MUSIC REVIEWS: George Winston, Hurricane Chris, Alex Cuba, Beehive, Annie, Nouvellas, Sentient Machine
Those of us old enough to know what ‘New Age music’ is and familiar with those classic Charlie Brown animated TV specials, might very well adore this new CD by George Winston: Love Will Come-The Music of Vince Guaraldi, Volume 2. Guaraldi is the jazz pianist responsible for all that hip piano music in those Chuck B. specials. Winston, a solo pianist was on the forefront of that new age thang way back in the mid 80’s. Winston is once again visiting his love for Guaraldi (hence the volume 2!) but this time he’s interpreting some of Guaraldi’s lesser-known work (lesser known if you only know the guy from those Charlie Brown specials…and if so, educate yourself!)
The opener “Time For Love” is a melancholy piece with a strong repeated phrase and some Winston improv hinting at his ragtime influence. The longer “Macedonia/Little David” and “Fenwyck’s Farfel/Calling Dr. Funk” is Winston covering Guaraldi channeling Cole Porter. “Woodstock,,” obviously based on the little yellow bird, is as fun and light as the stride piano retelling of “You’re Elected, Charlie Brown/Little Birdie”…the longest tune on the album.
“Room At The Bottom” is Winston at his best; slow, perfectly plucked single notes over a light affective heart-breaking Guaraldi phrase. “Air Music” is a standard you’re sure to know.
“Love Will Come /Slow Dance” probably the most perfect song here, with Winston employing a muted effect at the end; “Rain, Rain Go Away” a mature, expansive-like single piano piece, akin to Guaraldi’s classic “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” and the last tune, the title track, heartbreakingly beautiful.
Listing to Love Will Come-The Music of Vince Guaraldi, Volume 2, it’s obvious to me nobody touches the singularly perfect Guaraldi like the singular talented George Winston.
Check the resume, ya’ll: Started rhyming at age 9; major release debut (51/50 Ratchet, J Records) at age 18; had one of the hottest singles of 2007 (“A Bay Bay”); got mix tapes on the streets (Ya Hear Me? and Louisi-Animal); and oh, in Shreveport, Louisiana, September 25th is officially “Hurricane Chris” day.
SO, it’s a no-brainer why Chris Dooley, Jr.’s newly released album, Unleashed is a head-nodding, body-rocking, swag-on-100 type-of-vibe.
With a 10-year history of rhyming, the 20-year old Louisiana-based rapper is bringing track upon track of club anthems. Take your pick from the summer hit, “Halle Berry (She’s Fine),” the body loving “Coke Bottle,” the sexual cockiness of “I Want It,” “Beat It Out The Frame” and the second single, “Headboard” featuring Florida rapper Plies and B-More songster Mario – and you have an album that club DJs devour on a Friday night!
Nevertheless, if you missed it, do check out my personal fave, the extended remix of “A Bay Bay” featuring The Game, Lil Boosie, Baby, E-40, Angie Locc of Lava House, and Jadakiss. Nearly three years later, it’s still in rotation.
Floating soulfully over what could be called Cuban R&B, Alex Cuba’s beautiful voice is the perfect accompaniment for this grooved out album. No surprise either, as this accomplished Cuban born artist wrote all of the songs on Agua Del Pozo himself. Now residing in Canada, Alex Cuba’s music draws heavily upon his homeland as it includes masterful percussion, lyrics entirely sung in Spanish, blaring horns on most tracks, and expertly layered bass lines.
A guitarist first and foremost, Cuba’s own music on the album alternates between rhythm and lead, comfortable in either role. Fifteen tracks clocking in at fifty-five minutes, with a very balanced blend of upbeat and slower songs, each composition is presented in a very clear manner. To Cuba’s credit, each instrument can be heard and the production values are crisp. While each track has a different melody, they’ve all got a distinctly Cuban sound while forming a very cohesive album. My only criticism would be that the tracks that don’t stand out begin to blend together after awhile.
The tracks that do stand out however are very noteworthy. “Si Pero No” is one of the grooviest songs on the album, with a catchy tune and chorus. A lovely example of Cubano R&B, it also has a heavier presence of post-production tinkering, which luckily does not interfere with the flow or enjoyment of the track.
“De Manera Que” is one of the slowest songs on the album but instead of being lamenting or down beat, is clear, warm, and full of heart. Featuring only Cuba’s voice and guitar work, the stripped down track speaks louder than any of the other tracks on this musician’s ability. Agua Del Pozo is an enjoyable listen for lovers of contemporary Cuban.
Zach Hinkle, the primary force behind electronic-pop band Beehive, relocated to New York City to record Sun & Scream, the follow-up effort to Beehive’s first EP, I’m Losing My Punk Rock Spirit. (Hinkle also belongs to band alias Cherokee.) Sun & Scream was recorded entirely in Hinkle’s city apartment and was mixed by Ryan Stansky.
The album opens up with “Pink Slip,” a 52-second long song that exemplifies perfectly what the rest of the album has to offer as far as keyboards, distorted vocals and overall low-fidelity. “Midnight Kidnap Then a Night Cap” is one of the album’s best tracks, ringing with sounds of bells (xylophone?) that are exotically ominous.
“My Need to Stay” is the first single off of the album and displays Hinkle’s ability to combine pop hooks and melodies with abstract beats. “Concrete Garden” is worth the listen, while “Department Store Hangover” is an appropriate closing with its echoing guitar and piano.
However, while Sun & Scream attracted me on the first listen, the album unexpectedly became boring after a few. If you threw different colors of paint on a wall and let them run together, it would look pretty cool while the paint was still wet; yet when the paint dries, you may not like the end result as a whole. I admire Hinkle for his ability to take sounds from two different ends of the musical spectrum and ease them together smoothly, yet as a whole, the album does not deliver songs with enough juice to make your memory want to attach to them.
Perhaps “Mirror Mirror” is the track to blame for this sudden loss in appeal. The album presents itself as lightly somber and authentic, and then transforms into cheesy disco, with the repeating lyrics, “Sometimes I feel like running, and sometimes I feel quite stunning…”
For more info on Beehive, check them out on MySpace.
Are you an Annie fan? After her last hit, “Heartbeats,” many fans were looking to Don’t Stop to fill the void in time since Anniemal came out in 2004. Does the album stand up? Fans surely won’t be disappointed by another stellar on-your-feet album but those looking to dive headfirst into Annie’s music may be a little put off by the disc. The album is overall much slower but still enjoyable. Annie’s standout voice gives ordinary songs a larger than life feeling.
Standout tracks on the album include “Hey Annie,” a mid-tempo track with airy vocals and group chorus lines and “I Don’t Like Your Band,” which brings both a message and an infectious groove to the dancefloor. Title track “Don’t Stop” is among the album’s weakest with a radio friendly feeling. While the majority of the album is accessible, it is slower and nowhere near as lively as Annie’s prior work. If you are looking for a track to sample, “Heaven and Hell” is a slower track with the usual Annie bounce that is a stellar track on this otherwise downtempo album.
Nouvellas is a thoroughly entertaining album by a new group that’s easy to love. True, it doesn’t break any new ground, but that doesn’t take away from the quality of the songs. The music world needs it’s envelope-pushing innovators but it also needs people to keep classic sounds alive and kicking, and boy does this album kick!
Nouvellas tap the mine of sweet soul music to make little Rock ‘n’ Roll gems that have groove and grit. The key to their appeal is their two front woman attack. Jaime Kozyra and Leah Fishman trade lines but sound best when singing in harmony. They are both great singers and neither one outshines the other. Rather, their voices act as the perfect compliment for one another. Two distinct flavors, that when combined, elevate the situation to a whole other level. Peanut Butter and Jelly. Of course, the songwriting is pretty great too.
The opening track, “Baby You Change Your Mind,” has the incredible ability of sounding like something you’ve heard before even though I can basically guarantee you haven’t. You’ll insist it must be a cover but it’s brand new. “These Days Are Gone” is the obligatory melodramatic ballad and fortunately, it’s pretty excellent. My favorite track though is “Don’t Count On Me.” Not quite stately enough to be a ballad, not uptempo enough to really rock, it exists somewhere in between and makes use of the best of both worlds. To put it plainly, it’s sadness and frustration that you can dance to. The record also has some of the strongest vocals from beginning to end.
The album might run out of steam a bit toward the end, but the bulk of it is steamy enough to fog up all your windows so you can get on with that dance party in privacy. Nouvellas is a good reminder that at one time, R&B and Rock ‘N’ Roll were the same thing and at their core, maybe they still are. If you are a fan of soul music in the Stax Records vein or just good pop music, you can’t go wrong here. Anyone who can successfully incorporate a vibraphone into three songs is alright by me.
Sentient Machine’s self-titled EP kicks off like a party and ironically enough, the very first words of the opening track, “James Brown New Year’s Eve Bash” are “Come on/Let’s have a party.” You’d be wise to follow their advice. And the good times don’t stop there. This is just the beginning of a heavy, intergalactic, funky journey these seven tracks offered will guide you through. The party atmosphere seems to work it’s way up to a crescendo—a dark, guitar driven cover of The Tramps’ eternal dance floor hit, “Disco Inferno.” This version doesn’t bring Travolta’s abnormally tight wardrobe to mind but somehow still manages to make you wanna get down.
The musical shindig comes to a screeching halt however, with the album’s final two tracks, “She Blew Me Away” and “Architecture Man.” That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “She Blew Me Away” explodes from a brooding, menacing monster into an energetic powerhouse that showcases the fine musicianship of the band. Look out for a really cool keyboard solo. The closing track, “Architecture Man,” comes across more as a Marilyn Manson b-side or remix but clearly drives home the fact that all good things must come to an end. Lucky for you, solving this particular problem is as easy as just pressing play again. And you will want to do just that.
The band is currently offering the EP as a free download which you can get right now right HERE