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: Cherry Poppin’ Daddies – Skaboy JFK: The Skankin’ Hits of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies

Hey!

Over the last 20 years, the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies (CPD) may have been pigeonholed in some fans’ minds as a swing group. Fans of the band know they do so much more than swing and have been involved in the ska scene forever. Skaboy JFK: The Skankin’ Hits of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies focuses on the band’s ska hits from the past and a few new tracks for good measure.

Skaboy JFK focuses on the 1960s-era up-tempo form of pre-reggae Jamaican Soul known as ska. What is ska? For me it boils down to mixing Swing with Punk — a horn section, rock guitars, and an attitude. There are many definitions of ska, but they all seem to start in Jamaica and the UK in the 1960s and end when both RBF and No Doubt appeared in or near the mainstream in the 1990s. Personally, I don’t buy that ska is dead.

CPD toured with many of the big ska bands when they were coming up in popularity, including the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Fishbone, Reel Big Fish, The Specials, No Doubt, and Madness. During those days, they were focused on the “Zoot Suit Riot” fans, so they didn’t play a ton of ska in their sets.

Now in 2009 with two albums coming out on the same day, you’d think there would be more repeated tracks. But there’s only one track – “Hi and Lo” – duplicated between Susquehanna and Skaboy JFK, so if you pick up both albums you won’t be disappointed. With 12 amazing tracks on Skaboy JFK and 13 more on Susquehanna you can have a long swing/ska set that lasts a couple of hours!

Skaboy JFK focuses on the different waves of ska music – Traditiona/Bluebeat (“2:29,” “Soul Cadillac”), Two Tone (“Hammerblow,” “Skaboy JFK”), Third Wave (“Hi and Lo,” “Sockable Face Club”) and even a Fishbone-esque hybrid for good measure (“Slapstick”).

On the album, there’s definitely a few favorites of mine… “Sockable Face Club” being at the top of the list. Full of energy at an insane pace, it’s tough to object with lyrics like “You’re in my Sockable Face Club / You gotta punchable face, bub / Grab him, nab him / Everything you do makes me feel like you need to get a blackened eye…” Frenetic energy talking about a fight in the bathroom… And with piano licks that drive the song all the way through, this is one toe-tapping, fist-fighting ska tune.

Then there’s “Cosa Nostra,” which again focuses on a fight – this time it’s a day in the life of a mobster. “It takes some pressure to make a diamond / It takes some losin’ to win a soul / It takes a bleak house to run away from / It takes a warm bed to appreciate the cold world inside of you…” Who would have thought that being a mobster was so lyrical? The music takes a step back, with muted trumpets and a bass line that leads you through the mobster’s life.

I’m not sure what makes me like these songs about fighting, but I have to say that the music and energy in all of the tracks will keep me coming back for years to come.

Be sure to check out Susquehanna and Skaboy JFK: The Skankin’ Hits of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies when they are released on September 29, 2009 and check out their website www.daddies.com for upcoming news and tour dates! It’s great that the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies have returned with new music to prove that ska and swing are far from dead.

–Fitz

p.s. Be sure to check out this and other great Cherry Poppin’ Daddies music at Amazon below!

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