Music Review: Gaby Moreno – Illustrated Songs

Hi all!

Recently I’ve been amazed by the seeming rebirth of a more classic sound – not quite Motown, but something close mixing R&B and soul with modern songwriting. Artists like Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone, Duffy and Adele remind me a bit of the soul music greats like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Gladys Knight. It was an era where you could feel the blues and gospel roots shining through and I think we’re starting to see that style again as new artists are gaining traction on the pop charts.

Gaby Moreno takes the bilingual skills of an artist like J. Lo and puts a bit of a Duffy/Adele spin on them without losing her own originality along the way. She’s capable of smooth ballads in Spanish and hot songs like “Mess a Good Thing.” Her new album, Illustrated Songs, is impossible for me to lump in one category however. It spans multiple genres and would sound just as at home in a French cabaret, a jazz club in New Orleans, or on “Top 40” radio. Though I compare her to Duffy and Adele, she both is similar and yet not at all similar to both artists.

To add to the confusion, I swear Moreno has one of the most genre-defying voices I’ve heard in a long time. In one song I’m reminded of the new soul movement, in another I’m reminded of Judy Garland, and in yet another I think her songs would seem at home in any Randy Newman-inspired Disney/Pixar movie soundtrack.

Of the dozen songs on the album, “Mess a Good Thing” is by far my favorite. The rocking soul guitar, strings and horn section behind her sultry voice just drive home that this woman has some serious soul. At no time did it feel like the song was out of her control, as can sometimes happen when you sing with such a large band. She knows she’s a good catch and her man won’t be leaving her: “Baby, you won’t be messing a good thing / Hurrying off with the break of day…” But though the lyrics may say he won’t be leaving her, her voice drives the point home hinting that if he does he’ll be in trouble!

But “Garrick” is one of those songs that just can’t leave my brain. The fact that she’s singing in Spanish makes no difference at all. It’s the amazing arrangement of strings, guitars, and clarinet that really makes this one groove. I can’t help but see her singing in front of a big band in some 1920s speakeasy or French cabaret. She’s just at home here as in her sultry soul mode, adding to the mysterious mix of genres she’s comfortable with.

And “Mean Old Circus” makes me think of some Judy Garland movie. The xylophones, circus organs, and her voice merge to provide yet another genre. She dons them as easily as changing hats. Beneath the kid-friendly sound however, there’s a darker purpose to the words – “A revelation …for conversation / A new permission for my religion / A sleeping lion’s lion dream /
In my forsaken evil schemes…” What is she really after here? Escaping to the circus may simply be a cover for more nefarious plans.

Evidently Gaby taught herself to speak better English by singing blues, R&B, and soul classics from artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, and Aretha Franklin. “I learned English from blues records. I’d read the lyrics, then go to my dictionary. In school, we studied basic English, but the records made me interested in learning it and singing it.”

Moreno is backed up by a terrific band featuring Sebastian Aymanns (drums), Leslie Lowe (bass) and an ensemble of renowned musicians including Greg Leisz (electric guitar, Mandolin, Lap Steel), Big Band leader Bob Mintzer (bass clarinet), Larry Goldings (celeste, piano), Patrick Warren (piano, keyboards), Mark Goldenberg (guitars) David Piltch (upright bass), Conan O’Brien’s horn section – Mark Pender (trumpet), Jerry Vivino (tenor sax), Richard “La Bamba” Rosenberg (trombone), and Adam Schroeder (baritone sax) – and string, horn and woodwind arrangements by Paul Bryan (Aimee Mann, Grant Lee Phillips and Amy Correia ). It’s a huge band that reminds me of the big band era of the 1940s but has all the other genres and playing styles at their beck and call as well.

Gaby Moreno seems to be a lady out of time brining classic ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, and other styles back to the people. If you’re looking for something to wile away a lazy Sunday, Illustrated Songs should be on your list to pick up. I love it when modern artists seek to rejuvenate the past and can’t wait to see what else lies in store for her. Illustrated Songs will be released on April 5, 2011 with a tour to follow. To learn more check out Gaby’s website.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up these great albums below!

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Music Review: Cory Mon & The Starlight Gospel- Turncoats

Hi there!

What is it about the impending arrival of Spring that brings out great new albums? I know Spring is a few weeks away yet, but it seems that great albums are in bloom all over the place. Especially in the folk/rock arena, with artists such as Bobby Long, Lee MacDougall, and Wes Kirkpatrick all releasing albums in recent weeks.

Thankfully, the streak seems to be continuing with Cory Mon & The Starlight Gospel and their release Turncoats that just came out this week. Evidently it wasn’t the easiest project to work on together and there was a bit of turnover in the band lineup while recording. “There was a lot of turmoil,” says Cory. “Artistically, it didn’t work out, but we’re still great friends with everyone.”

Like many bands I’ve reviewed of late, it’s tough to pin down just one style for Cory and the band. They bring aspects of folk and Americana traditions while bringing in bits of country and rock for good measure. And Cory’s voice is the constant across all of it, with a sound that reminded me quite a bit of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy‘s lead singer Scotty Morris. The songs on Turncoats run the gamut from the Western-sounding “3 Step” and the Doors-sounding “Gypsy” to the Bossanova beach party groove of “Dr. Pleasure M.D.” and ’70s-style guitar groove of “Venus.”

Honestly, “3 Step” would be right at home in the soundtrack for a modern Western. (I hear Quentin Tarantino may be working on one and he should definitely give it a listen!) The awesome bass line and sliding guitars give it some serious texture, while it seamlessly slides into a more polished sound with electric guitar solos in the background. All of this along with Cory’s voice telling a dark story about fears of turning into something worse… “Catch me clutching to my crime. / Swear I loathe your jealous type. / You crave possession, now I find my own way home, way home…”

Then we literally slide (via electric guitar) into “Fever” where Cory growls the lyrics about a guy trapped by the love (perhaps lust) of a woman… “Fever / You’re in trouble son / She’s your fever…” It’s his father asking him why in the heck he’s being led by the nose. His father’s been there too – “You won’t catch me trippin’ over wise man’s robes / but why did you go and let her in?” All the while, there’s this amazing bass line and haunting guitars walking the song along.

And then there’s “Gypsy,” which almost has a Doors-feel with a “People are Strange” similar bass line and mixing up the beats and song styles measure to measure. This one is more upbeat than the first two tracks. It seems as though the person singing was looking for advice and may have been confused by the Gypsy offering hers. As he tries to figure it out, he’s playing with ideas… “I think I’ll move to Arizona, where it’s said the souls are warmer / Tired of all these strangers think they read my mind / Turn around they watch you fall, they watch you fall, they watch…”

The whole album mixes styles and rhythms with amazing ease. In “Dr. Pleasure M.D.” it has almost a bossanova groove that reminded me of a beach party, while “Venus” has a ’70’s style guitar that would be at home in many films of the era. It’s obvious that Cory and the entire band have a wide variety of influences, which they mix and match to meet the needs of a particular song.

Cory Mon & The Starlight Gospel offer a unique blend of musical styles that makes Turncoats a great album. If you’re looking for a new Americana band to give a try, I’d encourage you to pick this one up. It’s definitely not your parents’ version of Americana! Be sure to check them out on Facebook and MySpace for news and tour information! It’s available for download on Amazon on MP3.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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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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