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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Music Review: Seasoned Eyes Were Beaming by Sara Lov

Hey all…

In January 2009, Sara Lov released her first album with Nettwerk. The Young Eyes EP introduced the rest of the world to her unique style. Until recently she was part of the band Devics, a popular group in the UK. Stepping out on her own to release her solo work is a bit scary, but she’s taking it in stride. “I learn every day and doing scary things makes me grow,” Lov says.

Her EP included five songs, two of which also made it onto her full-length album released this month. Lov’s songs are simple and weightless, yet infused with a depth most first time solo artists can rarely reach. Her voice embodies a pure sentiment in its sometimes shaky lilt as it lifts the listener through the stories woven into each tune.

So now in March 2009, Lov releases her first full-length album titled Seasoned Eyes Were Beaming and you can tell her confidence continues to build as a solo artist. The arrangements continue to grow as she adds layers of instruments such as cello, ukulele, pump organ, and celesta to support her already distinct voice.

Produced by Zac Rae (Fiona Apple, Annie Lennox, My Brightest Diamond) and mixed by Darrell Thorp (Radiohead, Beck), Lov is joined by cameos on the album from Alex Brown Church (Sea Wolf) and Solon Bixler (Great Northern) as she weaves her tales of innocence and the idealism of youth. We all know that as we get older it becomes harder and harder to see things with “new” eyes and Lov tries to recapture some of that innocence in her lyrics and music.

With each song, she weaves a narrative that can be interpreted many ways. I think that allows the listener a chance to filter the music and words with their own thoughts and memories and make it their own experience. Poetry is like that. It’s a performance captured on paper that can be experienced again and again in different ways because you’re never the same as the last time you read it. Lov’s lyrics hit me in that way.

“Just Beneath the Chords” starts Seasoned Eyes Were Beaming with an interesting twist, using the senses to tell a story I don’t quite now how to interpret. Each time I listen and read the lyrics I come up with a different interpretation. I think iIt’s a cautionary tale about how you can’t ever really know something until you experience it. Lov sings “now the star that shines us / it burns and blinds us / wherever we move / notice how you love the blindness / the burn reminds you / that you can feel too”. An experiential poem if ever there was one, as you listen with your ears and the song talks about your other senses along the way.

One of my favorites on the album has to be “New York,” which is a tale of friends parting and finding it tough to find common ground… “we spoke of the long ago / promised each other we’d never get old / but that was a whole life ago / and now I’m on my own…” The piano and acoustic guitar create an almost haunting feel to this song as though it’s full of ghosts. The video for “New York” has been uploaded to YouTube and it’s one of the most interesting music videos I’ve seen in recent memory, reminding me of some of the early days of MTV with Peter Gabriel and Dire Straits. (You can see it yourself here.)

My other favorite on the album is “Animals,” which Lov describes as a breakup song. Though I’m not sure I agree, it’s definitely about a dysfunctional relationship… “I should have never let you in to me / but I never never learned to swim / until you came around and pushed me in”… It’s a duet between Sara Lov and Alex Brown Church with simple, happy guitar picking in the background as they debate what kind of animal they are to treat each other as they do.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the intriguing art of the album itself, which is used to great effect in the video for “New York” mentioned earlier. Colorful, simple drawings reinforce the fact that the album is about innocence.

For an artist new to solo work, I must say that Lov has it down from the start. Most seasoned solo artists would dream of a first album like Seasoned Eyes Were Beaming. Nettwerk has another winner to add to their impressive retinue of artists.

Be sure to check this one out at your local music store or online.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick the EP and album up at Amazon!

The Young Eyes EP

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Erin McCarley – Love, Save the Empty

Hey all!

Erin McCarley has been a busy girl. Long before her album is actually available (will be released 12/30/08 exclusively on iTunes), we were hearing her music on television (Grey’s Anatomy and One Tree Hill), her music will be featured on the upcoming film He’s Just Not That Into You, and she’s already sold more than 15,000 copies of the first song on the album (“Pony (It’s OK)”.

After listening to the rest of the album, I have to say we’ll probably be hearing a lot more of Erin’s music on the radio, television, and movie soundtracks!

Growing up in a suburb of Dallas, she had an ideal childhood filled by great parents, an older sister, and dance class and choir rehearsal. Somehow that gave her a bit of an unrealistic view of the rest of the world, inevitably leading her to some of the harsh realities of life and the inevitable heartache that goes along with that.

Love, Save the Empty is a collection of powerful honest songs of her experiences as she dealt with the emotional trials of growing up. Once she discovered songwriting, she was addicted. And when she met producer/writer/keyboardist Jamie Kenney, the two began polishing the songs that eventually turned out to be the album.

Style-wise, she hits me like Fiona Apple, with sort of a breathless chanteuse sound as she sings of love, loss, and life. For a young artist just entering the mainstream, the themes are familiar with layered messages and music to hold her own with some of the other hot acts of today. And you can hear the Fiona Apple, Patty Griffin, and Greg Laswell influences (she co-wrote “Bobble Head” with Laswell).

All tracks are extremely well engineered with a mix of electronics, strings, guitars, and drums. Honestly, I’d love to hear what she sounds like live outside the studio, but I’d probably stick out like a sore thumb among the youth in any audience she plays to!

“Pitter Pat” emerged as one of my favorites on the CD, with a story tucked amid the up and down soft guitar strings in the background. Everyone fights this feeling at some point in their lives, the pain of picking up the pieces after a relationship fades. But it’s Erin’s voice cresting the melodic lyrics that raise this one above traditional pop.

“Sleep Walking” was a bit of a surprise favorite to me. It starts with a Mission Impossible vibe but blends into what could easily be a James Bond-type theme song. Groovy drums mixed once again with a story about sleep walking through life and trying to get a friend to wake up.

“Bobble Head” again grooves along a jazz-ish beat while jiving to some great vocals. With almost a surf guitar sound, she once again surfs out of the city where the bobble head on her dash can do more than half a dance on the highway.

For me, the album really hits its stride about halfway through when she starts to leave the “pop” behind and explores more interesting musical landscapes, but the album’s youth and energy drive Love, Save the Empty along its tracks for a fun ride.

Check Love, Save the Empty out when it is released 12/30/08 on iTunes and on 1/6/09 on Amazon. In the meantime, check out her MySpace page and listen to some of the tracks!

Track Listing:

  1. Pony (It’s OK)
  2. Bluesuitcase
  3. Sticky Sweet
  4. Love, Save the Empty
  5. Lovesick Mistake
  6. It’s Not That Easy
  7. Hello Goodbye
  8. Pitter Pat
  9. Sleep Walking
  10. Bobble Head
  11. Gotta Figure This Out

–Fitz

p.s. Check out this CD at Amazon:

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