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: Rusty Belle – On a Full Moon Weekend

Hi again…

Music doesn’t have to be complicated. Far too often I listen to a song on the radio and wonder how much of it was engineered compared to how much was performed. When the electronics overwhelm the instruments and voices, sometimes it’s time to reexamine the music-making process.

Enter the simplicity of Rusty Belle, with a vibe that is difficult to nail down. It’s at times folksy, at times dramatic, and at times it seems they’d feel at home in a saloon somewhere in the late 1800s. But that’s part of their charm.

Comprised of brother and sister Matt (vocals, guitar, fiddle) and Kate Lorenz (vocals, washboard, glockenspiel, drums), Zak Trojano (vocals, guitars, drums), and Jazer Giles (keyboards, guitar, vocals), the group has recorded five albums as a quartet since 2006, with their latest being On a Full Moon Weekend. But again, it’s impossible to pin them down – there’s some country, some honky-tonk, dramatic folk, blues, even a bit of rock. The closest I can come to naming a similar artist is Mark Knopfler, but that only fits a handful of their songs.

What’s consistent throughout the album is the fact that the arrangements, voices, harmonies, and instrumental performances are real. Real people are singing. Real people are playing. And there are real emotions in every note of the eight songs on On a Full Moon Weekend.

One of my favorite tracks is “Rearview Mirror Sunrise” – the very first song on the CD. The subdued, mellow guitar intro strums into some simply gorgeous melodies. But once you listen to the words, you hear the story of two lovers on the road, working the memories from the drive into their relationship. Things as simple as stopping on the side of the road when it starts to snow – “catching the snow flakes one by one on our outstretched laughing tongues, the world feels fresh and new and young, I want to bring it all into my love…”

“Off and On” is another of my favorites and the one that seems to have a Knopfler feel to it. I can’t shake the mental image of this small band playing in the corner of a saloon in the wild west with their twang and caliope/merry-go-round feel. And by the time the steel guitar kicks in, I’m already sold on the picture of cowboys dancing with barmaids on the saloon floor.

When the drums and blues guitar of “Borderline Affair” enter the scene, I can’t figure out how a blues vibe and saloon band are working together, but damn – it works. “Don’t try to tell me nothing no / Don’t cheat me baby I love you so / It’s hard to see the world from this low; so come back to me as flies the crow…” The head barmaid is telling her beau not to treat her wrong or she may be tempted into someone else’s arms…

I’ve never heard anything quite like Rusty Belle. It defies categorization – and yet I enjoyed every note of On a Full Moon Weekend. If you are looking for something different, please give them a listen!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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Music Review: Baby Guitars – Nancy Wilson

Hi all!

Nancy Wilson is one of the two goddesses of the rock group Heart. So why may you ask is she creating an album of tunes specifically meant to help lull babies to sleep? Well, why not? She’s a mom too!

Evidently, the idea of composing guitar lullabies didn’t occur to her originally. “It never occurred to me to actually try and put people to sleep with my music,” she says. “But then the idea came up when a friend had a new baby.” She tested these tunes on several unsuspecting “test babies” and many have been lulled to sleep by them. So they must work, right?

Let me put your fears to rest. These are beautiful, acoustic instrumentals, that adults or children might listen to on a lazy Sunday morning or before bed to settle down after a long day. Each of the ten songs on the CD was composed by Wilson and bandmates Craig Bartock and Debbie Shair and played by the trio as well. Wilson and Bartock played guitars and Shair helped on a concert harp. And if the music isn’t enough to get you to buy the CD, the cover and CD art were done by Ms. Wilson’s kids – Curtis and Billy.

Some of these tunes came dangerously close to putting me to sleep – including the repetitive, nearly meditative “Cozy Rain” and the slow glide of “Silky.” “Sun on the Rug” was even heard recently in the soundtrack for the Hilary Swank movie P.S. I Love You.

It’s hard to believe that Heart has been rocking the world with music since the 1970s, but they’re gearing up to mark the 30th anniversary of Dog & Butterfly, a classic multi-platinum album. And if that’s not enough, they’re also going to start work on their 14th studio album soon. With such classic songs as “Crazy On You,” “Barracuda,” “Magic Man,” and many, many others, it’s great to know that Nancy, her sister, and the rest of the band are still committed to creating great music for fans big and small.

If you, like me, are a big fan of Heart and have kids or know people with young children, you can’t miss by picking up this great collection of original acoustic guitar songs. Even if you don’t have kids, Baby Guitars might be just the thing for a lazy day. The album is only available on Amazon.com as a CD and digital download, so go order yours today!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great CDs from Heart below!

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