Posts Tagged ‘piano’

Sara Jackson-Holman – When You Dream
May 18, 2010

While “When You Dream” is only a debut album, Sara Jackson-Holman immediately leaves a mark. There are certainly obvious influences from Irish and British contemporaries (Damien Rice, Norah Jones, Lily Allen) but Jackson-Holman manages not to sound like them, just similar.

With creative songwriting and outstanding vocal athleticism she manages to go in many directions without straying too far from the core of what she’s about musically. From the opener Come Back To Me she has a sort of playful sense in her vocals that works like a worm on a hook. And by the time you hear the first track’s last note it has reeled you in.

Lead single Into The Blue (which you may have heard on ABC’s ‘Castle’) is a rich and well-written piano song that switches in intensity. The piano melody is lush and recognizable and Jackson-Holman’s vocals are full of emotion. And through the album she keeps switching between more emotionally invested songs (the Damien Rice-like When You Dream, the serene California Gold Rush and the honest Train Ride.) and songs that come off more quirky like Cellophane or Let Me In.

I’ve heard from others that they feel her vocals aren’t always strong enough to carry the weight of the songs but I disagree completely. Sara Jackson-Holman has a distinct vocal sound but she can twist it in so many different directions that it can, in no way, be seen as weak. In fact, I think she’s a very gifted vocalist and on top of that she’s a good pianist. Making use of classical compositions and classical influences in her piano playing and song arrangements she is able to connect flavors from the past with a current sound that is not just of a high standard but also very exciting.

“When You Dream” is a remarkable debut album and if her sudden success is any indication, Sara Jackson-Holman is going to be a household name faster than you can pronounce it. This is good stuff. Very 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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Amy Petty – House of Doors
November 1, 2010

You may remember Amy Petty from her previous album “Mystery Keeps You”. A rare discovery who was able to combine the storytelling with true musicianship, with a conviction and sincerity that you don’t see all that often anymore these days.

She shows that same quality on her new release “House of Doors”. With an even better production than the predecessor and excellent contributions from guest and session musicians, Petty creates a perfect situation to deliver a follow-up that can deliver on the promises she made on her last release.

Right from the start you can hear the quality in the music and with Petty’s ability to vary between powerful, fragile and sentimental vocals which she uses to accentuate her more than excellent lyrics, you can hear a very complete singer/songwriter.

Songs like Amelia are sung and played so well that you actually start to relate to the character of the song. Other highlights like Skeleton Key, Sketches of Plans and Sleepwalking To Dreaming show you how remarkable it is that this artist hasn’t yet been discovered by a much wider audience. The way Amy Petty combines emotion, sincerity, and poetic lyricism, she hits the essence of songwriting. That’s exactly why her songs can become so powerful.

And songs like Get Over It, Spinning Plates and You Make Me Free have a current feel that would have a real shot on the radio. So in that aspect there is a real chance that the people may actually hear about this talented musician. Because if there’s any justice in this world, Amy Petty is on the verge of breaking through. “Mystery Keeps You” may have been a very good and very promising album, but on “House of Doors”, Petty steps it up a few more notches and I’m not exaggerating when I say that there aren’t many in the genre that can meet the same standard that Amy Petty does. “House of Doors” came in a little late to compete for album of the year, but it will most definitely carry over into the 2011 competition. It is just that good!

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Long Story Short – What A Scene
December 21, 2010

Recently I was approached by Long Story Short and asked if I wanted to review their upcoming debut album “What A Scene”. Naturally I responded with a certain yes. I’m always up to listen to new music and see what it has to offer.

Long Story Short is Daniel Luka and Nicky James. And while listening to the album I got the impression that these two complement each other very well. The songs have a good drive and often recognizable hooks and riffs that make the songs accessible for the general audience.

“What A Scene” kicks off with a slightly cynical powerpop song (Fall Awake). Its energy and attitude certainly set the mood for the album. The lead single Caved In feeds off that energy and carries on in a similar fashion. The combination of these two songs at the start of the album immediately gets the listeners attention.

Something that I found remarkable is the growth that Luka shows as a vocalist. I’ve known him for some time and heard some recordings of him doing covers and originals, on which he usually did a decent job, but the level and consistency he shows on this album is ten steps higher.

Especially combined with the keys provided by James and their compatibility as musicians they find a way to create music that sounds familiar and fresh at the same time. The songs are often catchy and always relatable. In essence “What A Scene” is a rock album, but Long Story Short still manages to show they can vary within the genre. There are some uptempo rock and powerpop songs like the first two tracks and the album highlight The Truth Hurts, which shows these guys have some excellent songwriting skills. But there are also quieter and sentimental songs like the beautiful What Mattered Most, the gentle Forever and album closer Eternal Smile.

The overall sound is very organic and you can hear different influences in the music, ranging from different genres and eras, which is probably why the songs have a recognizable and familiar sound to them. But because Long Story Short manages to keep the songs close to themselves and execute the songs convincingly it sounds fresh and new. With catchy songs and relatable lyrics many of the songs show radio and tv potential and I wouldn’t be surprised if the band chooses to work that angle.

For a debut, this is a more than solid effort. Highlights are Fall Awake, The Truth Hurts, What Mattered Most and Eternal Smile. Especially when I look at the songwriting aspect, these songs stick out. But I would encourage you to listen to the album all the way through as it has a very natural progression and while there are some little things I could point out here and there, Long Story Short shows a consistent quality throughout the whole release. Seeing where this band comes from and what they managed to accomplish in a relatively short period of time is remarkable and leads me to believe that “What A Scene” is only the tip of the iceberg. Long Story Short is a band that should not slip through the cracks. They’re too promising for that.

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Charlie Dée – Husbands And Wives
September 3, 2010

The third official studio album by Dutch singer/songwriter Charlie Dée is called “Husbands And Wives”. Her two previous releases as well as her tribute to Joni Mitchell already showed a considerable talent, both in writing and performing songs and especially in bringing across the honest emotion of music and words, regardless if the songs were her own or not.

Her debut was good, very good even, but there was still room to grow. Her sophomore album may have missed out on mainstream attention a little bit, but some of the songs on that album were very, very memorable.

And on “Husbands And Wives”, memorable can be seen as the keyword. From the first note to the last this music captivates you. Every word Dée sings is a word you can believe in. I often speak of the connection between music and emotion and that basically the two are supposed to become one. Many musicians, singer/songwriters in particular, try to achieve this, but only rare talents manage to achieve this in a way that doesn’t sound forced or sometimes even cheesy. On “Husbands And Wives”, Charlie Dée reaches that high level of honest musicality that makes you want to really listen to the songs as the songs get to you, and more often than not they can really stir something inside you. The music and the words, together, tell a story that takes you on an emotional journey.

Dée delves from personal experience and perspective when writing songs, like most great songwriters do. It takes courage to show so much of oneself, to lay bare your feelings and share them with the world. But precisely that is the reason why these songs are able to reach such a high level. They don’t just come off honest, they are honest. The emotions you hear in the music and read in the words are real and that is why you can connect to this album in a way you can only connect to a small number of albums.

Just listen to songs like the dark and fragile Have It All or the the edgy (and still quite catchy) Leaving Me or the gentle Kiss Me. The enchanting Weep For Me and the quirky Mouse In My Kitchen add to the diversity of the album without stretching it too far. The songs together make an actual album, not just a collection of songs. “Husbands And Wives” is by no means a light album, it’s an album that requires attention but once it has your attention you will stick with it and it won’t let you go until the album stops playing after the beautiful and epic closer Fragile Heart.

I’m wildly enthusiastic about this latest Charlie Dée album and I recommend it to anyone who likes to listen to honest and powerful singer/songwriter music. If you want music you can feel, music you can believe in, then this is right up your alley. With strong arrangements, powerful (and sometimes fragile) vocals and a personal connection, Charlie Dée speaks and sings from the heart on her latest release. “Husbands And Wives” is easily one of the top singer/songwriter releases of the past year.

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Ryan Star – 11:59
August 3, 2010

Ryan Star may sound as a newcomer to the music scene to you, but that’s far from true. Playing in several bands before coming a solo outfit, Star released an album in 2005, participated in the reality show ‘Rock Star: Supernova’ on which he managed to get national attention and even recorded a live album with the band from the show.

His career obviously got a boost out of that experience and his song Brand New Day was chosen as the lead tune for the highly successful TV show ‘Lie To Me’. In 2009, Star released a short EP containing four songs from his upcoming album and later on he released his first single off “11:59”, called Breathe.

After several delays, “11:59” finally saw the light and with a sold out release show, Star managed to get this thing going right away. But lets take a closer look to the songs on the album. Does Star manage to stand out, is he able to meet up with his peers and what is it that makes this artist so interesting to the masses.

“11:59” is a varied and stable modern rock album that has a good balance between more outspoken rock & roll and softer ballads. It starts off with the infectious Brand New Day which was already used in the TV show ‘Lie To Me’. It’s a tune that people recognize and therefore they can get right into this album. The angsty, uptempo Right Now keeps the mystery and Star shows he’s capable of building up tension in a song and working to a climax.

Last Train Home and Breathe are emotional modern rock anthems and so is the U2-esque This Could Be The Year. Maybe you need to throw in a touch of Depeche Mode. The intensity and musicality in these songs shows Star is a gifted new star on the front how can vary in intensity, depth and has quite a vocal range and more importantly, excellent vocal control.

With the catchy Unbreak and forward moving Start A Fire, Star produces two possible singles for rock radio. The songs stick with you and thankfully they do not sound like another version of the songs we hear on the radio already. And with the piano song Losing Your Memory, but even more with the album closer 11:59, Star shows he’s not done yet. Losing Your Memory is a change of pace but on 11:59, perhaps Star’s best song on this new album, this young man shows he’s here to stay. The vocal control, the power and the conviction is there.

“11:59” is a strong album, and sure, there are a couple things Star could improve on. But already, he is a varied, capable and intelligent young musician and it seems he has a bright future ahead of him. It took him 5 years since his last studio album, but with the success this album is likely to bring him, I doubt the fans will have to wait that long again. “11:59”, a little surprisingly, is one of the more balanced and interesting modern rock albums of this year.

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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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Spoon – Transference
January 18, 2010

Spoon changes directions on “Transference”. The directness and polished beauty from “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” is traded in for a more complex, but clever, rough-around-the-edges kind of indierock. It doesn’t heavily rely on pop hooks, catchy riffs or insistent grooves, though there is some of that throughout the record. No, the album delves more into a corner that draws in the fans because they are intrigued by the deeper layers and the mysterious sounding music.

“Transference” is a strong record, but it will not get the same commercial success as its predecessor. The Mystery Zone has a way of nestling itself in your head. It doesn’t really stick with you right away, but a few hours after you listened to the record you seem to suddenly recall the track. The balladry on the piano song Goodnight Laura is drenched in emotion and sensitivity, and Trouble Comes Running has a kind of groovy 60s rock sound to it. These are probably some of the standout songs on the album.

But I think it’s best to listen to this album in its entirety. See it as an album rather than a combination of songs. The album has a natural order, and feels organic, despite its complex and layered nature. And musically it is air tight. Spoon is a good band, an excellent band even, and while “Transference” might not be their most accessible album, and maybe not even their best album, it still is an effort of the highest quality. Opening up to this album may not be real easy, but in the end the effort you put into it is more than worth it.

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Goldfrapp – Head First
March 19, 2010

Goldfrapp made a little side step into a more folky, breezy arena with “The Seventh Tree” but with their new album “Head First” they are reinventing themselves. They did synthpop before, but this new album is nothing like their older work. It starts of with the dancefloor single Rocket which will be in my head for another couple of weeks.

The whole first half album is filled with clever beats, driving synths and underlying melodies that may just have their roots in 80s pop music. Apart from the excellent opening track, the ABBA-influenced Alive would instantly win them the Eurovision Songfestival. And also on the title track Goldfrapp seems to channel a little ABBA. But enough with the ABBA mentions. Goldfrapp defines themselves musically. And you can really hear that on excellent tracks like Hunt (sounds more mysterious, and in a strange way seductive) and the surprisingly persistent I Wanna Life.

I’m not known for my love for synthpop, even though I really do enjoy it from time to time, as long as it’s done right. And you can’t do it much more right than Goldfrapp on “Head First”. It’s consistent, it’s strong and the album really is a tribute to pop music. Not in the least to the music on the album itself.

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Hanson – Shout It Out
June 8, 2010

I used to be one of those people who just laughed when you were talking about Hanson, thinking you were a little naive. By now I know that I was the one who was naive, because even though the band can sound way overpolished and like a playful, middle-of-the-road pop band on CD, your opinion of this band completely changes when you hear them live, where their mix of rootsy songs, rock & roll and alternative pop gets a raw edge and combined with their endless enthusiasm and heart for the music makes it an experience worth having.

Over the years, Hanson released a number of albums, that, if you look past the production and mixing, have some excellent songs. “Underneath” may not feel much like an album, but it has some excellent pop songs. “This Time Around” is still the crown on their work if you ask me and “The Walk” (their previous full-length) and “Middle of Nowhere” are also pretty strong albums. On those albums they have a good balance between upbeat, enthusiastic pop songs and sweet (sometimes a little bit too, though) ballads. So overall it’s a band that has plenty of musical talent and may not always be recognized for it. But the criticism isn’t completely unfounded. The band does tend to get a little repetitive at times and you could say that they weren’t really growing up musically. But to me, it felt that the band had more of a mature sound on “The Walk”, which was refreshing and it helped the album to feel like an album instead of a collection of songs. So this made me very curious to check out their 2010 release, “Shout It Out”.

First of all, the title of the album was chosen perfectly. Because this album is ambitious and more extravert than the band’s previous albums. Or at least, it seems that was the intention. It’s a commendable approach and the songs are all very solid and many of them have a kind of danceable groove or swing to it. In a way the band hasn’t really done before. But while the songwriting is pretty good musically, the lyrics don’t always stand out (though I recognize the band has always been stronger in writing songs with a sound that’s catchy and has a strong sense of pop sensibility than the actual lyrics that seem to be more focused on a younger audience). But what I’m missing most is the passion and enthusiasm that was often very obvious in the band’s previous work. I have a feeling it’s still there, but on most of the songs it doesn’t really show. Whether it’s the use of synths, the production/mixing, or something else, I’m not quite sure, but I think it’s a bit of a missed chance. On a few of the songs it comes out better (Carry You There, Give A Little, Musical Ride) and those are instantly some of the better songs. Also the (almost) funky radio hopeful Make It Out Alive is a very good song, probably tied with Musical Ride for the best song on the album.

I realize I’ve been kind of critical in reviewing “Shout It Out” but by no means do I think this is a bad album. It’s actually a remarkably solid album. And with songs like Waiting For This, Make It Out Alive, These Walls and Musical Ride there are a couple of really good songs on there even. But there are also a good number of songs on this album that aren’t bad at all, but not memorable either. Lead single Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’ is fun for the first two times, but it doesn’t really stick with you too long. Carry You There is a little cliché, but it comes off honest, so I’d rank that a little higher, but songs like Use Me Up and Me Myself And I (the excellent vocal harmonies lift this one up though!) are a little bland even.

So overall I’d probably give this album 3 out of 5 stars. It’s a good, solid album, but it’s not as memorable as it could have been. I bet the songs come across much, much better live and I would encourage you to catch a show if Hanson ends up playing near you, but if you want to listen to Hanson in top form, I’d recommend “This Time Around” or “The Walk” instead of “Shout It Out”. Hanson tried to subtly change directions a little, and I can respect, even admire, that. Next time, maybe they can capture more of their live vibe on the album as it would have made this album much stronger as a whole.

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