Music Review: Breaking Laces – When You Find Out

Hi all!

Sometimes it’s tough not to reflect on the musical influences in my life. Most came from my exploration of music in high school and college, but I’ve done what I can to keep open to new voices. That said, it’s bands like Toad the Wet Sprocket, Better than Ezra, The Presidents of the United States of America, the Indigo Girls, The Nylons, Heart, The Police, Sting, and others that make up a good chunk of those influences (yes, my tastes run to the eclectic!). Notice the glut of bands with big releases in the 1980s and 1990s…

So I’m always encouraged when I listen to my radio and find that new bands are coming up through the ranks that sound quite a bit like some of my favorites. Breaking Laces came into my consciousness when I heard “God in Training” in the car. Their sound takes acoustic pop and a bit of electronics but doesn’t stop there. With a bit of Better than Ezra, a little Maroon 5, some Snow Patrol, and some of the layered vocals and lyrics of Toad the Wet Sprocket, I was hooked. The mix of folk influences, humor, and a pop sensibility I haven’t heard for a while just works for them.

When I was offered a chance to hear more, I jumped. Breaking Laces’ album When You Find Out offers a cool mix of styles that varies enough to provide a rich musical landscape. The shape of the album explores the gamut of relationships, from breaking up, to moving on, and finding new love. It crests and falls with a life all its own, but each song can stand on its own. I love it when bands remember that assembling an album is more than just collecting a bunch of songs!

Brooklyn-based Breaking Laces is the trio of Willem Hartong (singer/guitarist), Rob Chojnacki (bass), and Seth Masarsky (drums) that has somehow managed to play more than 500 shows in 5 years around the country. Their hope was to take some simple pop songs and “make them bigger than life,” according to Hartong. And I think they’ve done that in spades with these 12 songs.

It starts with a breakup in “What We Need.” As Hartong sings “at least you know we tried / time to leave / and I will take this bit of sorrow if it’s all I have to borrow…” With a mix of acoustic and electric guitar, a steady drum beat, and a bass line that drives it from start to finish you can feel the angst as the relationship ends.

But it was “God in Training” that initially caught my attention and is still one of my favorites on the album. The quirky quality to not only the lyrics, but how it’s sung and the simple arrangement just sells it. “But once I quit my paper route / she’ll want my body…” The song goes on to talk about being “loved in foreign nations” and “mobbed whenever I go out” as he says “hey mom I’m gonna sing four tracks down in my basement…” It made me smile – the disconnect of youth captured beautifully.

From there we move to the questioning lyrics of “When You Find Out.” What happens when she finds out he’s in love with her? “What will happen next if things don’t go my way? I’m up I’m down, my thoughts confounding everything I say when you find out I’m in love with you…” We’ve all been there. How do you tell the target of your affection how you really feel? And the pop sensibilities of the band shine through with an arrangement that’s just enough without going overboard.

The album goes on from there, but I won’t spoil it. There’s something special about the way these songs are constructed and I hope Breaking Laces goes on to record many more albums. Please pick up When You Find Out at your favorite music store (online or brick-and-mortar) and support these guys!

Also be sure to check out their website at BreakingLaces.com!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up When You Find Out from Breaking Laces here:

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Music Review: Gaby Moreno – Illustrated Songs

Hi all!

Recently I’ve been amazed by the seeming rebirth of a more classic sound – not quite Motown, but something close mixing R&B and soul with modern songwriting. Artists like Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone, Duffy and Adele remind me a bit of the soul music greats like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Gladys Knight. It was an era where you could feel the blues and gospel roots shining through and I think we’re starting to see that style again as new artists are gaining traction on the pop charts.

Gaby Moreno takes the bilingual skills of an artist like J. Lo and puts a bit of a Duffy/Adele spin on them without losing her own originality along the way. She’s capable of smooth ballads in Spanish and hot songs like “Mess a Good Thing.” Her new album, Illustrated Songs, is impossible for me to lump in one category however. It spans multiple genres and would sound just as at home in a French cabaret, a jazz club in New Orleans, or on “Top 40″ radio. Though I compare her to Duffy and Adele, she both is similar and yet not at all similar to both artists.

To add to the confusion, I swear Moreno has one of the most genre-defying voices I’ve heard in a long time. In one song I’m reminded of the new soul movement, in another I’m reminded of Judy Garland, and in yet another I think her songs would seem at home in any Randy Newman-inspired Disney/Pixar movie soundtrack.

Of the dozen songs on the album, “Mess a Good Thing” is by far my favorite. The rocking soul guitar, strings and horn section behind her sultry voice just drive home that this woman has some serious soul. At no time did it feel like the song was out of her control, as can sometimes happen when you sing with such a large band. She knows she’s a good catch and her man won’t be leaving her: “Baby, you won’t be messing a good thing / Hurrying off with the break of day…” But though the lyrics may say he won’t be leaving her, her voice drives the point home hinting that if he does he’ll be in trouble!

But “Garrick” is one of those songs that just can’t leave my brain. The fact that she’s singing in Spanish makes no difference at all. It’s the amazing arrangement of strings, guitars, and clarinet that really makes this one groove. I can’t help but see her singing in front of a big band in some 1920s speakeasy or French cabaret. She’s just at home here as in her sultry soul mode, adding to the mysterious mix of genres she’s comfortable with.

And “Mean Old Circus” makes me think of some Judy Garland movie. The xylophones, circus organs, and her voice merge to provide yet another genre. She dons them as easily as changing hats. Beneath the kid-friendly sound however, there’s a darker purpose to the words – “A revelation …for conversation / A new permission for my religion / A sleeping lion’s lion dream /
In my forsaken evil schemes…” What is she really after here? Escaping to the circus may simply be a cover for more nefarious plans.

Evidently Gaby taught herself to speak better English by singing blues, R&B, and soul classics from artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, and Aretha Franklin. “I learned English from blues records. I’d read the lyrics, then go to my dictionary. In school, we studied basic English, but the records made me interested in learning it and singing it.”

Moreno is backed up by a terrific band featuring Sebastian Aymanns (drums), Leslie Lowe (bass) and an ensemble of renowned musicians including Greg Leisz (electric guitar, Mandolin, Lap Steel), Big Band leader Bob Mintzer (bass clarinet), Larry Goldings (celeste, piano), Patrick Warren (piano, keyboards), Mark Goldenberg (guitars) David Piltch (upright bass), Conan O’Brien’s horn section – Mark Pender (trumpet), Jerry Vivino (tenor sax), Richard “La Bamba” Rosenberg (trombone), and Adam Schroeder (baritone sax) – and string, horn and woodwind arrangements by Paul Bryan (Aimee Mann, Grant Lee Phillips and Amy Correia ). It’s a huge band that reminds me of the big band era of the 1940s but has all the other genres and playing styles at their beck and call as well.

Gaby Moreno seems to be a lady out of time brining classic ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, and other styles back to the people. If you’re looking for something to wile away a lazy Sunday, Illustrated Songs should be on your list to pick up. I love it when modern artists seek to rejuvenate the past and can’t wait to see what else lies in store for her. Illustrated Songs will be released on April 5, 2011 with a tour to follow. To learn more check out Gaby’s website.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up these great albums below!

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Music Review: Matt Duke – One Day Die

Hi again!

In 2009, I heard Matt Duke‘s music for the first time. With one song from his acoustic album – Acoustic Kingdom Underground – he made me a fan before I heard anything else. That song – “Kingdom Underground (Acoustic)” – merges the beauty of Miltonesque poetry, a beautifully simple pick and strum pattern on an acoustic guitar, and his amazingly expressive voice as it builds and builds. Instead of justifying God‘s side of the story, Duke rewrote it from the Devil‘s standpoint. The Fallen waits for the seventh day when God takes a break. “Evil hides amidst the shade / Evil keeps for evil changes… Woman, please / I can give you what you need / All the answers that you seek / Just pick the fruit right off the tree…”

Since then, I’ve been eagerly waiting to see what Duke’s passion would create next. I listened to the non-acoustic version of Kingdom Underground and was fascinated by his social commentary and the lush arrangements. Most of all though, it was his passion that was evident in all he did. Where would he go next?

I was pleased to see that in One Day Die, that social commentary weaves all the way through the new album. Lost youth and innocence is just the beginning. Could it be the current economy and job market? The lost hopes and dreams of generations young and old? What motivates him to write these impassioned pleas for hope and justice in an imperfect world?

Whereas it was the clean acoustic arrangements that attracted me to his music initially, in One Day Die it’s the mix of acoustic, pop, and rock that conveys yet another level of sophistication this time. Even his use of distortion is a deliberate twist used to illustrate a point in “Kangaroo Court.” He doesn’t overuse such artistic license however, keeping many songs with clean arrangements and beautifully simple musical choices. The duet in “Love You Anymore” weaves guitar, piano, and a steady beat to build and build. Harmonies and intertwined messages speak to the strained feelings of a relationship.

Each song tells a tale and the tales vary widely, from love and broken hearts to life’s injustices. Styles are used not just to offer a soundtrack to the stories, but to reinforce the feel Duke was going for.

Like with “Kingdom Underground,” the lyrics for “Kangaroo Court” tell of Duke’s intelligence behind the scenes. Not only can he perform with passion and talent, but his social commentary cries out amidst the distortion (like he was singing over a loudspeaker or bullhorn)… “It is not your fault / it doesn’t matter / You say objective? I think I know better / You people keep swapping one agenda for another / Give them what they want / it doesn’t matter / I’m in a kangaroo court…” This could be applied to damn near any political scenario we face today and far too many lawsuits clogging our courts.

He follows that up with “Love You Anymore,” which is completely different. A piano and vocal duet with Cara Salimando, this song speaks eloquently about the end of a relationship. “There are two that lie beneath these sheets / it might as well be three with all of the space between… I said ‘I love you’, though I knew I didn’t love you anymore…” A very different Duke here, telling of two lovers drifted apart but not yet aired their decisions to the other. The piano, drums, and guitar along with the pairing of voices tells the story as much as the words themselves.

And “Needle and Thread” tells the story of a road trip to reclaim old glories and heal a broken heart. “For now, the waking world can wait / so sing your blues away / and hope for better days. / Pick an old song and we’ll dance in the dark / it’s that needle and thread to stitch up my broken heart.” This is an upbeat rock anthem I can imagine being heard on many a road trip as we go seeking to fill in the holes left behind by loves lost and the potential of decisions never made.

These three songs “Kangaroo Court,” “Love You Anymore,” and “Needle and Thread” for me show the growth of Matt Duke over the last few years. These are songs sung with passionate about experiences he’s had along the way and they’re just the tip of the iceberg for the album. But though he’s gained experience, he hasn’t lost his talent for weaving intelligent lyrics and different musical styles to tell his stories like a troubadour of old. One Day Die is a great journey from tale to tale and I hope Duke continues to tour, live life, and tell these stories for years to come.

Check out One Day Die at stores on March 29, 2011!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up these great albums below!

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