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: 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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