Music Review: Wes Kirkpatrick – Naps & Nightmares

Hi again!

Discovering new artists is part of what makes my life interesting. And discovering new folk/rock artists like Wes Kirkpatrick with a Colorado connection just adds icing to the cake. I find it amusing however that it was an album he’s released after leaving Colorado that caught my attention.

Though he performed with his brother Ryan and their band The Kirkpatrick Project for several years in Colorado, Wes just released his solo debut – Naps and Nightmares – and evidently it’s true that change can be a good thing sometimes. The album explores the emotional ups and downs of leaving everything behind and starting fresh, but even with a few slower tracks it’s not all doom and gloom.

You can tell he’s been performing for a while and is comfortable with his own styles of voice and guitar. The music effortlessly drifts between blues, folk, and rock while giving it his own spin. It doesn’t hurt that backing him up is a great set of performers – Dustin Christensen (keyboards/melodic kalimba/celeste/backing vocals), Eric Ellsworth (electric guitar), Chris Hepola (drums/percussion/melodica/piano), Josh Granowski (stand-up & electric bass), Ross Nueske (electric bass), Cory Mon (backing vocals/wooden frog), Stephanie Mabey (backing vocals), Chris Becknell (violin), and Mark Smith (cello).

The album starts strong with “Vertigo,” blending some amazing bass lines behind a driving guitar melody. Nothing like the U2 song of the same name, this one talks about the feelings left after loss and the after-effects. Talking about the past and not wanting to let things go… “It’s been 9 years since I called again / now I’m still trying just to stomach it / it’s a long long ride / no end in sight…” The song builds and builds and then fades away like there’s a fight brewing and then they just walk away.

“Away From You” offers a very different feel. Less about loss and more about a romantic notion of love. This one seems like narrating a movie scene about two people on opposite schedules trying to make things work. Each time they’re together they’re learning how to love each other again ending in the same place… “I don’t want to wake up again / away from you…” Hopefully it’s less “two ships passing in the night” and more “coming together” however!

Later in the album you hear “Better Than Today,” about a relationship at the end. It’s time to move on. “I don’t care if you like what I say… / ’cause when I leave, you’re still here / the same old place year after year / I want to see the smiles of different faces / I want to see the stars from different places / and it will do no good to stay / it’ll never be better than today…” That need for change when one person doesn’t want to is tough. And living in the past gets old fast. It’s an emotional goodbye, but goodbye nonetheless.

And “Karma” ends the album with a blues song talking about a cheating woman. It’s a simple blues beat, but damn if it doesn’t work well. I absolutely love the groove, right down to slapping the keys like a wagging finger in the background behind the guitar and drums… “The crying starts and the pleading begins / how could you have done this again? / sure you were just friends…”

If you’re looking for some new music and like your folk blended with rock and blues, I’d strongly encourage you to check out Naps and Nightmares from Wes Kirkpatrick. I’m sorry he’s left Colorado, but our loss is Chicago‘s gain and I’m sure he’ll be back this way again. Check it out at Amazon and iTunes as MP3s. For more details about Wes, the album, and his tour, be sure to check out his website WesKirkpatrick.com!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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Music Review: Night Train – Keane

Hey…

Keane is one of those bands I would sometimes hear on the radio that simply became part of the background. Songs like “Somewhere Only We Know” gained so much air play locally that I just changed the station without really listening. Little did I know what depth was there beneath the surface…

Keane’s three members – Tom Chaplin (lead vocals), Tim Rice-Oxley (piano, backing vocals), and Richard Hughes (drums, percussion) – have been making music together since the late 1990s. With only limited success up to then an early bandmate – Dominic Scott – left in 2001, but the band pressed on. When their single “This is the Last Time” was released in 2003, they started to gain some traction, which paid off handsomely with the success of Hopes and Fears a year later.

After Hopes and Fears, the band released Under the Iron Sea (in 2006) and Perfect Symmetry (in 2008), both receiving immense praise and encouraging throngs of fans worldwide to attend their live shows. For the Perfect Symmetry tour, they visited 28 countries’ worth of packed venues – Russia to Australia, Columbia to South Korea, Lebanon to Switzerland… And somehow they had time between dates to slip into the studio to record a few tracks.

It’s those tracks you’ll find on their new album – Night Train. And I have to say that I don’t know why I didn’t latch on to Keane’s rich melodies and deep lyrical meaning in the last 6 years. I doubt that they’ll continue to fade into the background when they’re on my radio.

With only eight tracks, Night Train doesn’t have a lot of time to grab your attention, so it doesn’t waste any. From the opening beats of “Back in Time” to the amazing “My Shadow”, the album rises and falls effortlessly across a varied musical landscape. And while I may not personally appreciate all of their genre-defying collaborations with fast-rising Somali/Canadian rapper K’Naan or Japanese baile funk MC Tigarah, I applaud the band taking chances to broaden their already impressive appeal.

Among my favorites on the album are “Back in Time,” which to me sounds like a plea to stop the world… “Time, I wait for you / Hibernating hoping life will start again” evokes an image most of us have struggled with in life from time to time. The feelings of loss and sadness after a particular loss forcing someone to hide away for a while while the pain fades. The driving synthesizer and drum beats, like a heartbeat, keep the song pumping as Chaplin’s vocals evoke that painful plead.

As a band that I always associated with synthesizers and rock guitars, the acoustic guitar and percussive claps that open “Clear Skies” caught me a bit off guard. The almost upbeat music almost hides the sadness of the lyrics – wanting to feel the certainty of those who survived. “And I wish that I could be / Everything you are, everything you are / And I wish that I could state / My faith the way you do, as certainly as you…” Like the passing of a storm, “Clear skies gonna fall on you…” This definitely evoked television news memories of the Katrina aftermath for me.

“Your Love” sounds like it came right out of the 1980s with its drum machine-sounding beats and background keyboards, with a dash of today’s darker romantic vibe. As the singer lay on the floor, fallen to floor under the influence of the drug that is love… “The chemicals react, the molecules collide / The poison works its way somewhere down inside…” – what a dark, almost technical description of the effect of love’s drug set to the innocuous, happy beats of an earlier age.

But by far my favorite is “My Shadow,” with it’s haunting message of love and new beginnings. Like an exploding universe, “And you will see my shadow on every wall / And you’ll see my footprint on every floor…” as the spark of lust and love that kick off the start of new possibilities. “It only takes a spark / to tear the world apart / these tiny little things / that make it all begin.” And beneath it all, the driving keyboards and harmonies to drive the point home.

Keane’s new album Night Train takes no prisoners as the band experiments with ideas, styles, and collaborations that will find their way onto the radio once again to become more than simply notes in the background. Even if you’ve not heard Keane before, give this album a listen.

–Fitz

p.s. Check out this and other Keane albums at Barnes & Noble below!

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Music Review: Mayfly EP by Jason Karaban

Hi all!

Though I’d not heard of Jason Karaban before, the three songs on Mayfly resonated with me. Inspired by images of the Civil War, these are haunting, sad songs tinged with regret and loss stripped down to a bare few instruments and melodies.

Karaban was accompanied by Chris Joyner on piano (“No Casualties”) and Lucy Schwartz on backing vocals (“Sullivan Ballou” and “No Casualties”), but “A Far Better Place” is Karaban going solo. But Karaban seems to surround himself with diverse talent frequently. Whether with Joyner or Schwartz, Karaban’s voice has a soft, almost ethereal quality that lends credence to the heady topics of these songs.

This is Karaban’s fourth release, starting with Doomed to Make Choices in 2005, Leftovers in 2006, and then Sobriety Kills in early 2009. On his albums he’s worked with a veritable “who’s who” of guest musicians such as Joyner and Schwartz. Guests have included Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum), David Immerglück (Counting Crows), Ani DiFranco, Ivan Neville (Rolling Stones, Neville Brothers), Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet Sprocket), and many more.

The power of the simple songs of Mayfly is palpable not only in the melodies and performances, but the lyrics. It’s hard to argue with “The seeds of old were strewn across the field and blew away” in “Sullivan Ballou”. The images evoked are those of the bloody remains of battles fought those many years ago. It’s rare to find an artist willing to take a chance on such a sad topic.

It continues with “No Casualties” and Joyner’s stripped down piano playing and someone playing a soft trumpet. Again, not cheerful lyrics, but evocative ones speaking of having no casualties during a retreat, and later losing people as “they drop like flies” during a battle. War is hell and the comeraderie between soldiers fighting on the front lines wavers between cheer and despair from one encounter to the next.

And finally in “A Far Better Place” you hear in the background the echoes of men in war as once again, the despair is tinged with cheer of fallen brothers. The fallen head off to a far better place after fighting – “no disgrace from the shame we do” – again, calling back to the horrific violence of the Civil War where brother fought brother and horrible acts done in the name if one cause or another.

I believe Mayfly is meant to make us consider the costs of war, whether today or yesterday. But beyond that, it’s significant to find an artist expressing his visions and challenge our preconceptions of the purpose of music. In this case, Karaban shows a contemplative, almost cathartic understanding of a complex topic.

If you’re interested in challenging yourself emotionally through music, be sure to check out Mayfly. I know his songs will haunt me for a while.

–Fitz

p.s. Check out Mayfly and some of Jason Karaban’s other CDs, including Sobriety Kills, Doomed to Make Choices, and Leftovers at Amazon.

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