Blue Mafia – Hanging Tree

Blue Mafia – Hanging Tree

URL: https://www.bluemafiaband.com/

Blue Mafia has garnered considerable plaudits for their revitalization of the bluegrass form and their third studio outing, Hanging Tree, illustrates their attention to tradition while underscoring their originality. This is no mean feat, but Blue Mafia have established a much deserved reputation for utilizing bluegrass traditions in original and highly personal ways. The band’s chief songwriter, Dara Wray, obviously burns with a desire for self expression and it comes through in every offering on the album. Her husband Tony is the group’s other co-founding member and the duo have surrounded themselves with superb collaborators more than able to help them realize their musical vision. Hanging Tree’s twelve songs are well versed in the long history of bluegrass, but they also crackle and pop with the experiences of a life well and truly lived. Hanging Tree is a remarkable achievement by any standard.

The first indication of its beauty comes with the opener “Like a Mining Man”. This track amply shows newcomers that the band’s mastery of bluegrass is total and longtime fans will find themselves in familiar steady hands. There’s a whiff of inspiration surrounding these tunes; even if there’s covers and songs with subject matter seemingly lifted from another time and place in our history, Blue Mafia make each song sound like they were written days, if not hours, before their recording. You can’t fake this sort of freshness and it signals a group fully committed to getting their work over with the audience. “Hanging Tree” reaffirms that commitment. This is an even better song that shows off their instrumental facility with the deft blend of its various musical elements, but it has a deliberate movement that shows a band in control and striving for effects throughout the duration of the song. There are no shortcuts or half-measures taken. Blue Mafia’s material gets exactly what it needs to flourish. “Sweet Mary of the Mountain” returns the band from the title track’s folkie vibe into the more traditionally bluegrass minded textures of the first cut. It has a strong, striding chorus that the vocalists and musicians alike take full advantage of. Dara Wray’s first song on the album, “The Man You Know”, has some nicely incisive lyrics that sound slightly surprising juxtaposed against this sonic backdrop, but the effect is notable.

They delve into arch-traditional territory by covering “With Body and Soul”, but the performance doesn’t sound derivative in any way. Instead, Blue Mafia invests the song in an ebullient mood and their charisma comes through in every line. There’s a surprising lightly bitter touch on the song “Midnight Rain”, but it’s never overdone and contrasts well with the band’s typically artful musical treatment. “Say Won’t You Be Mine” is full of the yearning implied by its title and primarily led by Kent Todd’s lyrical fiddle playing that acts as practically another vocalist. The final song on Hanging Tree is written by a longtime fan and friend of the band. Kevin Hayes’ “Who Are You” has a surprising commercial quality that never cheapens the band’s approach and allows them an opportunity to stretch a little further musically. There’s something for everyone on this release.

9 out of 10 stars

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/blue_mafia

Lance Wright

Kevin Carroll

Kevin Carroll

YOU TUBE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwbPBTwLoO8

Hailing from the northeastern United States, Kevin Carroll doesn’t exactly seem like the prototypical urban dwelling alternative rocker. Any such preconceptions should be tossed out the door. His debut album The New You, cut with little help in his soundproofed living room, is a bid to have his voice heard in a crowded musical world. He has the individuality and skills to get through. The three songs from his debut included on his Soundcloud page are likely excellent representatives of an effort that drinks deeply from the wells of nineties’ alternative rock, but likewise rages and bulls ahead on the power of its own convictions and with a distinctly modern edge. This is music that cuts through steel, but does so in a highly artful way. This is music that doesn’t pander and has no fear about veering off the expected path in order to conjure up different results.

“A Picture Perfect Jealousy Issue” serves immediate notice of Carroll’s capability for rock. The guitars are geared to bulldoze listeners, but they are never unmusical. The mammoth rhythm section attack gives Carroll an ample foundation for blasting away on its six string and the song is laden with a number of flamethrower and lightning bolt lead lines. The lyrics bring a distinctive point of view to a subject matter otherwise well mined by earlier songs and the blistering musical thrust snap into place around it. Carroll has an unique voice for this type of music – his emotional side is palpable, but he brings hammer-like muscle to the performance that more than matches the sonic storm raging around him. “The Higher I Am With You” doubles down on the pulverizing muscle he brings to bear on the opener. There isn’t a lot of variation in the guitar attack, but there doesn’t need to be. Instead, it charges over you and embodies every bit of the intensity described in the lyric without ever reaching too far for effect. It’s an equally powerful vocal performance, probably outstripping the opener, and he reaches every high standard set by the arrangement. If this isn’t the best track on his Soundcloud page, it’s close to it and makes a tremendous impact.

“In the Commercials” incorporates a number of inventive tempo changes and riffs away with more clarity than any of the earlier tracks. There’s a nicely turned expansive edge to many of the passages in this song, but they keep the balance struck in a satisfying way. Carroll’s vocals are joined by some double tracking here, but he never needs it. He sings with every bit as much conviction here as he does on the preceding numbers and only the changing tempos prevent him from achieving the same focused effect that the earlier songs reach. Kevin Carroll’s songwriting and performance style is inflamed with an intensity that you can’t duplicate. The sound and fury he summons up in these three songs is a sure of an indication as you’ll hear his first album The New You is a bracing listening experience.

SOUNDCLOUD: https://soundcloud.com/user-805485227/in-the-commercials

Michael Saulman

Leah Capelle – Joshua

Leah Capelle – Joshua

YOU TUBE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iedWi6Vxp-8

Joshua is the title of Leah Capelle’s second release. The three song EP is a great sophomore effort after her self-titled first album, an EP as well, brought her reams of critical attention. Her songwriting is surrounded with an air of reflection and enormous sensitivity. She works with top flight production talent to realize her artistic goals and there’s a seamlessness of presentation surrounding her performances that will appeal to a broad based musical audience. Joshua’s brief running time is no sign that it’s an insignificant work. Capelle’s songwriting talents cover every base and have a depth outstripping many of her contemporaries working the same style. She’s quite gifted with the ability to embody each line of the songs and never settles for an uniform vocal approach – rarely does she sing a refrain the same way twice and her phrasing often takes compelling twists. Joshua is the work of a consummate performer and singer/songwriter.

The title number begins things on a tempered, but sweeping, note. “Joshua” is a character study that reveals as much about the vocalist as the song’s subject. The plethora of details she supplies listeners with makes this a bracing storytelling experience in miniature, but it’s the fact that she possessed the eye for marking down what others less invested in the moment might have deemed immaterial. Her passionate invocation of these elements makes for an equally thrilling experience and the way she moves through verses and choruses alike brings added spice to the song’s dramatic construction. The instrumentation is never laid on too thick; the gentle melodicism of the guitars weaves well with authoritative percussion and steady bass playing.

“Out Now” continues the intensely personal themes of Capelle’s songwriting. She has a trademark-able style with her approach to songwriting emphasizing dramatic qualities, but the contrasts are starker here than elsewhere. The shift from gently wrought verses into much grander choruses is handled very well, but the lyrics for this track aren’t nearly as impactful as those on the title song. “Who I Am” recovers some mojo in the lyric department and certainly rocks out much harder than anything else on the EP. The guitars, however, never stretch or strain too far for effect, but they do bring some added grit to the track. The lyrics certainly go all-in on the expected theme affirming one’s self, but they never rely too heavily on the clichés so often plaguing songwriting in this vein. She goes in for the same pattern of song construction as well, energetic verses building to big screen choruses, but pulls it off again with such charisma that you’ll forgive any predictability. If it is predictable, it’s the most pleasing kind. Leah Capelle’s second release, Joshua, is an EP, but it’s an EP carrying the same weight as many full length releases and the well-crafted songwriting is a must hear for anyone interested in stylish Americana. It’s a professional and artistic accomplishment she should be proud of.

8 out of 10 stars

I-TUNES: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/joshua-single/id1163062458

Shannon Cowden

I Am the Polish Army – My Old Man

I Am the Polish Army – My Old Man

URL: http://www.iamthepolisharmy.com/

The challenging journey of translating life’s experiences into song for vocalist/guitarist and songwriter Emma DeCorsey informs each of the eight tracks on I Am the Polish Army’s first full length effort My Old Man. The project has underwent a number of conceptual variations since DeCorsey first considered forming the band and what direction the music might take in 2006, but her introduction to drummer Eric Kuby and bassist Turner Stough solidified her groping for the sound she heard in her head into something much more tangible and befitting the emotional ups and downs of her life’s trajectory. The trio revamped the eight compositions DeCorsey envisioned including on the debut into a recognizable shape and recast them in the mold of material listeners might be familiar with from bands like The Breeders and Veruca Salt. The increased emphasis on guitars and added emotional heft transformed the songwriting into something much more dramatic and powerful than ever before.

The spartan leanness of the opening for “You Don’t Know”, powered by evocatively recorded and reverb-laced guitar, sets a perfect stage for the mid-tempo meander kicking in soon after. There’s a cawing, slightly embittered quality in DeCorsey’s vocals retaining its steadiness even as the musical intensity rises and its inexorable push eschews in virtuoso trips in favor of simply getting over with the listener. “Dead Bowie” is powered by tightly wound, propulsive drum work and slightly dissonant guitar during the song’s first half before DeCorsey and her musical partners ratchet up the musical heat. The lyrics reflect on the glut of bandwagon jumpers often following the death of an icon and how, invariably, the hamfisted imitations and tributes have no real bearing on the legacy of those deceased figures. The raucous “Throat” goes for more of a straight forward guitar rock attack and chronicles DeCorsey’s experience with domestic abuse..It isn’t self-pitying or enraged, however; instead, it burns with the same indefatigable spirit listeners might imagine went into making this album possible and pulls back at just the right times for added dramatic effect.

“Setup” has a chunky and meaty guitar riff introduces the song before the clutter disappears on the verses. Eric Kuby’s drumming proves, once again, to be a crucial musical lynchpin for the album as a whole and the production captures his performances in such a way that his power, fluidity, and immediacy are impossible to ignore. There’s quite a bit of swagger present in “The Woods” and DeCorsey’s vocal melody wisely shapes itself around the enormous guitars while the abum’s penultimate track, “Gene”, does a superb job of coupling bright and expansive guitar chords with quieter passages creating quite a dynamic touch for the song. The laconic approach DeCorsey takes to some of her vocals are quite appealing and work particularly well on this song. “My Old Man”, the title song, has a lot of musical firepower and resembles the preceding song in some key ways, namely how it alternates muted passages with blasts of unbridled intensity. My Old Man is a relatively brief collection by modern standards, but it makes quite a substantial musical and lyrical statement.

9 out of 10 stars

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/iampolisharmy

Jason Hillenburg

James Raftery – Everything

James Raftery – Everything

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/TheJamesRaftery/

If you think synthesizers, loops, and drum machines suck the life out of anything musical, James Raftery’s work will correct such assumptions. The New York City based musician spent fifteen years working as Rat Wakes Red, a virtual one-man project with a succession of musical guest stars complementing his efforts, before branching out under his own name. The title track to his upcoming full length album, “Everything” is completely electronic except for Raftery’s vocal and those choices fail to take any humanity or physicality away from this performance. Instead, they help distinguish Raftery as one of the most distinctive musical artists working today and the sharp intelligence he brings to bear on a piece of this nature cannot be denied. This track never falls prey to self-indulgence and the brassy, attitude filled production compels you to keep listening and wondering where the composition might go next. Such daring is rare in the modern music world.

The insular nature of this recording is reflected some in its sound and composition. “Everything”, despite its electronic texture, sounds intimate from the outset and never strikes that pandering, club-pleasing vibe some might expect from this genre. The relentless drum machine pulse, despite its digital birth, has a perceptible swing humanizing the technological texture. The streamlined design of the arrangement keeps things moving at a healthy pace throughout and the music opens up in just the right ways to give Raftery’s vocals a chance to roam and move. There’s an pleasing juxtaposition between the musical arrangement and Raftery’s singing that never sounds like a poor fit; instead, the disparate elements come together to form a whole greater than the sum of its individual parts. The nearly four and a half minute running time of the track could have likely been trimmed a hair, dispensing with some ultimately needless refrains, but it is overall ideally tailored for Raftery’s artistic aims.

The lyrics are straight singer/songwriter stuff that finds a surprisingly comfortable home in this sonic environment. Raftery communicates with his audience with open-hearted vulnerability and a deceptively versatile voice capable of embodying the emotion behind the words, but it’s his keen ear for knowing exactly what words this song needs that sets it apart. Raftery’s vocals have a surprising amount of nuance; the same vulnerability in the words extends to his vocal tone as well with excellent results. There’s a slightly hushed demeanor he adopts for much of his delivery that strikes a memorable contrast with the song’s simmering electronics. James Raftery’s “Everything” takes enough risks to excite music devotees and has the needed accessibility to draw in those who normally scoff at the form. The entire package is here – this is songwriting with a strong sense of craft, art, and entertainment. Raftery doesn’t treat the song as an opportunity for a confessional of sorts; instead, he performs and gives deeply of himself through doing so. “Everything” is one of the most interesting offerings in this style in recent memory that you’ll hear and promises great things from this pending full length album release.

SOUNDCLOUD: https://soundcloud.com/jamesraftery/everything

Jason Hillenburg

Chris Jones & The Night Drivers – Made to Move

Chris Jones & The Night Drivers – Made to Move

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/chrisjonesgrass

Made to Move pays tribute to the present and past alike. Chris Jones and The Night Drivers have a laudable commitment to pushing their own original material and it has an uniformly high level that many other bands and artists working in this field lack. However, Jones and the Night Drivers have no qualms at all with tackling traditional standards in such a way that they claim a piece of those songs for themselves without overlaying them with some tacky, overwrought surface that only weighs them down at someone else’s expense. These aren’t songs requiring over indulged production touches to get over – the audience admires them for either their aesthetic or emotional beauty and that’s where things end. This release is firmly lodged in the Americana tradition, particularly in regards to its bluegrass influences, but it’s reach extends much further – instead, Made to Move’s dozen songs are astutely composed and selected to touch the broadest of possible audiences.

No matter the historical context of Jones’ and his collaborators inhabit, this is music built around melodies. This fact alone transcends petty concerns about style. Songs like the opener “All the Ways I’m Gone” cast a long melodic shadow landing on anyone who truly enjoys hummable melodies regardless of the instruments used to arrive at that point. There’s a fair amount of playful humor mixed in with the rueful lyrics and Jones’ exceptional delivery makes all things possible. “I’m a Wanderer” has a far more inward-looking quality and this pensive side of the band’s songwriting has an evocative interpreter in Jones – he hits all the right emotional notes, often sounding quite elegiac, but never over-wrought. “Dark Hollow” is an excellent recasting of a long traditional bluegrass/folk standard. Jones and the Night Drivers give the song an exemplary treatment that preserves its authenticity while still imbuing it with an ebullient character sure to appeal to many. The heartbreak has a slightly muted effect on the song “Raindrops Fell”, but Jones and the Night Drivers deal with subtle turns with artistry that few likeminded outfits possess. Nothing here is self-indulgent or clumsily overstated. The sadness powering the lyrical content of “Living Without” is considerably smoothed out by Jones’ level-headed vocal delivery and the musically irrepressible arrangement.

“You Always Come Back (To Hurt Me Again)” culls its sound from a classic country pedigree that the band obviously feels quite comfortable with. Jones’ voice makes great use of a strong country music lyric, customarily witty, and never plays it for laughs in any way. “Sleeping Through the Storm” is the most overtly gospel-influenced track on Made to Move, but it doesn’t trumpet those influences. It makes the most use of them, instead, during the call and response chorus and the touch remains light even then. The album’s last song with lyrics, “The Old Bell”, is completely informed by the folky side of the band’s artistic vision and unfolds at a perfect place. The storytelling strengths of this particular track stand out among a track listing full of stand out moments. Made to Move represents a new high in the career of Chris Jones and the Night Drivers thanks to their wide-ranging command of the style and an increasing depth of artistry few performing units today can match.

9 out of 10 stars

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/chrisjonesgrass

Lance Wright

Sweetalk – Mutiny

Sweetalk – Mutiny

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/sweetalkband/

This is a blueprint for how to make kick ass rock and roll with a challenging edge. Sweetalk’s five song EP Mutiny does not go in for the standard tropes and clichés but, instead, molds familiar themes and approaches to their own ends without losing any energy or rock and roll spirit. The lyrical content on these songs extends from their imaginative titles to highly personal, yet resonant, words perfectly tailored to each musical arrangement. They conjure up quite a sonic storm despite having one guitarist and a narrow range of instrumentation, but the production frames the songs in such a way they sound well nigh undeniable. Their style is best described as a high flown alternative style with a penchant for great riffs and, when they take instrumental breaks, they never over indulgent and, instead, fill the tracks with further color. Mutiny is one of the best indie rock efforts of the young year.

“Ghosts and Flesh Wounds” pummels listeners with Brian Boelter’s drums before Jamie Koebe’s guitar and Travis Grahn’s bass join in earnest. Koebe’s voice is ideally suited for this front loaded musical attack and the band comes with such a combination of technique and raw muscle that it’s difficult to not feel a little overwhelmed. The crucial factor influencing this is the song’s clear as a bell production that gives Sweetalk impressive power and a deceptively finessed touch. They mix things up to excellent effect with a rugged guitar work out on “Anatomically Speaking” and the edgy six string work takes on a number of permutations during the performance. Koebe delivers an appropriately cutting vocal that sinks the song deeper into listener’s consciousness. The band’s songwriting quality remains consistently high throughout the duration of this release and there’s nothing even remotely related to filler weighing down the track listing.

The riff propelling much of “Annie Maul” has the impact of a clinched fist colliding with your jaw over and over again. It has great swing and the band’s ability to move back and forth between riding that motif and alternating it with much more nuanced passages. The lyrics are some of the most imaginative on the release and match up quite nicely with the music. “Indecisions & Distractions” is the album’s longest musical exploration and runs close to six and a half minutes. Koebe’s anguished vocal drives much of the song’s power, but the band brings down a musical storm as well. The extended length gives the band a chance to stretch out and they never disappoint. Mutiny ends with “Fractions & Nosebleeds”, a much more meditative musical experience in some important ways and a performance that underlines their ability to shift gears. Sweetalk has a great skill for pouring old wine into new bottles and the distinct flavor of these songs goes down well with a lingering, pleasant sting. Green Bay’s newest rock and roll musical export is just starting out on a recording career, but there’s no question their trajectory has a distinctly upward path from here.

9 out of 10 stars

AMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/Mutiny-Sweetalk/dp/B06WWNBPR9

Lance Wright

Susan Calloway – Time for This

Susan Calloway – Time for This

URL: http://www.susancalloway.com/about/

Susan Calloway’s career trajectory is reflective of the times we live in. It is highly unusual for a performer, even now, to achieve the level of prominence Calloway has reached on the backs of a video game soundtrack, but Detroit based Calloway’s single “Answers” for 2013’s Final Fantasy XIV struck a resonant chord with music and gaming fans alike. It’s an achievement comfortably ranking alongside the success of her debut EP Chasin’ the Sun and numerous appearances in high profile venues in places like London’s Royal Albert Hall, Tokyo’s Tokyo International Forum, and concert venues in other far flung locales like Paris, Montreal, New York City, and Los Angeles. These star turns have helped Calloway build an impressive fan base and social media presence while her creative partnership with producer Gerard Smerek continues to produce impressive artistic results. The latest result of that aforementioned partnership, “Time for This”, features her singer/songwriter skills at the zenith of their potential.

The gorgeously lyrical piano takes a stately pace through the song’s nearly four minute running time and develops the musical motifs with a light, highly artful touch. A light sheen of keyboards enters the mix shortly after the one minute mark and they serve the same function as strings might in the piece by further fleshing out the composition and imbuing it with some added heft. The crescendos come at all of the right times in the piece, but they never present themselves in a heavy handed way – instead, the piano builds a bit of added tension by concentrating on a heavier end of the sonic spectrum without ever overplaying or breaking the slow stride of the song. Despite the pacing, the arrangement never feels inert, but instead breathes free and easy with confident melodic grace.

The lyrics are equally exceptional. It is no stretch to say that this isn’t far removed from the material that a young Joni Mitchell might be writing if she were starting out today and, if Calloway sports some obvious influences from artists like Mitchell and her creative progeny, those influences are so seamlessly absorbed into Calloway’s experiences and emotions that they are utterly transformed into something uniquely her own. The rhymes, if they are predictable, are predictable in the best possible way – there’s a sense of inevitability born from emotional truth informing every line and there isn’t a single wasted or extraneous word in the entire composition.

It’s her voice, however, above all else that sells this performance. There’s some smoky gravitas, significant vocal range, and precise yet bluesy phrasing that elevates the fine lyrical content to something even greater. Calloway is living every word of this song as she sings them and her close adherence to the piano playing, without ever directly mimicking the melody, invests the song as a whole with considerable dramatic effect. “Time for This” has a little bitterness, tempered by heartbreak, in every note, but it’s ultimately that note of regret and sorrow filling the track that will move listeners most of all.

SOUNDCLOUD: https://soundcloud.com/susan-calloway/2-time-for-this-more-bottom-pf/s-35zIi

Jason Hillenburg

Mason – Midnight Road

Mason – Midnight Road

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/masonbandofficial

Rock and roll, particularly the bluesy variety, is far from dead. Arizona’s Mason provides evidence of that. Their debut full length album includes ten strong, ballsy songs that embrace the genre with inspiration and imagination. Featuring two multi-instrumentalists in vocalist/guitarist Jacob Acosta and bassist Johnny Zapp, plus virtuoso drummer Andre Gressieux, Midnight Road sounds like the result of three old hands in this genre hitting upon a particularly winning collection of songs. The songwriting on albums like this can, sometimes, prove to be a hit or miss proposition. Many songwriters and performers, self-conscious about the style’s long and icon laden history, often resort to invoking their long split up betters in an attempt to connect with listeners or seemingly play to particular age groups, but Mason aren’t like that at all. Instead, the ten songs on Midnight Road glow and burn with fierce individuality and instrumental prowess that goes far beyond mere parody or loving imitation.

Mason gets Midnight Road off to a particularly memorable start with “Rockstar Paperboy”. This is a rhythmically challenging, musically inventive piece that comes at listeners with personality galore and a highly individual take on the genre apparent from the song’s opening notes. Jacob Acosta’s guitar work is one of the great strengths of Midnight Road, but his vocals shouldn’t be underestimated. They certainly give this song a particular spin going far beyond the usual efforts in this style. “I Bet You Know” is a bluesy bloodletting committed to recording. There’s some nice melodic touches heard throughout the duration of the song, but it has a much more wrenching evolution that continues ramping up from the outset and pays off handsomely. Mason have a firm command of blues music’s dramatic possibilities and exploit them without ever losing touch with any sort of artistry. This isn’t just some academic exercise; Mason clearly embrace this form as a completely valid vehicle for self-expression and frame it in a thoroughly modern way.

“In or Out” has a balls-to-the-wall approach that the band rarely deviates from over its running time. When it does shift gears, however, it does so to spectacular effect and results in giving the song a little added oomph to push it over the finish line. The ingenious vocal arrangement for “She’s a Little” makes for an ultra swinging tune without ever drawing too much attention to itself and dovetails nicely into the musical arrangement. The multi-tracked vocal treatment doesn’t sound at all out of place among these ten songs and, if anything, the different mold it fits adds some welcome variation and spice to Midnight Road. There’s some of the same easy swing embodying the song “Give It To Me Now” and its uncluttered approach has a breezy confidence that hits listener’s sweet spots with a combination of style and substance. Midnight Road ends with a great title track full of color and dramatic touches lacking in the early numbers but, once again, Mason never sounds uncomfortable with these variations. They play as natural variations of the band’s DNA without ever seeming like they are straining for effect. It ends the album on a high note.

9 out of 10 stars

PRIMARY URL: http://www.mason.band/

Lance Wright

The Flashpot Moments – s/t

The Flashpot Moments – s/t

URL: http://www.flashpotmoments.com/

Produced by Tim Cawley, Tom Polce, Hal Cragin, and Andy Pinkham, The Flashpot Moments’ recording debut is the realization of a long-deferred dream. It’s Cawley’s personal baby, an eleven song outing that he’s written and refined over considerable time, and the ultimate success of the project rests on his shoulders. Everything about this release says he’s up for the challenge. The songwriting and performances are uniformly excellent and crackle with intensity. His vocals aren’t the classic Robert Plant-like yowl of a hard rock front man, but they are quite excellent in their own regard. He’s also picked from among the cream of the crop for his musical partners on this voyage and their résumés sparkle with credits working for musicians as diverse as Husker Du, Aimee Mann, Spoon, and Bruce Springsteen. The eleven songs on The Flashpot Moments are dramatic, musical, confident, and entertaining. There’s scarcely a better assemblage of qualities listeners could want from any release, but especially one in this particular vein, and the final bonus is how Cawley achieves all of these things on his own terms and brings the audience along with him.

“Places Unknown” may be the only outright crowd-pleasing anthem on The Flashpot Moments. This is clearly, however, a number designed to bring a large concert together with a smiling, bright-eyed mix of hail hail rock and roll attitude, flashes of comedy, and a vocal that takes it all in with unabashed glee. Cawley accomplishes that and more. “On Some Awful Night” doesn’t have the same kind of catchy chorus, but it certainly leaves a mark and the songwriting as a whole carries listeners along with the same appealing breezy confidence. The production of this album renders everything in vivid detail, but this track shows better than most how the balance of instruments is so crucial to making this project work. The instrumental attack on “On Some Awful Night” breathes really well, never feels cluttered, and the vocals are integrated quite well with the songwriting. This is AOR rock with a kick and expertly executed without ever sounding over rehearsed or sterilized. Tim Cawley keeps things just dangerous enough.

The danger is never higher than it is on the songs “The Learning Curve” and “Hands Up!”, but it’s the first song that’s much more of a straight ahead rocker. The former track comes barreling out at listeners from the first and the occasional pauses for a guitar flourish accentuate its velocity rather than undercutting it. “Hands Up!” has more of discernible bite, but it also mixes things up more than the first while the heavy guitar pyrotechnics continuing firing off one volley after another. We’re treated to another intelligent uptempo rocker with the song “Satisfaction Isn’t”, but the tempo is much more moderate than we’ve heard on the preceding two tracks. It has one of the album’s best choruses however and the consistently strong use of backing vocals makes a positive impact here. Cawley closes this fine release with the, perhaps, expected big finish – “The Last Stand” clocks in over the seven minute mark, but it never feels over-extended. Cawley’s ability to make this album fly with focused and well-tuned rock cuts as well as extended pieces with multiple passages testifies to the extent of his talents.

9 out of 10 stars

YOU TUBE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-il4g2BXP0&feature=youtu.be

Shannon Cowden