Music Review: Girlyman – Supernova

Hey there!

Hope. Without it, the world falls apart around you. With it, anything is possible. Even beating leukemia. And where better to find it than between harmonies woven by friendship and perseverance.

Girlyman weaves those harmonies into their folk-pop synthesis with aplomb. A quartet, the band is made up of Doris Muramatsu, Nate Borofsky, Tylan Greenstein, and now former Po’ Girl drummer JJ Jones compose emotion-infused songs about the trials and tribulations of life without letting it slip into the dark. The original trio (Muramatsu, Borofsky, and Greenstein) have been together a decade, adding drummer Jones in 2009, but they sound like they’ve been together a lifetime. And I’m sure the time between being diagnosed with leukemia and remission seemed like more than a lifetime for Muramatsu, but it led to the writing of the thirteen songs on Supernova – songs with themes of uncertainty, growth, and hope echoing the different phases of the journey for Doris and the rest of the band as they too used the experience to grow, change, and move on with life.

Supernova holds together as it orbits the sadness and pain of healing, change, and an indomitable spirit. The title track, even in its hopeful melodies, lyrically hits me like Dylan Thomas’Do not go gentle into that good night” struggling against the “dying of the light” – as Borofsky’s words say so eloquently “So if you and I are all that’s left / in a universe sad and bereft / Should I smile and say it’s for the best / Or should I shout?” Shout!! Don’t give up!

That said, I’ve never heard any pop song work in so many astronomical terms and concepts – from the Kuiper Belt to “a suborbital parade” of cosmic gases and dust. All while the quartet sing these beautiful lyrics with a bare guitar and cello backing them.

Though I think the guitar and harmony approach seems to be their bread and butter, they also managed to surprise me with songs like “No Matter What I Do.” It’s about falling in love and wondering how to go on… “I keep it all locked inside my chest / Like feeling like shit is for the best / Like feeling the earth still turn no matter what I do…” Been there, done that. Sometimes love makes us realize sometimes that we’ve been treading water we don’t know how to leave the pool. But it’s the delivery that caught my ear with guitar, banjo, piano, and drums that really gives it a ’60s pop feel – full of minor chords and a carnival atmosphere.

These songs are glimpses into that introspective state we all will face when we come to terms with our mortality or even just the simple beginnings and ends that happen every day. Those changes are difficult even in the best of circumstances and it’s how we deal with them that shows our true nature. That Girlyman has chosen to share these private moments with their words, harmonies, and melodies is a true gift.

For more about Girlyman, check out their website and look for Supernova wherever you buy your digital music. CDs will be available on June 19th.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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Music Review: Peter Mulvey – The Good Stuff

Hey there…

What is it about Peter Mulvey’s voice? Some gravelly, deep quality that makes him not only persuasive and honest but almost addictive? Something about the way he composes his arrangements or writes his lyrics? The serious fun it seems he has playing every song? I don’t honestly know.

But every time Mulvey releases an album, I have to listen. Ever since Notes from Elsewhere, I have been a fan. Notes is one of those albums that rises to the top of my collection more often than I might want to admit and several tracks from Letters From a Flying Machine are also working their way up – especially the honesty of some of the letters he reads, like “Vlad the Astrophysicist”!

So what is his latest album like? The Good Stuff takes a bunch of songs I have never heard before (and a few I have) and puts a Mulvey spin on them in that magical way only he can. Though I have to admit the first couple of times I listened to the album in the car I wasn’t sure I liked it. It might just be the horrible speakers in the car however, since I listened to it about three times on my iPad on a plane a couple of weeks ago and it grew on me each time.

Why has it grown on me? This CD collects the work of a disparate group of songwriters and unifies it with Peter’s voice… Songwriters such as Willie Nelson (“Are You Sure?”), Chris Smithers (“Time to Spend”), Tom Waits (“Green Grass”), Duke Ellington (“Mood Indigo”), Thelonious Monk (“Ruby My dear”) and others are represented. Recorded over three days in Connecticut, the album features Mulvey with upright bassist Paul Kochanski, violinist Randy Sabien, guitarist David Goodrich, and drummer Jason Smith, with guest vocalist Kris Delmhorst on “Are You Sure?” Each track offers a simple, heartfelt rendition of a classic.

Tracks like “Everybody Knows” groove along telling stories about infidelity and other injustices… “Everybody knows that you’ve been faithful / give a night or two / Everybody knows you’ve been discreet / but there were so many people you just had to meet / without your clothes…” Written by Leonard Cohen, this is a song about the wrongs in the world that everyone accepts and just lives with. Though not cheery, Mulvey lends it a certain gravitas with a simple arrangement and simple delivery.

One of my favorites on the album has to be “Are You Sure?” with the duet between Mulvey and Delmhorst. It reminds me of a different era of music-making. Simple harmonies, well sung, without the over-engineered instrumentals – just a couple of guitars, a snare, and a violin. There’s almost a “drunk” sound to the violin the longer the song goes along, as the singers try to convince a barfly it’s time to leave the bar. Again, the honesty comes through not just in the lyrics but in the delivery.

But Mulvey’s rendition of “Mood Indigo” takes the cake. Such a classic big band standard that’s been done since the 1930s by artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Louie Armstrong, Joe Jackson, Nat “King” Cole, and others… Well, now we can add Peter Mulvey to the list. I’ve never heard this jazzy tune done with simple guitar arrangements and violin and Pete just lays it down smooth. This is the blues, people. “Always get that mood indigo / since my baby said goodbye / in the evenin’ when lights are low / I’m so lonesome I could cry…” Sing it brother.

That’s just a taste of the fourteen tracks on this CD. Now, if you’re expecting Mulvey originals, The Good Stuff is probably not the CD for you. But if you want to hear a master give interpretations of standard songs of the last century, I’d encourage you to give it a listen. As always, Pete’s on top of his game and this CD will work its way to the top of my collection soon, I’m sure.

For more about Peter Mulvey, be sure to check out his home page for other albums, news, and his touring schedule.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

Music Review: Sugar & the Hi-Lows – Sugar & the Hi-Lows

Hi there!

If you listen to R&B from the 1960s, there’s a smoothness, optimism, and energy to it that modern artists aspire to but rarely achieve. Super groups like the Temptations and The Isley Brothers and artists like Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye all had that “it factor” that not only made them instantly recognizable on the radio, but gave fans the confidence they could buy damn near anything they produced and not be sorry. I think many of the artists of the era could sing the phone book and it would still be a hit.

Today’s R&B seems to focus more on trying to engineer that “it factor” more than letting the artists find it on their own. The biggest exceptions I can come up with these days are artists like Adele and Duffy, with a bit of that throwback sound mixed with modern sensibilities. However, it’s mostly solo artists hitting that groove and not duos or groups finding that niche.

So I was pleased to find a group like Sugar & the Hi-Lows, who just released their self-titled, full-length album on Ready Set Records. This duo out of Nashville featuring Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup manages to channel not just that ’50s and ’60s vibe, but work in a collaborative sound that hits me a little like Robert Plant and Alison Krauss‘s Raising Sand from just a few years ago. Seamless, effortless, with a soul and happiness that grooves with simple arrangements that never take away from the harmonies at the heart of it all.

That’s not to say that the album doesn’t vary from song to song, slow tempo to up-beat. Opening with the gliding “Show and Tell,” you quickly slide up to an almost Elvis-like “Two Day High” and then slip smoothly into the ballad “I’ve Got You Covered”… There’s an ebb and flow to this well-constructed release that reminds me that there are artists still treating album construction as more than a way to slap a bunch of tracks onto a CD. I love it from start to finish!

“Show and Tell” is the first track, which sets the album off on a great footing with a slow, steady romantic song. A steady drum beat, bass line, and rhythm guitar gets things off as the love song gets under way… “Loving me without a reason / Chased the meaning not the feeling / You followed through / so did you…” How many relationships does this sound like? Like any good love song, it’s immediately applicable to just about any couple with just a little personal interpretation. And with that beat throughout it never gets ahead of itself, instead reminding me of some of the mid-tempo songs to which folks could dance for hours on the dance floor.

But it ends with a rock/rockabilly song – “Skip the Line” – that would blend beautifully from “Show and Tell” or any other song on the album. Another love song, but this one more upbeat about a couple ready to head out into the world, “skipping the line” as it were and avoiding the regular grind. “Got an open sky / Got you by my side / Yeah I, I’ve got a big old heart…” but ultimately “Everyone is waiting, worried about they problems / ‘cept you and I / gonna skip the line.” It just grooves along happily with a great rhythm guitar and drum keeping the beat with the duo singing their troubles away. What more could you want?

And in-between you have ballads, up-tempo, and more to keep you entertained. Eight tracks in all and one of the most up-beat albums I’ve heard in ages.

If you want a feel-good album to drive away the blues, you can’t beat Sugar & the Hi-Lows’ self-titled album. Be sure to pick up the album and enjoy the ride.

Be sure to check out their website at SugarAndTheHiLows.com for details about the group, their tour schedule, and more!

This article first appeared at Blogcritics.org here.

–Fitz

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