Music Review: Greg Laswell – Covers EP

Hey all…

So many artists, so little time… I’m now of the opinion that the State of California has been hiding Greg Laswell since 2003. Based in Los Angeles, Laswell has produced and two EPs, with a new EPCovers – released in October. He has a unique, almost haunting voice for a male singer and these simple arrangements of five songs from other artists reinforce that haunting quality…

The EP features covers of songs from Echo & the Bunnymen (“Killing Moon”), Morphine (“In Spite of Me”), Mazzy Star (“Take Everything”), Kristen Hersh (“Your Ghost“), and Kate Bush (“This Woman’s Work”). Not only is it an interesting combination of songs, but there’s a progression there… From a vaguely vampiric lyric to the burdens of a woman watching her son grow into a man, it’s interesting to hear a man’s voice singing these arrangements of music created or sung by women originally.

Beyond lending his emotive voice to these tracks, Laswell also played most of the instrument on the album. He produced the record himself in a cabin in Mountainaire, Arizona. The piano and guitar worked especially well for me in these stripped down, yet layered tracks. I have to say that though all of these songs are beautifully done by Laswell, the last two sold me – “Your Ghost” and “This Woman’s Work.”

In Hersh’s lyrics for “Your Ghost,” that haunting aspect of Laswell’s voice really come to the surface. He recorded multiple tracks of his voice to provide harmonies to give it further depth. But the words alone paint a picture of heartache… “… it’s too quiet, so I pad through the dark and call you on the phone / Push your old numbers and let your house ring til I wake your ghost…” The sense of loss is hard to miss and Laswell’s arrangements bring that to the fore.

I’d not heard Kate Bush’s version of “This Woman’s Work,” but had heard other songs featuring her distinctive voice. Laswell again takes the arrangement and boils it down to its core with a piano, a guitar, and his emotions. The lyrics are once again from a female perspective, yet Laswell provides the depth necessary to bring out the beauty, the hope in the underlying story instead of the sadness… “Of all the things I should’ve said / That I never said / All the things we should’ve done / Though we never did / All the things I should’ve given / but I didn’t… I should be crying, but I just can’t let it show…”

Laswell’s depth lends credence to all of the tracks on this album and I was left wanting more – the sure sign of a great artist. Be sure to look for Greg Laswell’s new EP – Covers – at your favorite retailer!

–Fitz

p.s. Unfortunately Covers doesn’t seem to be available at Amazon, but check out these other Laswell albums!

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Music Review: Vitamin String Quartet – Vitamin String Quartet Performs Radiohead’s In Rainbows

Hi all…

In the very early 1990s, I heard Radiohead‘s song “Creep” for the first time on an alternative radio station in Fort Collins, Colorado. From then on, I’ve enjoyed what I’ve heard from many of their CDs – including Pablo Honey and their most recent album, In Rainbows. When I heard that the Vitamin String Quartet (VSQ) did covers of the entire album of In Rainbows, I knew I had to take a listen.

As with Per_Versions, which is another recent album from VSQ, this group of classically-trained orchestral musicians manages to tease even more magic from the already magical Radiohead music. “Nude” and “House of Cards” had been played on local radio stations for a while now, but I wanted to see what they sounded like when performed by a string quartet. Once again, I was not disappointed.

With each song, VSQ manages to take Radiohead’s already deep compositions, take them apart, and put them back together again so that not only are the songs still recognizable, but made unique again. They manage to avoid sounding like a cover band, even though that’s ostensibly what they are.

The haunting strains of “House of Cards” are made that much more haunting through the use of violin where voices were originally. You can hear the emotion seeping through from beginning to end. The same held true for “Nude” and “All I Need”, which were among my favorites of the album. There’s just something about the translation from rock guitar, synth, and voices that stays magical during this transformation.

Violinist and arranger Tom Tally, who has performed on and produced over 35 VSQ albums says that VSQ “is about applying rock & roll attitude to classical technique” and bring chamber music into the 21st Century. They do this by transforming contemporary rock songs with their innovative spirit as well as their own original compositions in which you can hear some of their rock influences.

Vitamin String Quartet Performs Radiohead’s In Rainbows brings depth to an already deep album and is an amazing experience into the transformational power of music. Be sure to pick up a copy of the album from your favorite online or brick-and-mortar retailer to support this innovative group!

–Fitz

p.s. Click here to pick up some of VSQ’s albums at Amazon:

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Music Review: Vitamin String Quartet – Per_Versions

Hey there…

Just a few months ago, I’d never really considered that a string quartet might be able to play rock music. After hearing Break of Reality’s album Spectrum of the Sky, that changed. So when I heard of a different string group playing rock music, I knew I had to take a listen. The Vitamin String Quartet did not disappoint me.

Per_Versions takes songs from a variety of groups, including Spoon, The New Pornographers, Tom Waits, and others, then transforms the original compositions into covers as only a group of classically-trained string players could do. What you end up with is music that in most cases transcends the original artists to show that melody does exist where you might not have heard it in the original recording.

The Vitamin String Quartet (or VSQ for short) is a Los Angeles-based group of musicians that have released quite a large series of albums paying tribute to classic rock and roll acts, movie soundtracks, and more. Per_Versions continues the trend, covering songs from 12 different bands and three original compositions by the group.

Unlike Break of Reality, VSQ covers other bands, from the past and present. I have to admit that I was shocked to hear some of these songs played by strings, since most of them have been played on the radio in their original, sometimes overengineered or screaming guitar states. But when you strip away the electronics, distortion, and rock guitars, you end up with melody, musical themes, and hidden rhythms that allow those elements to shine.

Of all the tracks on the album, I have to say that two were my favorites. “The Way We Get By“, originally done by Spoon, really moves along from the quartet. Something about the groove really got into my head as it bobbed along with the back-beats of the bass behind the sliding bows of the higher strings. And “Sour Times“, originally done by Portishead, also has a different texture from the rest of the songs on the CD. It combines jazz sensibilities with the feel of a Fiona Apple song.

In addition to the 12 covers from other groups, there are three original compositions from members of VSQ. Though I appreciate the musical chops of this great array of artists, I found these songs a bit weird for my taste. The only thing I can compare them to is avant garde jazz compositions, which I often have the same reaction to. I’m sure they’re brilliant pieces, but they struck me as repetitive and containing odd chord progressions.

But beyond the three original tracks, I thought the rest of the album was fantastic. VSQ’s experiments in rock and pop covers proves to me without a doubt that classic training can bring out the music from the most unlikely sources. Where before the voices and rock guitars would mask such beautiful melodies, VSQ manages to uncover the secrets within the original works that we might not ever hear otherwise.

Per_Versions is but one of many albums from the Vitamin String Quartet. If you like classical or orchestral music, but prefer rock or pop, this just might be the group for you. For more of their offerings, be sure to check out Vitamin Records. I know I’ll be checking out more of their work!

Pick up a copy of Per_Versions at your favorite online or brick-and-mortar retailer and keep an eye out for any live dates that might come your direction!

–Fitz

p.s. Click here to pick up some great Vitamin String Quartet music from Amazon:

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