Music Review: Mariana Bell – Push

Hi all!

For me, all art is about introspection at some level. Whether speaking about a novel, film, or song, the artist is sharing a piece of themselves, whether it’s their view of the world, how they deal with relationships, or how they explore their innermost dreams and desires. Sometimes the art of creation itself is simply a therapy to get it all out in the open. Through every piece, we as the audience gain a piece of the puzzle that makes that creator who they are.

Mariana Bell must have been going through some serious stuff while writing the songs on her latest album – Push. From the title song to the last track, you can tell some of that introspection was going on. As she says in “On It” – “Thank you for making me see myself.” Whether seeking some inner peace or to understand relationships with those around her, she seems to be questing for answers everywhere.

But what I love about this album is that though it’s airy in places, it’s dark in others… Styles flow effortlessly from pop to folk to almost country, rock and blues, with instrumentals combined beautifully with her voice and backing tracks in rich, but not overly complex arrangements. Ten tracks on Push offer a lush landscape of unique sounds, styles, and words evoking emotions throughout. She reminds me quite a bit of Shawn Colvin, with a voice that lends itself well to this kind of cross-genre work.

My favorite song on the album is “Good Enough,” which perfectly suits my relationship with my wife… “As long as you’re good enough, and come back home to me / then we can fall in love again. / I never asked you to be perfect, no… just be good enough…” There’s an honesty there that’s impossible to ignore. Love crests and falls and compromises, but lasts through it all. With a solid drum beat and electric guitars, this song is definitely in the country-rock vein sung by contemporary artists like Lady Antebellum. And though I’m not a huge country guy, the style in this case simply works.

The same holds true for the rockin’ song “California Clay,” which keeps that honesty flowing. Love sometimes drives you to do crazy things for people, so I can identify with these lyrics… “It’s not that I can’t leave I just don’t want to… / Don’t need a leash. I’ll stay easily. I’m putty in your hand…” And the last image is sexy and sultry all at the same time – “Metal sheets and a lead pillow so are we bed magnets…” It’s that attraction between lovers. And the sound is much harder with a rock beat and underlying electric guitar that pulls it all along.

And “Titanic” made me think completely of the film with the song’s opening strings… And through analogy, this song tells the story of a relationship gone wrong. Like the movie, you can see the iceberg in the distance and yet somehow can’t change course. “Of the greatest disaster, that would ever be the greatest disaster – you and me.” Guitars, strings, and reverb help tell the story of the end.

The album may represent a single continuous flow from the fleeting beginnings of love to the bitter end of a relationship, Push shares a journey through song. I hope we hear much more from Mariana Bell and that she once again shares loves and losses with us in the future! For more about Push, her previous albums, and her tour schedule, be sure to check out her website MarianaBell.com.

–Fitz

p.s. Check out Mariana Bell’s music at Amazon below:

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Music Review: Amy Black – One Time

Hi there!

Occasionally I find my musical tastes more than a little ironic. For instance, I have always been a fan of folk music. And in recent years I’ve broadened that to include some Americana and Bluegrass in the mix. But I’ve never been a fan of country music. Whether it’s the grating steel guitars or the oft-repeated and stereotypical themes of “lost my truck/dog/girl,” I can’t say. But it’s always been a sticking point in my head.

That said, I have been very amused by how close to country I’m getting with some Americana. I wonder why that is? Anyway, listening to Amy Black’s album “One Time” due out March 29th, I was reminded of this. Many of the tunes are on that mythical Country border, but I found them both entertaining and in some cases even beautiful. Am I finally crossing the line and enjoying Country music? Only time will tell.

One Time is Black’s sophomore effort, after Amy Black & the Red Clay Rascals back in 2009. Where that first album was mostly covers along with two originals, One Time features nine originals. Each song has a classic Americana feel, but mixes in a bit of blues and country influence for good measure. Black’s voice through it all has a genuine heartfelt folksy feel and storytelling style, all backed up by a great band. If this is country-esque, then I’m on board to hear more from Black and the Red Clay Rascals going forward, genre-be-damned.

As you might guess, the songs I liked the most are typically along the Americana/Bluegrass side of the spectrum. “Run Johnny” is my favorite, telling the story of a man on the run. Intermixed with the story is a great fiddle, steel guitar, and banjo keeping the song moving along is Black’s voice singing “You better run, run Johnny / Lawman’s on his way / Better get outta Alabamy / ‘fore the break of day…” Black is haunting as she tells the man he needs to get on his way after killing his woman. And the guitar solo in the middle of the song sounds great.

“One Time,” the title song, seems to be a straight up blues song with some Bluegrass style. “Look him in the eyes / Say “Baby, baby this bird’s gotta fly” – it’s time for the woman to take control of her life and walk away from a man who’s no good for her. It sounds just like a woman talking to one of her girlfriends in a bar. Again, it’s the story that drives the song and it feels genuine. It’s tough to discount advice such as “You only live one time… get on with your life.”

And “Words Fail You” is Country through and through, but somehow the simple arrangement and heartfelt delivery makes it beautiful. The song, originally by Kris Delmhorst, tells the story about a relationship that a pair wants to work, but doesn’t know how. “And I know words fail you / … Well baby sometimes they fail me too.” It’s the things not said that fill the room. “Now this Toyota is getting crowded with all the things that no one’s saying / and if I opened up my mouth now I think I would be praying.” The slow, romantic song feels like it’s about a real couple. And Black sells it with every note.

Based in Boston, Black wants to make music full time and I think she’ll make it work. I’d be surprised if I didn’t hear she was up for any number of awards come award show season. Her expressive voice, great band, and passion will take her straight to the ears and hearts of many fans that won’t let her be forgotten. Be sure to check out One Time from Amy Black when at her website – AmyBlack.com. If you like Americana and Country, there’s a lot to love here.

–Fitz

p.s. Be sure to pick up Amy Black’s music at her website!

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Music Review: Cory Mon & The Starlight Gospel- Turncoats

Hi there!

What is it about the impending arrival of Spring that brings out great new albums? I know Spring is a few weeks away yet, but it seems that great albums are in bloom all over the place. Especially in the folk/rock arena, with artists such as Bobby Long, Lee MacDougall, and Wes Kirkpatrick all releasing albums in recent weeks.

Thankfully, the streak seems to be continuing with Cory Mon & The Starlight Gospel and their release Turncoats that just came out this week. Evidently it wasn’t the easiest project to work on together and there was a bit of turnover in the band lineup while recording. “There was a lot of turmoil,” says Cory. “Artistically, it didn’t work out, but we’re still great friends with everyone.”

Like many bands I’ve reviewed of late, it’s tough to pin down just one style for Cory and the band. They bring aspects of folk and Americana traditions while bringing in bits of country and rock for good measure. And Cory’s voice is the constant across all of it, with a sound that reminded me quite a bit of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy‘s lead singer Scotty Morris. The songs on Turncoats run the gamut from the Western-sounding “3 Step” and the Doors-sounding “Gypsy” to the Bossanova beach party groove of “Dr. Pleasure M.D.” and ’70s-style guitar groove of “Venus.”

Honestly, “3 Step” would be right at home in the soundtrack for a modern Western. (I hear Quentin Tarantino may be working on one and he should definitely give it a listen!) The awesome bass line and sliding guitars give it some serious texture, while it seamlessly slides into a more polished sound with electric guitar solos in the background. All of this along with Cory’s voice telling a dark story about fears of turning into something worse… “Catch me clutching to my crime. / Swear I loathe your jealous type. / You crave possession, now I find my own way home, way home…”

Then we literally slide (via electric guitar) into “Fever” where Cory growls the lyrics about a guy trapped by the love (perhaps lust) of a woman… “Fever / You’re in trouble son / She’s your fever…” It’s his father asking him why in the heck he’s being led by the nose. His father’s been there too – “You won’t catch me trippin’ over wise man’s robes / but why did you go and let her in?” All the while, there’s this amazing bass line and haunting guitars walking the song along.

And then there’s “Gypsy,” which almost has a Doors-feel with a “People are Strange” similar bass line and mixing up the beats and song styles measure to measure. This one is more upbeat than the first two tracks. It seems as though the person singing was looking for advice and may have been confused by the Gypsy offering hers. As he tries to figure it out, he’s playing with ideas… “I think I’ll move to Arizona, where it’s said the souls are warmer / Tired of all these strangers think they read my mind / Turn around they watch you fall, they watch you fall, they watch…”

The whole album mixes styles and rhythms with amazing ease. In “Dr. Pleasure M.D.” it has almost a bossanova groove that reminded me of a beach party, while “Venus” has a ’70’s style guitar that would be at home in many films of the era. It’s obvious that Cory and the entire band have a wide variety of influences, which they mix and match to meet the needs of a particular song.

Cory Mon & The Starlight Gospel offer a unique blend of musical styles that makes Turncoats a great album. If you’re looking for a new Americana band to give a try, I’d encourage you to pick this one up. It’s definitely not your parents’ version of Americana! Be sure to check them out on Facebook and MySpace for news and tour information! It’s available for download on Amazon on MP3.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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