Music Review: Fay Wolf – Spiders

Many of the new artists I hear, I hear first in the soundtrack for a television show. For example, I first heard Eva Cassidy‘s cover of Cyndi Lauper‘s “Time After Time” on an episode of Smallville. And I heard Alexi Murdoch‘s “Breathe” for the first time in an early episode of Stargate Universe. And I first heard Fay Wolf, though I didn’t know it at the time, on an early episode of Covert Affairs.

So when I started listening to Fay’s new album Spiders, I knew I’d heard the voice before but it took me a while to figure out where. But I shouldn’t have been surprised that I first heard her music on TV, as her songwriting and composition style effortlessly combines storytelling and drama in much the same way as some of my favorite shows. Though her style is all her own, my ear keeps comparing her to artists as diverse as Florence + The Machine and Tori Amos, who also tell stories beneath the melodies.

Since listening to the music of Spiders, I’ve discovered that her songs have also been featured on episodes of Gray’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill, and Pretty Little Liars. Beyond that, she is a classically-trained actress who has worked in theater, film and television with appearances on Law & Order, Numb3rs, Bones, Ghost Whisperer, and NCIS: Los Angeles. And if the music and acting wasn’t enough to keep her busy enough, she’s also a professional organizer with her own company “New Order,” named after the band.

Spiders is full of emotional honesty but also includes a bit of wit and humor within her lyrics. A word of advice however, she also includes a bit of explicit language in those lyrics, so though her music is amazing it might be best for a more mature audience.

The album starts with two of my favorite songs – “The Thread of the Thing” and “The Passing” – which set things off on the right foot.

“The Thread of the Thing” employs the dreamy feel of someone trying to explain how they feel. The lyrics are stream of consciousness but hit me like those conversations between lovers as they fall asleep… “And the stories of kings and the needle and the thread of the thing… in a little while I see that I love the way you came on…” Between the steady percussion like a heartbeat, the simple chording, and the atmospheric effects, it really got my attention quickly.

“The Passing” on the other hand manages to sound very different than “The Thread of the Thing,” featuring Fay’s voice and piano skills. Again, it’s like a dreamy conversation – “See here’s the thing / I love being in motion / and wrapped around you… I can hear you / and I can see the time / the time passing / the time passing by…” It’s as though her voice tells the story as her fingers dance across the keys.

In the middle of the album, “Pull” just seems to ring true again about… you guessed it. Love. This time it’s a bit more outwardly happy in the melody. “But y’figured out that the least you could understand / your heart is open to someone else’s hand…” Love sometimes manages to pull the breath from us, just like falling down in the snow. But the almost calliope-sounding keys gives this song a strong feel of fun while keeping that atmospheric piano behind the scenes.

But “In the Way” is the opposite to the languid feel of “The Thread of the Thing” with a melody that is at once sad, but honest. “How did we fall in love in a week / and how do we get away / how do we see if the cracks in the plan / are the reasons that we play the game…” Again, it’s simply Fay and a piano telling an honest story about romance. Sometimes things don’t work out and “if it’s all not fair, then why are you here.” Sometimes we have to look deeper than the fun we’re having to see that something isn’t good.

Spiders manages to express the complexities of love without seeming trite. I think that’s her gift, telling stories of love when it goes right and when it falls apart. Check it out at your favorite retailer. And for details about Fay, be sure to drop by her website FayWolfMusic.com.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

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Music Review: Eva Cassidy – Simply Eva

Hi all!

A decade ago, I heard Eva Cassidy for the first time in an unlikely place. We were watching an episode of Smallville on television and as soon as the song came on I started to ignore whatever was happening on screen. Eva was singing her version of Cyndi Lauper‘s “Time After Time“. Already a fan of the original, Eva’s version took it to a whole different level… and thus started my fascination with her music.

That one song was my gateway drug. Since then, I’ve picked up albums here and there, always hungry for more. Her album Time After Time still finds its way into my playlist at least once a week. Her versions of “Kathy’s Song” (written by Paul Simon and originally performed by Simon & Garfunkel), “At Last” (originally performed by Etta James), and “Woodstock” (originally performed by Joni Mitchell) haunt my mind on a regular basis.

It’s tough for me to describe the qualities of her voice in words. She was ethereal at times. Always passionate. With a tenderness and a strength that sends chills down my spine every single time. There are few voices that do that to me on a regular basis and Eva’s is one of them.

As I began learning more about Eva, I was crushed to discover that she had passed away of melanoma in 1996 at the age of 33. Another life cut far too short. She had so much more to share with the world.

So when I heard Blix Street Records was releasing an album of twelve acoustic tracks from Eva, I knew I had to give it a listen. The album, called Simply Eva, goes back to the core of what Eva relied on – her voice and her guitar. And as always, I was not disappointed. How could I be?

There are some songs I’d heard before with broader arrangements, such as “People Get Ready” which appeared on Live at Blues Alley. And both “Kathy’s Song” and “Time After Time” appeared on her album Time After Time. But these are stripped down versions that really showcase her guitar skills as well as her amazing voice.

Though every track is amazing, I’m going to focus on three here that really moved me.

Wade in the Water” is a classic gospel song that she just croons with a simple pluck and strum pattern that takes this gospel to a bluesy place that simply rocks. Eva would fit right into a gospel choir with this one. There’s a spiritual quality to her singing that makes even this agnostic soul think twice. For years my father has played this song on his twelve-string guitar but wasn’t able to remember the name, which makes it all that much more personal for me.

Then there’s “Wayfaring Stranger,” which is a staple of the folk tradition. And once again, Eva makes this an emotionally loaded song of cascading meanings. I wonder what she was thinking of as she sang… “I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger / Traveling through, this world of woe. / There’s no sickness, toil nor danger / That bright land, to which I go.” For someone who left us with so much more to say, I hope she’s someplace like that.

And finally, there’s “Over the Rainbow” written for the MGM classic movie The Wizard of Oz. Eva played with the arrangement a bit to make it hers. It’s a song of hope for the future… “Someday I’ll wish upon a star / And wake up where the clouds are far / Behind me.” With a wistful quality in her voice, you truly believe that she hopes things will turn out for the best someday.

If you are a fan of Eva Cassidy’s, or simply are looking for some amazing acoustic folk with a voice that will leave you longing for more, I can’t recommend picking up a copy of Simply Eva enough. Give it a listen. She is missed, but she left behind an amazing legacy for us to enjoy for years to come.

Simply Eva is available today – Tuesday, January 25, 2011.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great Eva Cassidy albums from Barnes & Noble and Amazon below:

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Music Review: Ladyhawke – Ladyhawke Special Edition

Hey!

Less than a year ago, Ladyhawke released her self-titled debut album. Now she’s releasing Ladyhawke Special Edition as she kicks off a 17-date North American tour in September and then heads back to New Zealand to record her second album. Her solo sound is a throwback to the 1980s synth-pop era that layers keyboards, guitars, and driving drums to create infectious dance tunes. Don’t let that throw you though… She has some mad skills.

[amazon-product]B002GM6MVG[/amazon-product]At various times on the album I felt she was channeling Blondie, Stevie Nicks, the Cars, Cyndi Lauper, Joan Jett… just a huge mix of influences. And though you can hear the 80s vibe when you listen to her music, all the tracks are original compositions. And all of the tracks drive you to get up and move – even if it’s just to tap your toes while you’re working.

Ladyhawke is the persona of Phillipa “Pip” Brown and she is absolutely bursting with energy on the CD. You get all 12 of the tracks from the original album, plus five extra tracks – “Oh My,” “Danny and Jenny,” and acoustic versions of “Paris Is Burning,” “Dusk Till Dawn,” and “My Delirium.” As mentioned earlier, all the tracks were written, arranged, and performed by Ladyhawke herself. Recorded in London, she worked with a number of collaborators including Pascal Gabriel, Kid Gloves, Jim elliot, Paul Harris, Greg Kurstin, and Michael Di Francesco.

She taught herself to play the drums at age 11 and by age 14 had added guitar, bass, and synthesizer to the mix. After leaving home, she was with Two Lane Blacktop for a time, then with Teenager, and now she’s on her own. Ladyhawke is generating some serious buzz after being picked by Perez Hilton to headline his 2009 SXSW party. According to Spin Magazine: “Ladyhawke is revamping the synth-driven ’80s sound… with sharper beats and guitars, glossier production, and new millenial stomp and sass.” I couldn’t agree more.

And if Perez Hilton and other media outlets weren’t already gaga for her, “My Delirium” was featured on So You Think You Can Dance on FOX and “Paris Is Burning” will be featured on an upcoming episode of Ugly Betty on ABC. She’s definitely on a roll.

Now I have to say that when I started listening to Ladyhawke Special Edition, I didn’t know this was really a re-release of her first album. Based on the sound, the quality of the tracks, and the toe-tapping goodness, I figured this was just a band from the 1980s I missed while growing up. Then I come to find out that this is her first solo release and I was blown away.

And if you think it’s just the audio engineering that makes her sound so awesome, you have to listen to the acoustic versions on this special edition. It’s all her and her arrangements are great.

My favorite tracks on the album? “My Delirium” – both the original and acoustic versions which has “rock anthem” written all over it, “Love Don’t Live Here” with its MTV intro-sounding bass line that leads into her sultry voice, and “Oh My” which has a very Fleetwood Mac vibe.

If you haven’t heard of Ladyhawke, run, don’t walk, to your favorite retailer and pick up a copy of Ladyhawke Special Edition. If you’re lucky enough to be in one of the towns where she’s stopping before she heads back to Australia and New Zealand, be sure to get some tickets!

September 10th – Atlanta, GA – Variety Playhouse
September 12th – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club
September 13th – Philadelphia, PA – Theatre of the Living Arts
September 14th – Boston, MA – House of Blues
September 16th – New York, NY – The Fillmore @ Irving Plaza
September 17th – Toronto, ONT – Opera House Concert Venue
September 19th – Chicago, IL – Metro
September 21st – Minneapolis, MN – Fine Line Music Caf’e
September 22nd – Milwaukee, WI – Turner Hall Ballroom
September 23rd – Kansas City, MO – The Beaumont Club
September 25th – Denver, CO – Bluebird Theater
September 26th – Salt Lake City, UT – Club Sound
September 28th – Seattle, WA – The Showbox @ The Market
September 29th – Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom
September 30th – San Francisco, CA – The Fillmore
October 2nd – San Diego, CA – House of Blues
October 3rd – Hollywood, CA – Avalon

Check out her website LadyhawkeMusic.com for more!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up Ladyhawke Special Edition from Amazon!

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