you always play that part / is it just ‘cause I love you so…” which strengthens the song immensely.

And that’s where we reach the end of the album. Three is a fitting song to finish off “Bend”. It is a quiet piano tune not unlike other songs on the album. This creates a certain continuity and cohesion to the musical aspects of the record.

“Bend” is an impressive debut that should fill Jasper Slaghuis with pride. Generally the record is clean and polished off which is a strength in itself. Personally, though, I like it when sometimes songs touch boundaries, or even cross them. Those songs that are a little bolder and more expressive are the standout songs in my opinion (Bend, Let It Go, Your Sky, Things We Lost, You Will Always Play This Part). “Bend” is a promise that we can expect even greater things in the future from this man. But for now we have the pleasure to get to know Jasper Slaghuis through his debut album: “Bend”.

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MemoryInPlant_AnEpicTriumphAn Epic Triumph
Memory In Plant
Independent – 2014

Meet Memory In Plant, a psychedelic indie rock band from Tel Aviv in Israel. Memory In Plant combines the talents of three music producers (Hamou, Firsel & Cohen) who have a passion for music and experimenting with different sounds and expressions of music. Their first instinct is to do things differently, to experiment and you will see this reflected in their work. The song structures, lyrics and soundscapes are all but traditional and mix psychedelic, electronic and progressive rock elements.

This debut EP opens with Memory Inplant which is certainly an acquired taste as a massive wall of sound hammers on your eardrums until it fades away. Don’t be discouraged though because it serves as an introduction, a lead in to the rest of the EP, much like the intros we used to hear on concept albums in the 80s and 90s.

This Love has a groovy beat, Shame On Me can be described as progressive electronic rock and has a certain playfulness to it. These two tracks aren’t like anything you hear in today’s popular music but in Memory In Plant’s catalogue the songs are amongst their most accessible. And then follows Eyes Up, which is quite weird but in the best sense of the word. It takes you to all these different places but never gets dull and is actually quite catchy. Rainy Veins is a more moody track with sirens and life support sounds and haunting choir singing. Eclectic, at times even minimalistic, mixing the experimental progressive rock from the mid-80s with early 90s electronica and a whole bunch of other influences, it never stays put for too long. It has a cadence to it that really works.

The closer, Any Dancing, is probably the least experimental track on the EP. The twittering and usage of untraditional instrumentation, however, make it surprising. Throughout the song, Memory In Plant takes up the pace, working towards a climax that comes floating down in the final seconds of the song.

Overall, “An Epic Triumph” surprised me. There is a definite concept to it, weaving elements of space, time, humanity and perception together. Memory In Plant show their talent lies in the conceptual part of the music. The vocals aren’t spectacular but that is no objection because the use of clever and original instrumentation aids the concepts and soundscapes of the songs. This type of music is not likely to become a commercial success but there is a vast underground audience into progressive, experimental music. Memory In Plant may take another step or two further away from the middle of the road than most bands in that genre but that is what sets them apart and makes them stand out. My guess is they will steadily carve out a niche audience if they continue to improve on their craft in the same vein.

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