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: Small – KiNDERGARTEN

Hi there…

Some bands defy categorization. KiNDERGARTEN falls into that camp for me. The four members’ diverse array of experience and musical talent mixes styles and influences with minimal effort and presents a unique sound that definitely leaves an impression.

My first exposure to the band was through their “The Man on the Stairs” video, which evokes a vibe that’s part “Thriller”, part Thomas Dolby. The creepy dancers in black and the entertaining video cuts and transitions that match perfectly with the bizarre, yet catchy tune. Who knew a song about being freaked out by a “dead man doin’ the moonwalk” upstairs would leave such a lasting impression?

But KiNDERGARTEN doesn’t stop there. “The Man On The Stairs” is joined by eleven other unique tracks on the album Small, which was released in early February 2010. The whole album is awesome, but I have a few favorites…

“Elementally Challenged” reminds me somehow of Rocky Horror Picture Show in the way it grooves along almost conversationally. In it, the band manages to mix rock sensibilities with the seasons. At first, we have a summer hotter than usual, then we have a winter “like a slow death in a meat locker,” which finally signals the end to the battle between the heat and cold in springtime. And like many of us in areas that suffer Mother Nature’s wrath at times in the passing of seasons, the singer is “elementally challenged” from time to time.

Then you have “C15-78Y” which hits me as a hard rock version of the Beatles’ “Come Together,” combining a very disparate, futuristic set of sounds with the story of a man with no name – just a number. He wants a name. He wants to know his family. Serious commentary on the harsh realities of the modern world set to a rockin’ tune. “Take your number, I’m tired of living a lie” he says – “just don’t gimme no number.” A sentiment I think many of us can identify with from time to time in the computerized age of rank and file.

The four members of Kindergarten have some serious music chops to their credit. Lead singer Ariel Levine started his music career in the 5th grade with saxophone and guitar, moved on to voice and theater in high school, and skipped college all together to learn audio engineering. From there, he worked as a professional music producer with such talents as Wynton Marsalis, Carmine Appice, Eric Lewis, and Collective Soul. In 2005, he decided to form his own band and connected with the other three artists.

Sakura Toyama is the group’s keyboardist. She started playing at age 3 and later earned a Bachelors in Musical Arts from the University of Michigan and an Artists Diploma from the Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw, Poland. In 2001, she moved to New York City and had to give up playing piano for a while when she couldn’t fit one in her apartment. Later she heard Levine was looking for a keyboardist and became part of the band that became KiNDERGARTEN.

A year after Toyama joined the band, Levine needed a new bassist and met Zach Abramson while working on the soundtrack for an indie film called The Changeling. Abramson had just completed his Masters in Composition at the Manhattan School of Music and though he’d grown up playing classical piano, he’d picked up the bass guitar at age 12 because it was “cooler.” He performed in funk, jazz, and rock bands throughout middle and high school and through kismet, KiNDERGARTEN gained a new bassist.

The eldest of the group, Yancy Lambert, grew up playing horns and played in the drum and bugle corps as a teen. But he didn’t pick up the drums until age 20 after watching his older brother play for years. Self-taught on percussion, he sat in on local cover bands in Massachusetts and eventually moved to New York City in the late 1980s in several funk and soul groups. That work eventually led him to a regular spot with the music collective Brooklyn Funk Essentials, who played on several movie and television soundtracks. With his experience and range of influences, he seemed a natural fit for KiNDERGARTEN when Levine heard him working as a drummer in the studio where Levine worked.

KiNDERGARTEN’s first album, River of Slime was recorded, produced, and mixed by Levine in 2007. The band has played throughout NYC, including at CBGB’s, Knitting Factory, Mercury Lounge, and many others. And though Small was evidently more of a collaboration of the foursome, you honestly can’t tell this is a sophomore album. It blows my mind to think of the amount of musical talent and experience in this group. But if you listen to the music of KiNDERGARTEN, you can hear all that experience and all the influences come through in spades. It’s hard to believe they’ve only been together since 2005!

If you’re looking for something new, different, and funky, look no further than KiNDERGARTEN’s album Small. It’ll knock your socks off with intriguing lyrics and awesome rock. Be sure to check out their website at KiNDERGARTENNYC.COM for more details!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up KiNDERGARTEN MP3s at Amazon:

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