Wireless Soul
Chrissie Hynde
Dean Z Guitars

Around Hear: February 2013

Buddy Fambro

It’s apparent Donna Adler spent some serious time studying female folk heroes like Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, and a pre-pop crossover Linda Ronstadt, though she still interjects plenty of originality throughout the easygoing Stories To Keep. With sweet and gentle vocals that never cease to charm, Adler’s greatest asset is telling tales of longing, love lost and found, plus pretty much every relationship-related emotion in between. (donnaadler.com)
– Andy Argyrakis

The acoustic foursome Birdy fills the nest with an abundance of harmonies and organic instrumentation throughout its latest long player Magic Days. The band more than lives up to its “fringe folk” tagline thanks to a series of earthy, slightly quirky originals, alongside inventive rearrangements of the tried-and-true “Wayfaring Stranger” and “You Are My Sunshine.” (birdytunes.org)
– Andy Argyrakis

Like most adult-contemporary folk-poppers, Jeff Brown has issues with gravity. On Last Chance, there’s rain, sinking into the ocean, falling in love, falling apart, and just plain falling. Brown can’t free himself from the pull of traditional singer-songwriterisms, so he and co-producer Ellis Clark have created a huge pillow for his stock songs to land, padding the ground with sax, fiddle, and the occasional woman. (caudogrecords.com)
– Steve Forstneger

“Self-Help For The Hopeless,” with obvious allusions to Joy Division, is the most fully realized rock track on a six-song collection from Claw Toe. Other tracks, like “Geriatric Stalker,” come off as goofs with lyrics like “I broke into your flat/And stole your kitty cat.” “Kamikaze” and “Panic Attack” take a decidedly gritty, herky-jerky approach: Simple looped guitar riffs are hammered home with workmanlike percussion to manic effect. (myspace.com/clawtoe)
– Jason Scales

The unexpected dynamism in “Improvising Gabriel” and “Invisible Today” uncovers the avenues available to veteran singer-songwriter John Condron. Even more unexpectedly, his reluctance to pursue them is underscored in his new album’s title. If Any Or At All presents a fluid and fluent guitarist torn between artistic progression and a romanticized ideal of dusky troubadours. His procrastination hasn’t turned his situation artistically dire, but it only makes sentimental tracks like “The Old Gang” and “To A Boy” sound a little too easy. (johncondron.com)
– Steve Forstneger

The title and album art accompanying Cousin Dud‘s latest LP, Workinggirl’s Dud may reference the Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead, but there’s only one tune (“Little Daughter II”) that resembles the jam band motif. The rest of the material nestles somewhere between psychedelically-inspired acoustic rock and Neil Young-minded folk, all united by the quintet’s mellow, but hypnotic harmonies. (cousindud.bandcamp.com)
– Andy Argyrakis

Fans of the late, lamented smooth jazz juggernaut WNUA-FM (95.5) rejoice: All 10 tunes on Purpose, the most recent recording from Buddy Fambro, would have been playlist favorites during that station’s two-decade heyday. Though original instrumentals like “Hector’s Walk” and “Song For Lee” are admittedly saccharine, they’re satisfying too, showcasing the artist’s classic guitar skills. All in all, it’s the perfect accompaniment for a serene Sunday brunch. (buddyfambro.com)
– Jeff Berkwits

Mark “Spiv” Grzelak’s second outing fronting his band Frosting once again finds him crafting guitar-driven, catchy songs. Much of Frosting II reflects his extensive music biz experience, particularly the biting satire of “Idolatry” and “Little Puppet.” On “It’ll Be Over,” Frosting updates The Byrds’ sound in pretty much the same way R.E.M. did. Keyboardist/singer Mary Jane Lee takes over lead vocals on the power-pop flavored “Another Summer” and creates spirited harmonies with Grzelak throughout the release. (frostingusa.com)
– Terrence Flamm

Grant Harris (ex-Breathe Electric) is now producing dance music under the moniker Goldhouse, and his debut EP, All Night Long is a shimmering platter of slick, shiny contemporary electro-pop. A neo-house undercurrent pulses beneath the ecstatic, glossy sparkle of “What If?” as sprinkles of keyboards glint off the thumping bass and skittering skip-beat. “Dreamin” is a buoyant slice of ’80s-retro inspired pop; “Talk To Me” builds to a cathartic chorus of digital blips and Harris’ soaring vocals. (iamgoldhouse.com)
– Patrick Conlan

JIP singer/guitarist Jim Gwynn invited a different vocalist to join the trio for each of the seven mostly acoustic rock songs on its new EP, Sparks, Flames & Names. The idea to showcase Gwynn as a songwriter succeeds nicely, particularly when Grammy winner Buick Audra pulls double duty as harmonizing angel and strums guitar on the melodic “Swimming.” “Shudder,” the designated single, rocks harder as Gwynn pairs with Halfmoon Mad frontwoman Joanna Stanielun. (getjip.com)
– Terrence Flamm

Classic rock scores a second coming on The Prowlers‘ self-titled project, which blends deep-bellied vocals with crunchy riffs and forceful percussion. The results find the fivesome evoking the likes of ZZ Top, Joe Bonamassa, or Jonny Lang, crossed with an unmistakable South Side blues influence best traced throughout “Hearts On Fire” and “When The Wolf Howls.” (prowlers-music.com)
– Andy Argyrakis

And so, decades later, we return to the collision of pop metal and grunge rock: Sunset Empire sees the challenge before it and at least survives with personality intact. The band’s four-song EP assembles unhinged guitar work, sweaty anthems, and Psychedelia 101 for a style that refuses to cater to convention – or at least that to which we’re accustomed when these sounds usually meet. Who knows which way is forward, but most outfits disband before arriving at this level of identity. (soundcloud.com/sunset-empire)
– Steve Forstneger

Super Stolie aims to be a star, if not a guest artist on something like “Yo Gabba Gabba!” or at your local library or summertime park. Like kiddie rocker Laurie Berkner, Stolie’s 14-track album Press Play! is for the elementary set. Each well-produced track channels a different musical genre, all with the mission to get the kids moving and potentially learning something. “Working For You” is an acoustic sing-along about vocations, “Chocolate Chip Cookies” is a piano-driven how-to with actual kiddies singing backup, “Left Is To The Left” is a country-fried tutorial in . . . you get the idea. “Dreamland” represents Stolie’s song-for-grown-ups and comes off as an interesting and thoughtful track, especially in contrast to the other ultra-bubblegum pop. (superstolie.com)
– Jason Scales

Vapor Eyes conjures another inventive collection of mostly instrumental, ambient tracks pulsating with synthesizers, echoing percussion, and quirky sound bites on Golden Beats Volume #1. “Daylight Savings” marches to an infectious groove while a swirl of synths gives “Glowglobes” an orchestral feel. The press release nails the chill vibe of “Gentle Residential” when Vapor Eyes says these tracks were recorded, “with my cats by my side as the moon hung low in the sky.” (vaporeyes.net)
– Terrence Flamm

The Viaducts‘ nine-song album, Mission To Destroy represents solid, throwback rock ‘n’ roll not unlike Tom Petty’s approach: traditional verse-chorus structure where the guitar-based instrumentation and emotive vocals ring out. There are two gotta-crush-on-you odes, “Drive-Thru Girl” and “Your Smiling Face (Walkin’ By In Blue Jeans),” with the latter followed by breakup tale “Suffering” that also features a more up-tempo approach. The rock aesthetic becomes vanilla at times, as on “Dove Bar,” but the band’s purpose doesn’t invovle risk taking – it’s about delivering welcoming and warm rock ‘n’ roll. (theviaducts.com)
– Jason Scales

It’s tough to categorize At The Speed Of Ten Machines, the latest release from Voice Box. “Great Stone Forest” has a classic Canterbury flair, while the instrumental “Asa Nisi Masa” – inspired by Federico Fellini’s film 8 1/2 – borders on experimental electronica. What’s easy to confirm is that, regardless of style, all 12 compositions are intrepid, intricate, and consistently intriguing. (voiceboxchicago.bandcamp.com)
– Jeff Berkwits

Composer/trumpeter Pharez Whitted takes a slight stylistic turn on his follow-up to the critically acclaimed Transient Journey. For The People (Origin) boasts an upbeat edge with hints of pop and hard bop decorating traditional jazz flair. Whitted’s playing is thoroughly electrifying, with silky, liquid lines contrasting with explosive note phrasing that shows extraordinary technical acumen without sacrificing dynamic melodic development. His consummate skill and deft ear for spontaneous, blossoming, and kaleidoscopic improvisation are especially evident on “Freedom Song” and “Hope Springs Eternal.” (pharezwhitted.com)
– Patrick Conlan

This Is Water, the 10-track solo debut  from singer-songwriter Ian Wilson, is deep. Piano, synth, and drum machine loops are used for serious effect: The arrangements and theatrical vocal styling make for a sobering and contemplative listening experience. “Crate & Barrel” exhibits the most up-tempo approach, something Wilson regrettably fails to return to as other tracks overstay their confessional-filled welcome. (ianwilsonmusic.com)
– Jason Scales

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