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: Steaćn Hanvey РSteaćn Hanvey and the Honeymoon Junkies

Hi all!

As a child of the 70s with parents who listened to folk songs, I often fall back that musical orbit. And lately I’ve been encouraged by the new artists who bridge the gap between traditional folk (even down to some of its Bluegrass and Blues roots) and rock-and-roll. With artists like Wes Kirkpatrick, the Indigo Girls and Matt Duke, I’m able to enjoy folk music while not giving in completely to my folkie roots. (Yes, it’s a minor rebellion but I’ll accept that!)

But let me introduce you to Steaƒán Hanvey. Hailing from Dublin, Ireland, he brings a gift for rich arrangements, storytelling, and a voice you want to believe has lived those stories. As I listened to Steaƒán Hanvey and the Honeymoon Junkies, I was reminded of other artists such as James Taylor and Donovan as well as more modern folks like David Gray and Matthew Mayfield. His easy style with lyrics and guitar make him seem very genuine. I suspect that if I get a chance to listen to Hanvey live, I’m not going to want the concert to end.

Steaƒán Hanvey and the Honeymoon Junkies was released in Europe a while ago, but is just now coming to the U.S. Hanvey has even moved here to focus on building an audience while traveling back and forth to Ireland occasionally. Over the last 3 years, he’s also been working on his sophomore album called Nuclear Family that is due out in 2012. But don’t let that stop you from checking out Honeymoon Junkies.

What caught my attention while listening to the Honeymoon Junkies is the effortless way Hanvey tells his stories and finds just the right musical style to go with it… It starts with a simple rhythmic guitar intro in “Rooms,” transitions to the upbeat ballad “My Woman (Ode To You),” moves to the anthem-ish “Love’s A Decision,” flows through the hard-edged “Desperation,” and eventually ends with the James Taylor-ish “Show Me”…

And as I listened, there were more than a few that I’d have to tag as favorites, the first of which being “Love’s a Decision.” This one should be required listening at any couple’s therapy session. “Love’s a decision between you and me / not some half-baked scene from a movie screen… if you want it to last / you’d better let go of the past.” And I don’t know who’s singing in the background, but she has an amazing voice that completely complements Hanvey’s with the anthem guitar riffs and solid bass/drum beat.

“Fair Weather Friend” on the other hand feels like something from Colin Hay and I love the guitar riffs. This one tells the story about a guy who lost his way, finds his way back again, only to wonder how others see him. I interpret the story as someone coming back from alcohol or drug use and finding that some folks don’t like who they see when someone is sober. But I’m thankful whatever Hanvey’s story is for this song, that he came back with a “head full of songs” as he says. And I hope when something happens to me or someone else I’m not a fool or a fair weather friend… sticking through thick and thin.

In “Desperation,” he breaks the song mold a bit and it works. It starts with a vaguely Australian/digeridoo-ish funky beat that leads to a story about a relationship gone wrong. This is a darker tune telling the story of a man who knows it’s over, but she’s the one pulling away. “You will blame me and you’ve tried to shame me / What more could I do…” It’s interesting to me that it feels vaguely uncomfortable to listen to this one, like we’re voyeurs in some lover’s quarrel.

Check out the video for “Desperation”:

Then he turns it completely around with a tune you can’t help but smile while listening to… “Everything’s Happy” shifts to everything bright and cheery, but it has a hidden message. The rhythm of the guitar along with the acoustic bass in the background keeps it light and moving along quickly where you hardly have time to think anything but happy thoughts… “The sun changed it’s mind / decided to shine on my day / The girl on the street never misses a beat and she smiles as I catch her eye…” And a bit later there’s the dark side: “Everyone’s happy / Everyone’s ok / Everyone’s looking for someone to blame.”

Steaƒán Hanvey has a way of making the music fit the lyrics that isn’t forced or created by some crowded room of movie producers. Every song on Steaƒán Hanvey and the Honeymoon Junkies tells a story and I for one enjoyed the ride. I’m already looking forward to his next album – Nuclear Family – sometime next year! For tour news and everything else Hanvey-related, be sure to check out his web site SteafanHanvey.com.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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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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