Music Review: Life in Between – Handful of Luvin

Hi again…

Have you ever heard about the blind men and the elephant? Six blind men are near an elephant when a wise man asked them to describe what it looked like by what they felt. One felt a leg and described the elephant as a pillar. One felt the tail and described the elephant like a rope. On and on. Each described the elephant based on their own personal experience – and all of them were right.

What do six blind people have to do with Handful of Luvin’s album Life in Between? Sometimes I feel that describing music is the same way… And this album is tough to describe. Each track has a slightly different “feel” that feeds into the eclectic mix of this rock quartet. But if you take each track on its own, you only hear part of the truth.

The band began to form in 2002 when David John (vocals and guitar) met Andrew Joslyn (fiddler) at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. As they began to play, their styles complemented each other perfectly. Over the next couple of years, Patrick Files (bass guitar) and Michael Knight (drums) joined the mix to form Handful of Luvin. Often compared to the Dave Matthews‘ Band, I hear many more influences in there – from a bit of Tom Petty, to some punk ska like Simply Stoopid, to even a bit of the Vitamin String Quartet and a touch of Poe. It’s a strange beast that at once seems unique and yet comfortably similar…

From the very first track, I was swept up in the river of amazing arrangements and poetic lyrics that evoke not only emotion, but engage the intellect and imagination.

“Born Lucky” starts with the plucking of strings and shifts into rock mode with lyrics that might make you wonder if these guys are philosophers… “The more we criticize, the less we realize / that we’re the ones in control of all our lives…” Among the guitars and the poignant turns of phrase is a rock sensibility asking us to question ourselves when things get tough.

But it’s “The Pilgrimage (Into Chaos)” which really made me understand that this isn’t your average rock album. Smack dab in the middle, you hear Alan Watts’ voice asking us to enjoy the ride, not the destination – with humor and humility, he suggests that we don’t rush our lives for others, but find ways to avoid the rat race in favor of stopping to smell the roses. And behind this rational talk, the band provides an amazing instrumental that rises and falls, building and building to the end – with synthesizers and a soaring violin and viola from Joslyn.

Handful of Luvin seem to know how to worm their ways into your head through words and music. Each track is slightly different from the last, taking you on a journey from start to finish, with a sound all their own. Each member adds their own special ingredient to the mix, never overwhelming or competing with each other – simply working together to create the best songs they can.

If you’re looking for a unique album, I can’t recommend Life in Between from Handful of Luvin enough. Through rock music and strings, Celtic influences, punk, and other tasty ingredients it’s a feast for the ears that deserves a listen.

For information about the band and tour dates, be sure to check out their website – HandfulOfLuvin.com.

This review first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up the album here:

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Music Review: Frank Viele and the Manhattan Project – Neon Lights

Hi there!

Somewhere between the 1980s and today, the use of a horn section in a rock band fell out of favor. I’m not sure how or when, but we went from awesome sax solos and trumpets in songs like “Urgent” from Foreigner, “Who Can It Be Now?” from Men at Work, and Huey Lewis and the News when they toured with the horns of the Tower of Power. Sure there are a few groups like the Dave Matthews Band who still use a trumpet or sax now and then, but it’s not quite as integrated into the whole rock experience as it used to be.

Now bring in Frank Viele and the Manhattan Project (from where else, but the New York City metropolitan area) – a six piece group featuring Viele on vocals as well as acoustic and electric guitars, Mario Capdiferro on drums, Rob Liptrot on bass and backing vocals, Eddie Arjun Peters on lead guitar, Pasquale Ianelli playing tenor, soprano, and baritone saxophones, and Andrew Mericle on trumpet. Add to that mix Richie Cannata playing sax (from Billy Joel’s band) on “Turn Around,” Jason Hirth on keyboards on six tracks, and Ben Golder-Novick helping on the alto sax on six tracks… and where having a strong horn sound can sometimes overwhelms a band, these guys sound amazingly well together.

They’ve been touring together for a few years now and Neon Lights is their first full-length album. It doesn’t disappoint, crossing multiple genres (funk, rock, pop, jazz, blues, and swing) on nine great tracks.

What blew me away was the title track – “Neon Lights”. It opens with a bass line that has stuck with me like few recent songs, reminding me of the way the bass line in “Running Down a Dream” from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers wormed its way into my head to the point where I can’t help but sing along. Layer that with Viele’s rough voice, the backing horns, and some sweet lead guitar and it is tough to get me to stop listening to it over and over again…

Like most great bands who write their own songs, the lyrics for “Neon Lights” tell a story as well. A modern tale of wanting the best for an ex- with drug and alcohol problems… “Then my hip starts buzzing, you’re on the telephone / But Honey you know they’re wrong and that you don’t want to stay…” It’s not quite a plea for her to come back (after all, in the first verse they say she “ain’t coming home”), but you can tell he’s worried.

Another great track is “Portland Rain” which has some awesome horn riffs that remind me of some of the great R&B groups of the ’60s and ’70s. It’s a throwback to an earlier time with a guitar solo tearing up a chunk of the song as well.

And so you don’t think it’s all R&B and rock, their song “Try” sounds very much like something you might hear from Dave Matthews. The syncopated rhythms on an acoustic guitar mixed with Viele’s voice talking straight to a girl he wants to get to know better… “Yeah but Baby, there ain’t enough wine in me to tell you that God is on your side / And there ain’t no holy roller that’s gonna bring you peace tonight / … / But if you leet me be your lover, I will bring you peace tonight…” It’s a heck of a pick-up line to play from the stage, but it just might work!

My only complaint with this album isn’t with the musicians, but with Viele’s voice at times. Every now and then it was so gravelly or growly that it was nearly impossible to tell what he was singing. But most of the time when he wasn’t going that far, he sounded great and was backed up by his amazing guitars and horn players.

If you’re looking for something different with some sensational horns and guitars and a funky modern feel, give Frank and the boys a listen. Look for Neon Lights at your favorite music online or brick-and-mortar retailer when it’s available July 13, 2010. And check out their website at FrankVieleMusic.com for a list of tour dates and more information about the band!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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Music Review: Brandi Carlile – Give Up the Ghost

Brandi Carlile and her band first came to my attention a couple of years ago when they opened for Sheryl Crow at Red Rocks Ampitheater in Morrison, Colorado. Carlile, twins Tim and Phil Hanseroth and cellist Josh Neumann walked out on stage and blew me away with tunes from their album The Story, which I immediately purchased upon returning home.

Give Up the Ghost is Carlile’s third studio album, pairing her with Grammy Award winning producer Rick Rubin. The album also provided an opportunity to work with her idol, Elton John, on the song “Caroline.” As Carlile said, “when I was 11 and discovered Elton John, I realized that performers do write and perform their own songs,” and that inspired her to get a keyboard and start writing. Also featured on the album are contributors Benmont Tench, multi-instrumentalist from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, drummer Chad Smith, and Amy Ray of The Indigo Girls.

It’s hard to argue with an album with this sort of pedigree. And Carlile doesn’t disappoint, returning once again with her soaring vocals, mixed musical styles, and amazing arrangements.

In “Dying Day,” an up-tempo guitar-driven beat provides the backdrop to the harmonies between Carlile and the twins. Add to that the lyrics of a lover stranded in the world, working his or her way home again to be with their love until their dying day.

“Caroline,” the duet with Elton John and Carlile, definitely has EJ’s touch on piano and they sound great together. There’s an interesting cross in musical styles between the almost Dixieland piano of EJ and the Grand Ol’ Opry quality of Carlile’s voice.

Without a doubt, “Before It Breaks” is my favorite on the album, with Carlile’s signature effortless octave-changing vocals. Backed by piano and strings, her voice takes on an ethereal quality. Take a listen for yourself in this live performance…

Brandi Carlile, \”Before it Breaks\” on YouTube

If you liked The Story, you should love Give Up the Ghost.. Brandi Carlile and her cohorts only get better from album to album and I for one hope they make music for many, many years to come. Look for Give Up the Ghost on store shelves starting October 6, 2009.

Don’t forget to watch for concert dates in your area either… Carlile and her band are just as amazing (if not moreso) live as they are on CD, so don’t pass up an opportunity to give them a listen.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up Give Up the Ghost and other Brandi Carlile CDs at Amazon below:

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