Music Review: Fay Wolf – Spiders

Many of the new artists I hear, I hear first in the soundtrack for a television show. For example, I first heard Eva Cassidy‘s cover of Cyndi Lauper‘s “Time After Time” on an episode of Smallville. And I heard Alexi Murdoch‘s “Breathe” for the first time in an early episode of Stargate Universe. And I first heard Fay Wolf, though I didn’t know it at the time, on an early episode of Covert Affairs.

So when I started listening to Fay’s new album Spiders, I knew I’d heard the voice before but it took me a while to figure out where. But I shouldn’t have been surprised that I first heard her music on TV, as her songwriting and composition style effortlessly combines storytelling and drama in much the same way as some of my favorite shows. Though her style is all her own, my ear keeps comparing her to artists as diverse as Florence + The Machine and Tori Amos, who also tell stories beneath the melodies.

Since listening to the music of Spiders, I’ve discovered that her songs have also been featured on episodes of Gray’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill, and Pretty Little Liars. Beyond that, she is a classically-trained actress who has worked in theater, film and television with appearances on Law & Order, Numb3rs, Bones, Ghost Whisperer, and NCIS: Los Angeles. And if the music and acting wasn’t enough to keep her busy enough, she’s also a professional organizer with her own company “New Order,” named after the band.

Spiders is full of emotional honesty but also includes a bit of wit and humor within her lyrics. A word of advice however, she also includes a bit of explicit language in those lyrics, so though her music is amazing it might be best for a more mature audience.

The album starts with two of my favorite songs – “The Thread of the Thing” and “The Passing” – which set things off on the right foot.

“The Thread of the Thing” employs the dreamy feel of someone trying to explain how they feel. The lyrics are stream of consciousness but hit me like those conversations between lovers as they fall asleep… “And the stories of kings and the needle and the thread of the thing… in a little while I see that I love the way you came on…” Between the steady percussion like a heartbeat, the simple chording, and the atmospheric effects, it really got my attention quickly.

“The Passing” on the other hand manages to sound very different than “The Thread of the Thing,” featuring Fay’s voice and piano skills. Again, it’s like a dreamy conversation – “See here’s the thing / I love being in motion / and wrapped around you… I can hear you / and I can see the time / the time passing / the time passing by…” It’s as though her voice tells the story as her fingers dance across the keys.

In the middle of the album, “Pull” just seems to ring true again about… you guessed it. Love. This time it’s a bit more outwardly happy in the melody. “But y’figured out that the least you could understand / your heart is open to someone else’s hand…” Love sometimes manages to pull the breath from us, just like falling down in the snow. But the almost calliope-sounding keys gives this song a strong feel of fun while keeping that atmospheric piano behind the scenes.

But “In the Way” is the opposite to the languid feel of “The Thread of the Thing” with a melody that is at once sad, but honest. “How did we fall in love in a week / and how do we get away / how do we see if the cracks in the plan / are the reasons that we play the game…” Again, it’s simply Fay and a piano telling an honest story about romance. Sometimes things don’t work out and “if it’s all not fair, then why are you here.” Sometimes we have to look deeper than the fun we’re having to see that something isn’t good.

Spiders manages to express the complexities of love without seeming trite. I think that’s her gift, telling stories of love when it goes right and when it falls apart. Check it out at your favorite retailer. And for details about Fay, be sure to drop by her website FayWolfMusic.com.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

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Music Review: She Remains the Same – Andrew Ripp

Hi there…

A little over a year ago I wrote about Andrew Ripp’s debut album – Fifty Miles to Chicago – and absolutely loved it. The beauty of a debut album of that caliber was its honesty. You could tell with each note and word that he believed passionately about his music. So when I had an opportunity to give his sophomore album a listen, I jumped on the chance. Though sometimes new artists will suffer from the “sophomore slump” as they go from the album they had years to produce and hone from the pressure of the music industry pushing them to roll out the next record, occasionally you’ll find an artist so at home with their style and sound that their sophomore album sounds more like they’ve been doing this for years…

She Remains the Same keeps the honesty of that debut album but offers so much more to fans. Ripp continues to surprise, with an album that dives deeper into his own personal truths. From the bluegrass rock feel of “Growing Old Too Young” to the acoustic folk ballad “Forever After Love,” there’s something here for everyone.

As I listened from beginning to end, I was struck by the shared themes turned on their head… Where Fifty Miles to Chicago was more about having fun and finding your path while you enjoy the journey, She Remains the Same focuses on arriving at a destination and dealing with settling down a bit. The truths found by each of us finding a place to call home…

“Savior”‘s message provides an interesting counterpoint to “Dresden Wine” on the last album. We go from “I don’t want to be your savior / I can’t be the one to hold you down…” as a powerful piano ballad to “I found my savior…” and “I found my Jesus on a city street / he gave me freedom through a trash can beat…” with a strong rock/blues guitar song that absolutely rocks as my favorite song on the album. The message is clear – “Don’t worry ’bout me… ‘Cause I know where I’m going when I’m gone…” He’s found his way and it’s awesome.

Savior – Andrew Ripp by SidewaysMedia

The song “Rider” is another favorite. This one is less upbeat, but all about lessons learned. The Rider in this case is riding down the line trying to find something… “And I did all my time seeking gold / But this line that I’ve drawn / Is long and taking its toll…” In the end, the goal he’s been seeking on the road is where he’s always been – “Been looking for freedom / When freedom’s been here all along…” And with this message, there’s a driving bass and guitar like the dotted lines of the highway, backed with Ripp’s vocals in minor keys. Like with “Dresden Wine” – there’s a passion here and you can tell it’s personal.

And you can tell that Ripp has found a home in Nashville with a few of these tracks. From the slow, guitar-fueled ballad of “She Don’t Lie” – telling the story of how everything around him is dead, dying, or a lie, but his girl remains the same and doesn’t lie… “I’m breaking at the seams / And my American dream is dead and gone / (But it’s alright cuz) / She don’t lie…”

Then “The Good I’ll Do” focuses on losing the girl… “I touched your heart and turned it black / You swear that it ain’t coming back / But I’m made of more than what I lack…” Broken promises, hope gone up in flames, the girl is gone – but someday he’ll prove he’s worth the trouble.

There’s a spiritual quality to this album as well, as though his time on the road made him find something deeper to draw on. “You Will Find Me” would feel as home in church as on a stage. “When you come thirsty / when the well’s dry / when your soul’s dirty / I am by your side…” With a bit of guitar and steady beat on a single drum in the background, the piano and Ripp’s voice drive this one with a positive message. You are never really alone. And that’s an important thing to remember on the road just as much as it is at home.

If you’re looking for a rock album with a heart, check out She Remains the Same on iTunes or at your favorite retailer. Andrew Ripp may have left Chicago, but he’s continuing to bring his fans a great variety and sharing more of himself in the process.

For more information about Ripp or for a current tour schedule, check out his site – AndrewRipp.com.

This review first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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Music Review: Safe Upon the Shore – Great Big Sea

Hi again!

Sometimes I get clubbed on the side of the head when I least expect it. Though I’d heard of Great Big Sea when I reviewed Séan McCann’s Lullabies for Bloodshot Eyes a few months ago, I really didn’t know much about this band from Newfoundland, Canada. I listened to Fortune’s Favour and it was good, but didn’t wow me. But when I heard Safe Upon the Shore it was definitely a wake-up call.

This is the 10th album from Great Big Sea, a band that’s been together for 17 years. Safe Upon the Shore was recorded over the space of six months in New Orleans, St. John’s in Newfoundland, and anywhere inspiration happened to strike – including buses and dressing rooms while on tour. Evidently a good portion of the album was recorded on band member (and one of the founders) Alan Doyle’s laptop, which provided a mobile recording studio just about anywhere they happened to be.

Doyle, Bob Hallett, and McCann were the driving songwriters on the album, but it also included some co-writers you might not expect – like Russell Crowe and Canadian singer-songwriters Randy Bachman, Jeremy Fisher, and Joel Plaskett. With the New Orleans vibe and additional influx of influences, the group managed to push their usual sound to something I found to be truly inspired.

With a mix of styles, from folk and Bluegrass to rock I’d be happy to hear in any pub, this group of five musicians – Doyle, Hallett, McCann, Murray Foster and Kris MacFarlane – provides a full bodied sound that uses damn near everything that isn’t nailed down… Guitars, bouzouki, mandolin, banjo, piano, accordion, concertina, whistle, harmonica, fiddle, pipes, bodhran, drums, keyboards, and lord knows what else. If it has strings or keys, I bet these folks can probably pick it up.

But on this album it was the mix of deeper, haunting tracks with those imbued by humor that really caught my attention. For me, albums are made or broken by the way they’re constructed. The “landscape” of music that allows a comfortable mix from highs to lows and everything in between. Safe Upon the Shore provides a landscape as rich as the pictures of Newfoundland I’ve seen… from shores to hills, ice to sky.

The other thing you’ll immediately notice if you listen to the lyrics is the sadness buried in the cheerful melodies. It’s that irony that works for songs like “Good People” touting the fact that we’ll always have good people even when things are at their worst… “We’re running out of trees and we’re running out of space, but we’ll never run out of Good People…” And in “Over the Hills” they describe the life of a soldier – “Safe at home we’d rather stay / watch our children grow and play / we owe the Crown so now we’ll pay – over the hills and far away.” But it’s duty that leads good and men away from their families when their leaders call.

There’s too much on the album I absolutely loved, so I’ll just focus on a few tracks.

“Yankee Sailor” manages to be both cheery and sad describing a love that’s not to be with a beautiful acoustic guitar driving the tune. “We were poor / but I was satisfied / and I thought that you were too / You were pure / and I was terrified / I wasn’t good enough for you…” And when that lass met the Yankee Sailor that led her across the waves he knew he’d lost her. “America is beautiful / and I sure hope you’re right / if I could see you across the water / I’d say America is beautiful tonight…” The whistle in the background, with some amazingly simple but gorgeous harmonies adds emotional depth to this story of love lost.

In “Hit the Ground and Run” we hear the story of a shotgun wedding with some amazing Bluegrass… “You better lock the church door tight ’cause at the slightest crack of light that boy is gonna run…” This song hits the ground running and doesn’t let up to the end with it’s driving banjo riffs and hilarious story sung with humor.

It was “Safe Upon the Shore” that really drove this album home for me. A haunting ballad sung a cappella, the tale unfolds of a woman waiting for her “darling sailor boy” to come home. The lyrics alone are heartbreaking, but the slow reveal and Séan McCann’s emotion-laden voice that really drove this track home. “Now fisherman they cast their nets like miners pan for gold / and sailors push off from the docks and pray the gales will hold / the sea just sits silently / but sometimes she does more / and someone weeps as her love sleeps safe upon the shore…” It reminded me of the poetry of Gordon Lightfoot‘s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” which has haunted my musical memory for 30 years.

But in “Road to Ruin” with its “You can take the sunshine / I can take the moonshine / You can take the high road / I can take the low / though later in the evening / the one thing I believe in / I’m on the road to ruin / it’s the only way to go” I found my wife and I described… Again, the humor of accepting the lives we lead and relationships we keep manages to merge amazingly cheerful music and ironic lyrics into a tune that made even me want to dance.

Where Fortune’s Favour didn’t really capture my soul, Safe Upon the Shore managed to do that quickly and never let me go. I’ll be listening to this album for quite a while and shouting far and wide that I too am on the “Road to Ruin” and happy to be there!

Be sure to check out Safe Upon the Shore when it’s released on July 13, 2010. For more information about the band, check out GreatBigSea.com.

This article first appeared on BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great Great Big Sea albums below!

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