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: Frank Viele & The Manhattan Project – Acoustic Vudu

Hey folks!

It never ceases to amaze me when I hear a band go acoustic and it sounds just as good as it does electric in a studio. Unfortunately in an age when everything in the Top 40 seems over-engineered and artificial, these bands are the exception, not the rule. So when I find one, I’m ecstatic and want to celebrate that success.

Back in June 2010, I reviewed the album Neon Lights from Frank Viele & The Manhattan Project. This is a six-piece band based in Connecticut that sounds much larger than just six people, largely because they have a horn section – which you hardly find with any group these days (the Dave Matthews Band is the only other similar band I can think of). Their music is a mix of rock, soul, and blues that simply works. When I listen to them on CD, it’s a group I’d kill to listen to live. And after hearing Acoustic Vudu, I think I’ll have to double the bounty.

Acoustic Vudu is a five song EP of tracks that includes two new songs – “Push and Pull” and “Spanish Fly” in addition to acoustic versions of “Neon Lights,” “Somebody Else,” and “Try.” These tracks only reinforces just how good these guys are. Though these songs all sound great loud, proud, and plugged in, there’s a purity in hearing the instruments without that electric boost. Every song shines acoustically because you can hear the quiet moments just as well as you can the full moments. Words, finger picking, horns… it all layers and never reaches the frantic levels being louder can sometimes bring into play.

All the songs are amazing, but I’ll pick out three that really stick with me.

With “Neon Lights” the guitar lick still has just as much power as it does in the electric version, but I love that they’ve slowed it down a bit and let the horn section shine. The sax and muted trumpet set things up with a beautiful quiet as the song starts to build and build. And one of my complaints with Neon Lights was that sometimes Frank Viele’s voice was too gravelly and stressed to understand what he was singing. Without having to compete with the amplifier, Frank’s voice just works. It tells the story with a breathless growl driven by the guitar that doesn’t let up…

“Push and Pull” is another song that just grooves… “Don’t want no lover standing in my way / You find it hard to sit and stay / And I know inside you know it’s true / And every time you leave you know you’re through…” It’s about a relationship where both people have a certain gravity and each is pushing and pulling the other even though every time they part may be the last. And this one has some great guitar, both lead and rhythm – each expressing a different emotion along with Frank’s vocal… And I love the “Come on my baby / Come on my darlin” section as the singer pleads with his love.

Lastly, “Spanish Fly” just has some gorgeous guitar parts. I’m a sucker for great guitar. This one again tells a story of passion between a man and a woman where the guy is wondering if the relationship has gone beyond lust. It goes on for more than five minutes and I bet it could go on for another five and I wouldn’t mind…

What more do I need to say? If you’re looking for a new group to groove to, Frank Viele & The Manhattan Project should be right up your alley. And when you’re done with Acoustic Vudu, check out Neon Lights for more groovy goodness. Both albums are available now. For more details, check out the band’s website at FrankVieleMusic.com and look for them on Facebook and YouTube!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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Music Review: Driftwood Fire – How to Untangle a Heartache

Hey there!

Since college, I’ve been entranced by the chanteuses of modern folk and Americana, especially those who prefer playing acoustic instruments. (Nothing wrong with electric guitars, but I find it harder to actually hear melodies and voices when the volume is cranked.) Among some of my favorites are the Indigo Girls, Shawn Colvin, and Brandi Carlile. Each of these not only has an amazing voice, but understands the power of strong songwriting, layered harmonies, and how to play the right instrument for the right mood.

I love adding new artists to my list and it’s definitely grown and changed over the years – moving from more rock-n-roll to bluegrass, Americana, and folk as I get older. All it takes is a lick, a verse, or a bit of harmony that leads me to discovering more about a new voice or musician…

But it’s hard to argue when you’re pointed to musicians who went to school at your alma mater and are based in the college town you called home for five years. Lynn Scharf (singer, guitarist) and Charlotte Formichella (multi-instrumentalist) are known as Driftwood Fire and they call Fort Collins, Colorado home. And though it’s been a long road for them from inception to album, How to Untangle a Heartache has a purity about it that makes it a joy to listen to.

There are qualities to Lynn’s voice that reminds me of Brandi Carlile in “Let it all go”. With Charlotte’s opening pick line… “Don’t break my heart / it’ll never mend / we’re starting something / and we don’t know how it ends / just drive me someplace I’ve never seen / so late at night I mistake / you for a dream / and kiss me real slow / and just let it all go…” It’s a song about doing what feels good even if we know better. And sometimes, life is like that. There’s an honesty there that shines through.

“Apalachian Hills” has a haunting quality, sort of like something Sarah Jarosz would sing. It tells a story about a place chased by its past and showing through to the present. Here there’s a simple arrangement that lets the guitar, banjo, piano, and voice easily express the sadness of the place. Between the Civil War, silver miners, and other folks seeking their fortunes – leaving many dead in the fields, forgotten by time. Though not cheerful, again – there’s an honest appreciation for the history of a place without overblowing it with loud electric guitars.

The simple strum and lead guitar at the beginning of “One Thing Left” reminds me a Big Head Todd and the Monsters song… But again, it’s the lyrics that bring it alive. “You wrote a letter / apologizing / for your absence / not realizing / that only hurt me / I read it slowly / shaking like a bird fighting with the wind / shocked I was all alone…” This is almost a country song with the Americana showing through. But that “one thing left” to tell you – is that I’ve moved on. I keep repeating that there’s an honesty in the music and the words, but that’s what it is. A simple message – you hurt me, but I got over it.

Love can definitely hurt – but at least when poets and songwriters survive it, it’s “food for songs” as Del Amitri once said. Thank goodness Lynn and Charlotte have managed to work out their heartache in song so that we can enjoy the fruits of that musical therapy. Definitely check out Driftwood Fire’s How to Untangle a Heartache if you’re looking for something new in the Americana/Folk vein for your collection.

Check out the Driftwood Fire home page for more information about the album or their ongoing tour.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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