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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Rhett Repko - Thnx For The Ride (2018)

Written by Wendy Owens, posted by blog admin

Rhett Repko’s new seven song EP Thnx For The Ride capped an active 2017 for this impressive musician, writer, and performer. His previous EP release About Last Night occupies a much clearer singer/songwriter niche than the new release, but he sustains the same level of excellence that’s defined his work from the outset with this new release while taking his music in a distinctly different than before. Thnx For The Ride is an outright rock and roll album – there’s some acoustic guitar present with the release, but there’s no question that electric guitar dominates these songs and Repko proves to be credible in that mold. He has an outstanding band accompanying him on this seven track journey. Lead guitarist Stefan Heuer, bassist Dan Gallagher, and drummer Tom Bryant is a crack musical unit who are never flashy without cause and give Repko’s songwriting the added spark it deserves.

The EP opener and title song “Thnx for the Ride” announces the collection’s intentions. Repko clearly wanted a gripping, immediate sound and this tune doesn’t disappoint as “Thx for the Ride” features shake you by the lapels rock thunder along with some deft shifts in time signature and tempo the band flawlessly pull off. “Please Don’t Laugh” is a little closer to straight forward rock than the opener, but there’s the same high degree of musicianship pushing things forward that distinguishes the title number. Repko’s vocal here stands out as one of the best on the EP and he mixes emotive phrasing with high energy in a way ideally suited for these songs.

A songwriting high point arrives with the track “It Ain’t Coming From You”, and Repko fans the caustic flame of heartache burning inside this song with an impassioned singing performance. Guitarist Stefan Heuer contributes some important harmony vocals throughout Thnx For The Ride, never vying with Repko for supremacy in the mix, but rather strengthening his already fine delivery. The song is musically compelling, as well, particularly during its surprising second half. “And I Told Her So” is probably Stefan Heuer’s finest moment as a guitar player on this EP and his lead work late in the song immeasurably adds to its final impact. The lyrics are exceptional, once again, without ever overreaching and Repko’s vocal ranks with the earlier “Please Don’t Laugh” as one of his best moments on Thnx For The Ride.

The brisk pacing of “Learn Your Name” allows for a number of stuttering tempo changes, yet the song never goes astray and has genuine commercial appeal to go along with its unimpeachable rock spirit. The finale “Make Me Right” is a fiery curtain for the EP and serves as a musical exclamation point for everything that’s preceded it. Rhett Repko’s written and recorded quite an explosive little rock release with Thnx For The Ride and it’s intriguing to wonder where his Muse might lead him from here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Joshua Ketchmark - Under Plastic Stars (2017)

Written by Drew East, posted by blog admin

Being a reviewer is really a dream job.  You get to discover new music that you’ve missed and sometimes music from established artists that you couldn’t catch either.  There’s so much stuff out there with the ease of home-recording taking over the market that you’re bound to forget to check out something.  Reviewers on the other hand have it easy and being one has led me to the music of Joshua Ketchmark and his 12th release Under Plastic Stars.  

The gravel path opener “We Were Everything” sets the bar at a high quality level from the very beginning.  Acoustic guitars mingle with Ketchmark’s sturdy voice as the song slowly picks up speed; allowing room for a few deep bass grooves and tapping, perhaps brush-played drums that keep the music always moving forward.  “Every Mystery” reduces the atmospheric quality to a warm simmer nearly solely fronted by Ketchmark’s gleaming acoustic guitar work, trippy organ playing, countrified rhythms and full-throat vocals that really hit the melody mark.  Taking things down a dirtier, danker alleyway “Let It Rain” goes for a downtempo, rhythm n’ blues feel with more focus provided on the bass guitar and piano than just simple guitar-centered shucking and jiving.  The album’s first run ends with a mesmerizing ballad, “Lucky at Leavin’” that sees Joshua and a female vocalist giving a touching update on the Jones/Wynette classic harmony vocals.  

Picking up the pace, “Hereafter” brings back the rhythm section alongside some twangy acoustic guitars and some summer-baked slide licks for a Mason Dixon sweetened ballad that acts as the perfect foil to the buzzing, rock n’ roll-y “Get Out Alive.”  “Get out Alive” features some of the album’s only plugged in guitars and it’s a jam that would sure to bring a smoky club audience to their feet and cheering for the act so gracious enough to deliver it.  “Saturday Night” stays uptempo but retains a thoughtful smolder in its hickory steamed guitar melodies, plaintive rhythms and heartfelt vocals that really dig under the skin and stick with you long after the album stops playing.  “Harm’s Way” is another slice of delicious Carolina pie cut from folk/country cloth and mainly featuring Josh and his guitar howling away into the night.  The glory bound “Sweet Surrender” utilizes piano to get its main point across while the rhythm section jostles Ketchmark’s vibrant guitar into some steady groove, although things never really take off on a rock n’ roll path again over the course of the record.  “17” implants another stunning male/female duet into a livelier more rocking piece than the prior contemplation of “Lucky at Leavin’” while the closing duo of “Losing Control” and “The Great Unknown” end the album on a folk-country dirt road.  

Everything about Under Plastic Stars is a musical home run; a true taste of musical Americana that’s as friendly and familiar is a Fourth of July cookout.  This release is a modern classic of singer/songwriter chops with plenty of intricacies and variety woven into the aural fabric of Ketchmark’s chosen sound.  If you like your music mostly acoustic based but unafraid of experimentation and great vocalizing, then this release is most certainly worth your time!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Black Bluebirds - Like Blood for Music (2017)

Written by Larry Robertson, posted by blog admin

Black Bluebird’s announces their potential in a big way with their release Like Blood for Music, a powerful ten song collection. The power trio comes from a traditional hub for inventive music, Minneapolis, and is joined by a couple of talented contributors to help this release come off as one of the more impressive in recent memory – either on the mainstream or indie scene. Offering themselves up as a sort of genre hybrid, melding elements of pop with darker overtones, including dissonant edges shaping their music, Black Bluebirds provides listeners with a selection of tunes defying description while still striking familiar chords. It’s invigorating work reassuring those with flagging faith in modern music that there are artists and bands still moving and pushing the boundaries of what the art form can provide us in the modern world. It’s needed more desperately than ever before.

The quasi-metal stomp of “Love Kills Slowly” opens the album with a hammer blow and it’s further enhanced by snatches of coherent, melodic lead guitar. Lead vocalist and lyricist Daniel Fiskum has an unusual voice, not a typical hard rock belter by far, but second vocalist Jessica Rasche functions as a more than effective counterpoint for his idiosyncratic approach. The fatalistic tone of the song is well in keeping with the album’s intense, very adult themes. The second track “Strange Attractor” opens with a keyboard blast courtesy of Fiskum before moving into a more dynamically diverse offering than we heard with the opener. Rasche doesn’t have the same presence in this song as she did with the opener, but makes her talent felt on the track nonetheless. Guitarist Simon Husbands offers the same gripping guitar work we heard with the opener, but it never risks cliché. 
An acoustic flourish opens “Life in White” and they couple it with a dash of the epic well in keeping with their devotion to cinematic overtones. The lyrical side of the song features some incisive writing from Fiskum without ever risking any of the aforementioned clichés so often dooming lesser talents. Drummer Chad Helmonds is a standout on the track “House of No More Dreams” and teams with Husbands to make a powerful musical statement between the two men.

There’s a musically lighter touch on the track “Hole in the Day”, near balladic, and the different vocal feel is an exciting change from the earlier tunes without ever sounding out of place. Like Blood for Music’s second to last tune “My Eyes Were Closed” opens with its chorus and has a near orchestral vibe imbuing it with a big screen feel never betraying their clearly muscular bearing. The finale “Legendary” mixes keyboards and the band’s traditional rock leanings in a charged closer with Fiskum’s voice leading the way in a heartfelt way. There is no question blood carries a lot of this band’s music because there’s commitment behind every tune. Anyone who loves committed music will respond to this album.  

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Rejectionist Front - Evolve (2017)

Written by Frank McClure, posted by blog admin

Fronted by politically engaged and diverse vocalist/songwriter Michael Perlman, Rejectionist Front stands as one of the more powerful rock bands with a social consciousness working in popular music today. Their second studio album Evolve expands upon the possibilities listeners encountered with their breathtaking debut thanks to musicianship and songwriting that’s worked mightily to incorporate more colors into its artistic spectrum. Many of their abiding musical strengths are in more evidence than ever with this twelve song collection – guitarist Lincoln Prout proves he’s one of the underrated six string talents hovering near prominence today and deserves to be mentioned among the most talented of his peers while the rhythm section of Tony Tino and Dave Dawson provide meaty yet fleet-footed support for the band’s performances. The sophomore jinx is a real phenomenon for bands and artists, but it’s one that Rejectionist Front dodges with room to spare.

“Rise”, Evolve’s first tune, is a song of utter confidence. Rejectionist Front doesn’t make a single misstep for their existing fans or newcomers alike and whips up a sound and design for the song well balanced between prime Queensryche or Dream Theater neo prog-metal/hard rock and a fluid, aggressive modern edge brimming over with attitude. “All I Am” moves away from the sleek strands of prog metal we heard in the opener into a more rough and tumble classic hard rock sound delivered with a biting modern sound. The opener has a strong presence of harmony and backing vocals, like many songs on Evolve, but the second track’s relative lack of that device proves the band effectively mixes things up. “Savior” is another of the album’s songs that are fiercely individual yet seem ideally tailored for modern hard rock radio thanks to its thunderous salvos and near epic sweep. Lincoln Prout’s penchant for bringing strong melodies to bear alongside his hard-charging riffing makes for a potent mix here as elsewhere.

Much of Evolve is both barrels blazing, but “All Is The Same” stands as an example of Rejectionist Front tempering their attack for a more thoughtful performance. There’s always a storm of passion brewing just beneath the surface of everything the band writes and it explodes once again on the song “Reclaim”. The aforementioned fierce individuality distinguishing this song is reminiscent of the first song, as are its mild anthemic elements, and one of the album’s single releases, “Flush”, hits a home run along similar lines. The album’s finale “Inside of Me” is another more aurally considered moment for Rejectionist Front and brings all of Perlman’s surveying of the modern landscape back to a personal grounding that makes this a more powerful experience. Evolve is a more than impressive follow up to the band’s debut; it advances Rejectionist Front’s march into the future with a single breathtaking leap forward.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Chris Murphy - Water Under the Bridge (2017)

Written by Daniel Boyer, posted by blog admin

The Cajun cooked instrumentals and blues trappings of California-based Chris Murphy and the Blind Blake Blues Band come storming to life on their debut full-length Water Under the Bridge.  At the heart of the hurricane stands Murphy; violinist, fiddler, songwriter and bandleader.  The man practically eats, sleeps and breathes a style/class that you just don’t find with modern music.  There’s nothing retro about the 14 songs on offer here, on the contrary this is a grooving record with an authentically old soul on which you’ll hear bluegrass, blues, jazz, rock, folk, country, r & b and soul.  Each of these musical ideals are distinctly felt and it’s all wrapped up with a big band mindset that ruled the 30s to the early 60s, especially. 

Not only does Murphy play the role of multi-instrumentalist and lead vocalist but he’s also the sole composer of every tune contained on Water under the Bridge.  Additionally, alongside co-producer/mixer Joshua Cutsinger, Chris also grabs another production credit (he’s collaborated and produced with everyone from Steve Hodges and Larry Taylor of Tom Waits’ Band to punk legends Mike Watt and John Doe of punk legends The Minutemen and X, respectively.  Obviously, Murphy recognizes the talent and merit in many different types of music and he’s not afraid to include this wide breadth in his very own recordings. 

Each tune on Water Under the Bridge has a unique tasting flavor and literally walls upon walls of down-home instrumentation with the strings remaining a focal point.  In many ways this release brings the Phil Spector “Wall of Sound” to energetic rural music that is literally a guidebook of every classic American music genre known to man.  Raucous ragtime jazz piano, countrified acoustics, a rockabilly rhythm set-up, fireball fiddle and swinging violins color tracks like opener “Moveable Feast,” the deliberately ethnic-kissed neoclassical guitars of “My Spanish Lover,” 1940s jazz club swagger of “Dog Ear Blues” and the title track all feel quite congruent with Murphy’s vision of these disparate styles of music.  This is just one turns Water Under the Bridge takes though.    

Then you’ve got the more midpaced, from the gut blues numbers that allow for some hard-edged yet clean riffing, a choice featured performance from the upright bass, cool collected tempos and Chris’ stellar work on the violins, fiddles and acoustics.  The stellar “Joan Crawford Dances the Charleston,” the smoldering downbeat of “Riverboat Blues,” the crunchy and rowdy prowler “Tomcat Blues” which illustrates some serious Hank Williams Sr. chops from the sizzling rockabilly/country musical split right down to the ornery lyrics and the hardliner grooves of “Tarbox Blues” and “Middleweight Champion” are all choice cuts utilizing the aforementioned rockabilly blues handbook.  You also get some Bill Monroe minded, blue-collar bluegrass that positively goes for broke during the high-speed chase of “Table for Two,” “The Lemon Rag” as well as the above-named title track’s hybridization of several styles (bluegrass being a major theme) and “Benzedrine Shuffle’s” sloth-ier realization of the sound.  The album caps off with a hypnotic soundtrack piece of barebones beat-keeping (a floor tom or someone stomping) and sunburnt violin called “Cheer up Mickey” that would be at home in a Clint Eastwood western’s film score.   

Chris Murphy and his merry men can do it all in terms of chops, ability and performance.  They make this stuff look easy on Water Under the Bridge and each track is one that you’re going to want to revisit over and over again to continue to catch of all the little nuances the band throw into their playing, production and arranging.  These cats have a mastery of old school jamming capabilities and they make every inch of every style their own on Water Under the Bridge.