Posts Tagged ‘americana’

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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Hillstomp – Darker The Night
July 20, 2010

Hillstomp is a very interesting band. This duo consists of musicians playing a bucket-drumkit and several string instruments (mainly guitars and banjos). It makes for a musical experience rather than just an album. This music hits you right in the chest. This mix of blues, rock & roll, roots, country and other styles is that powerful.

It’s hard to really pinpoint what “Darker The Night” is or represents. It’s energetic and it’s raw. It’s filled with emotion. It’s the music of the common people as they might’ve said back in the days of yore. From pounding songs like Cardiac Arrest in D and Satan Is Real (S.I.R.) to jangly banjo songs like Banjo Song #1, Banjo Song #2, Blue Tick, etc. it’s all real, it’s all straight to the point.

“Darker The Night” is an album of high quality. It highlights a brand of music we haven’t been hearing much in the past years (or even decades) and it brings it back with conviction and honesty that makes it stand out even more. Hillstomp is a band that is unique in this time and day. The music may not be what is commercially acceptable but it sure is damn good.

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Maxwell Jury – Rhythm of the Rain
August 2010

A songwriting major at Berklee College of Music, Max Jury recently released a three song single titled “Rhythm of the Rain”. It features three tunes that are influenced by classic pop. Influences like Aimee Mann and Paul Simon come to mind pretty quickly.

All three songs are fluent and quite catchy and certainly have pleasant arrangements. The singing and playing is all in order, but the strength lies in the songwriting. The songs are constructed carefully and dilligently. Especially Change Your Mind For Me is an impressive tune.

This kid is still quite young, but already knows how to work a song. As the years will go by and he will learn more tricks of the trade I can definitely see him become a songwriter of name. And if he’s able to find some musicians with a similar vision on music he could very well form a very capable band that should have plenty of potential with a strong songwriting basis like Jury consistently shows on this early release.

check out two of the tunes on his myspace page:

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Derek Clegg – Here Comes Your Fate, Quick Duck
November 30, 2010

We gave Derek Clegg’s previous record (“KJC”) a favorable review. His ingenuity and the fact that he does pretty much everything by himself, from start to finish, is something that can only higher your respect for this talented musician.

On his new release, “Here Comes Your Fate, Quick Duck”, which is once again available for a ‘pay what you want’-fare (go here to listen to, download or buy the album), builds on the same principles as “KJC”. The indie/folk mix works with Clegg’s pleasant vocals.

The album starts with It’s Over which is a very accessible, mid-tempo song that eases you into this record. But right on the next track, The Best That I Can Be, Clegg shows us what he’s really made of. The arrangement of the song shows creativity and Clegg also isn’t afraid to change it up a little bit. He doesn’t use too many bells and whistles, he sticks to the song as it is.

On the next tune we hear a guest musician (Tim James). Don’t Care is one of my favorite tracks of “Here Comes Your Fate..” as it is a song that easily gets stuck in your head. The smooth progression of the song makes it a very good candidate to pursue radio play with. This song has a lot of potential, it sounds very current and could help Derek Clegg find that breakthrough he may be looking for. It certainly confirmed my opinion of his talent. Find It Someday features some interesting guitar stuff but isn’t the most memorable song on the album even though it’s more than solid. Only The Lonely (featuring Leon Harris) didn’t stick with me as much as the rest of the album as it kind of just slowly mutters on. The next song Say Something however is another potential radio release. The song is essentially uncomplicated, with which I mean that it doesn’t sound forced and that the song is quite basic which makes it accessible and quite catchy. And I find myself singing “say something, say something good…” for quite some time after I listened to the song.

The acoustic Stay or Go is another strong song. It took some time for me to really warm up to the song, but the song has a certain power to it that gets to you eventually. I imagine it is most likely Clegg’s vocals that draw you in, in the end. And it’s built up pretty nicely as well. Love This Place features Ben Ames and the song stands out as it’s quite different from the rest. But it definitely is one of the album’s highlights. Interesting guitar work and good vocals. It has the surfy, summery, groovy feel that singer/songwriters like Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz, Donavon Frankenreiter, etc. are known for, but at the same time it’s very round and melodic. Musically this is definitely one of the stronger songs on “Here Comes Your Fate…” The album closer The Slow Down has some electronic work to it and I haven’t been able to really warm up to it. I’m not sure if it really is, but at times it comes across a little messy or foggy to me. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but it hasn’t been able to convince me really.

All in all, “Here Comes Your Fate, Quick Duck” is a solid follow-up to “KJC”. It has some excellent songs (The Best That I Can Be, Don’t Care, Love This Place) that really show a lot of potential and may very well facilitate a chance for Clegg to become known more widely. His talent surely justifies that. He delivered yet another strong album that you can give a spin, or even download, for free. And if you like it, don’t hesitate to chip in a few coins to compensate the artist, so he can keep on presenting us with these little treats of music.

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Michelle Branch – Everything Comes And Goes [EP]
July 26, 2010

Michelle Branch came up fast with her blend of pop and rock n’ roll with some americana influences. She had great mainstream success in North America and the success even crossed into Europe and Australia. After a venture into country (The Wreckers), she is now returning to her solo work. “Everything Comes And Goes” was supposed to be a full-length album, but for now we’ll have to settle for 6 new songs.

The country/americana influences are much more present than they were in Branch’ early albums. But it’s not as much of a centerpiece as it was with The Wreckers. Single Sooner or Later even sounds like an updated version of Branch’ older work and will put smiles on the faces of many fans.

The EP kicks off with a gritty rock & roll song (with bluesy americana influences). Ready To Let You Go has some twang to it, but it also has an interesting edge and a driving rhythm. Instead of portraying the sweetness of her vocals, Michelle Branch chooses to show the powerful side of her vocals this time. Together with the single Sooner or Later this makes for an excellent start of this EP.

And then we reach one of the best songs of this year. I Want Tears is a hit single in the making. Relatable lyrical content, catchy chorus and it pretty much does what Ilse deLange has been doing in the Netherlands and Belgium for the past 5 years. Mixing pop with americana influences and mixing it into a powerful pop song that speaks to fans of different musical preferences. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the song that puts Michelle Branch right back at the top of the pop world, where she belongs.

The more laid-back Crazy Ride is a song that can grow on you. It’s not the strongest track on the EP, and the country influences (which I do not mind by the way, I actually believe it fits Branch’ vocals) are more prominent. But it has a certain quality that makes the song get a little better each time you hear it. Summertime is a solid song, but compared to the other songs on the record it’s slightly predictable at times. Closer, and title track, Everything Comes And Goes took me a couple listens to fully appreciate, but it’s a song that shows off strong vocals and a subtle arrangement that is both classy and musically sound.

With “Everything Comes And Goes” Michelle Branch shows that she is still going strong and that she still belongs at the top of the world of pop music. The record is consistently strong and all the songs can stand their own. Too bad it’s not a full-length where Branch would have more opportunities to show off more variety and creativity, but for a 6-song EP, this is an excellent release and one that deserves the credit. Michelle Branch, welcome back!

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Ernie Halter – Franklin & Vermont
June 29, 2010

This is not the first time Inner Ear Media mentions Ernie Halter. We spoke with the talented songsmith a few years ago and in our Myspace days we were sure to bring up his name on a regular basis.

Halter is a gifted songwriter and lyricist. In the competitive world of singer/songwriters there is a whole bunch of decent artists, some of them even quite good, but not very special. Halter manages to stand out. His sound is quite unique with his mix of soul, pop, rock, folk, and at times even a touch of rootsy music.

On his previous albums he already showcased talent, versatility, and depth (emotional, lyrical and harmonical) in his songs. And he continues to do this on a very high level on his new album “Franklin & Vermont”.

The melody of the opener Hard To Let A Good Love Go is catchy. The song is upbeat and tells a love story. But the cheer and sincerity in the song make it stand out. The acoustic Angel is a pretty neat track and typically Ernie Halter. The subtle guitar gives way for his excellent vocals to shine. Lead single Gone follows with a somewhat simple, but highly effective melody.

The real gems are the rhythmic Meant To Be, the funky Yes I Am and the beautiful duet with Amy Kuney that closes the album, This Beautiful Ache. All the songs feature strong songwriting, but the versatility, musicality and sincerity Halter shows on these tracks really shows why it’s a miracle that he hasn’t had a big breakthrough. Add to that the best cover of Coldplay’s In My Place you will ever hear, and you’ll understand exactly what I mean.

“Franklin & Vermont” is an album that’s even more solid and complete than Halter’s “Starting Over”, which already was a very strong record. This man keeps finding ways to complement himself as a songwriter and grow as a performer. The dedication and sincerity are admirable and the quality of the music on this album is the absolute top of singer/songwriter. If Halter can continue to evolve and grow, it’s hard to say where this will end. But a breakthrough is pending, sooner rather than later, if you ask me.

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Seven Mary Three – Backbooth
February 9, 2010

Seven Mary Three is one of those bands a lot of people actually heard of but yet isn’t really a big name. And that fits the band. The combination of rock & roll, rootsrock, pop and grunge leads to a very solid, recognizable sound that’s been the band’s signature for quite some years now. At times they reach out towards a little harder rock, at times they soften it up a little, but overall they have a wide range of honest, well written rock songs.

And after a string of strong, and a couple very strong, albums, it was time for an album with live & acoustic rendition of some of their best songs. The songs are good, very good. Seven Mary Three is not a band that keeps delving into cliché’s and actually writes clever, solid, and most of all, honest lyrics that really speak to the listener. The songs have a southern rock (Lynyrd Skynyrd) meets grunge (Pearl Jam) feel to them live, even lead singer Ross’ vocals have a Eddie Vedder hint in them at times. The beauty of it all though, is that it doesn’t sound like one or the other, it sounds very much like Seven Mary Three. You would just place this band in the middle of these genres, musically.

You can hear Seven Mary Three is an experienced and accomplished band that knows how to write, record and perform songs with sincerity and emotion. The music is real and on top of that it’s musically very, very sound. Strong songs like Oceans of Envy, Wait, Dreaming Against Me, Upside Down, Each Little Mystery & Walk With The Devil sound even better live than they did on record. And that’s quite an accomplishment as these songs all come from strong releases.

“Backbooth” is a great treat for the fans, but not just for the fans, it’s a great album for everyone who loves solid rock music. And even though the band didn’t put their biggest hit (Cumbersome) on the album, there really isn’t anything wrong with this album. Seven Mary Three is one of the better rock bands out there, both in the recording studio and on the stage. And “Backbooth” is a testimony of that.

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Pegi Young – Foul Deeds
June 21, 2010

Pegi Young may not be as well-known as her husband Neil Young, but just like him, she has a talent for writing and performing good music. “Foul Deeds” offers a mix of original songs and well-chosen cover songs.

The album opens with a Will Jennings cover, Pleasing To Me. Young’s vocals have a somewhat gravely, lived-through characteristic that fit this song very well. And in a matter of speaking, that might just be one of Young’s best qualities. She knows exactly what to do vocally to bring out the best parts of the songs.

Other covers on the album are Lucinda Williams’ Side of the Road (which I would definitely mark as a highlight, in the way Young brings these lyrics to life), a brilliant rendition of Devendra Banhart’s Body Breaks as well as Blue Sunday, which was penned by Bill Boatman.

And while Pegi Young has a remarkable way of making these songs sound like they are her own, putting her own heart and soul into them, the originals don’t get snowed under. Especially title track Foul Deeds, a swaying country/folk song, is intriguing and convincing. Starting Over is a little more of a folk & roll song which sounds pleasant but doesn’t highlight Young’s strongest points. Who Knew is a little more raw and gritty, which gives Young the opportunity to lay more character in her song and with that she instantly makes this song one of the better tracks on the album. But personally I think Travelling may be the most impressive song on the album. It is not the most accessible song as it’s  quite somber and maybe even reticent. But precisely because of that, the song is presented in just the right way.

“Foul Deeds” is an album that shows a confident singer and a solid songwriter. While Young’s renditions of the cover songs were very, very strong, I think it would be good to showcase more of her own work on a future release. Young knows very well what she can and cannot do and therefore knows how to play to her strengths. If she continues that trend the progression in her music and songwriting will only continue to grow.

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Ike Reilly – Hard Luck Stories
February 16, 2010

Ike Reilly’s been around releasing records since the early 90s, but surprisingly he’s still a relatively unknown artist. His contemporary rock & roll is creative, relevant and performed with honesty and passion.

With lyrics that touch current, relevant subjects like international relations, war and peace, economy, and much, much more, and essentially a pretty classic approach in delivering that message, Reilly is heading a new generation of rock & roll artists that could eventually be the Dylans, Fogertys, MacGowens, Cash’s of today.

On “Hard Luck Stories” he connects with the man on the street, the man in the pub, the normal, working man. And what Reilly does extremely well is to match the agression and intensity on the one side, and the comfort and compassion on the other side in words and music alike.

“Hard Luck Stories” starts off with a jangly, 60s-influenced rock & roll song called Morning Glory. The somewhat bluesy undertone in the song is classic, just classic.  The more uptempo Girls In The Backroom is like a modern version of The Pogues and brilliant songs like The War On Terror & The Drugs and Sheet Metal Moon are filled with subtleties, both musically and lyrically.

The album is well balanced between more uptempo rockers and mid-tempo bluesrockers, as well as the occasional slowed down anthem or ballad. Best example of the slower songs is Flowers On Down on which this maestro is channeling a little Dylan. And you know what, Ike Reilly does it at least just as well.

Musically and lyrically “Hard Luck Stories” ranks very high in the list of albums released in 2010. While it has obvious influences from the 60s and 70s it still sounds current and even refreshing and creative. Reilly knows how to bring out the best of himself musically and therefore “Hard Luck Stories” has become a very strong and complete album that shows an experienced songwriter and musician playing with guts, sincerity and passion.

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