Sunday, September 25, 2016

Mariana Vega

Mariana Vega's “Cámara Lenta” slows us down to enjoy life, love, and music.

(Los Angeles) Have you ever wished you could slow down, take the time to think, contemplate, and understand life while you are living it?  Most of us have – I do often.  So I was ready for Mariana Vega and her new single “Cámara Lenta” – “Slow Motion” --  to slow me down and make me listen and think.  The experience was simultaneously exhilarating and calming, and very, very enjoyable. With “Cámara Lenta” now at the top of my playlist, the feeling of slowing down  may just happen to me every day.

“Cámara Lenta” is a new release by the two-time Latin Grammy nominee Mariana Vega, who won the 2014 Grammy for Best New Artist.  The song is true American Latino Music – it mixes electronic and acoustic sounds with USA pop flourishes.  And it also references Latin American folklore in its use of the 6/8 charcatera rhythm and minor note forms of the Argentine countryside.  But in any language, “Cámara Lenta”  soothes, entices, seduces and carries you along in the here and now.

Vega’s hometown is Caracas, but she moved to Canada at age 15 where she encountered British and American rock music, both of which mixed well with the musical influences from Venezuela, Colombia, and Argentina that shaped her artistry.  She now lives in Miami but has toured Canada, North and South America, the US and Mexico, picking up musical influences as she traveled and adding them to the songs her mother played in her childhood.

All of this coalesced in the moving poetry of “Cámara Lenta”.  Her producer, the renowned Julio Reyes Copello. Copello took Vegas’s idea and music about slowing down -- which she wrote after a year of moving fast on tour -- and helped shape it into a joyful celebration of living life to the fullest, in the now. His deft combination of pop accents, languorous intro notes, acoustic guitar clashes, piano, and soft rhythms perfectly showcase one of the best Latino voices in music today.  
“Camera Lenta” exemplifies Vegas’s creative chemistry with Capello as it builds on her voice using an understated intro and muted crescendos to create excitement before it dials back to the steady softness of the charcatera tempo.  All of this perfectly highlights her voice, which is recorded so purely that it comes out of the speakers like rays of light.

“Cámara Lenta” is the first song from a forth-coming album now in production which will be released song by song every two or three months and then as a whole disc. “Cámara Lenta”  is in Spanish, as are all of the songs on her albums Mi Brubuja and Mariana Vega.  But she also sings in English, as she demonstrated with the band Los Hollywood in their “Room Service” videos from Las Vegas. English or Spanish, her music, and her voice tells us to cámara lenta – slow down and enjoy life, love, and especially music.

Get social with Mariana Vega

LA. Correspondent
Patrick O'Heffernan
@Music FridayLive!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Lara Filip

(Chicago) Lara Filip is a singer/songwriter based in the Chicagoland area. With her deep connections in the Chicago music and theatre scenes, she draws the best musicians in town to collaborate on her earthy, evocative sound.

Lara attended The Chicago Academy for the Arts for vocal performance, where she met writing partner and keyboard player, Shannon Greene Robb. Shannon went off to study music at Berklee College of Music and DePaul; while Lara began working professionally in musical theatre productions. Filip went on several tours throughout the US and Canada, finally settling back home in Chicago.

In 2009, Filip started writing songs, much to her chagrin, (she'd vowed never to go into the music biz like her parents). By chance, she also reunited with Shannon Greene Robb who fell right back into the role of keys/right (and left) hand (wo)man. She also sought out the assistance of her friend and Grammy nominated producer, Liam Davis, who agreed to help develop the virgin batch of tunes and play on the first solo outing, under the name, Birdie Wing in 2010...the same year Filip was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Using that battle to fuel her passion for music and dig deeper into the well of her songwriting capabilities, she emerged healthy and newly inspired to send her music out into the world.

For early gigs, along with Greene Robb, Filip brought on Chicago mainstays Gerald Dowd, Steve Frisbie, Brian Sharpe and Liam Davis at the helm and on guitars. Since then, she has also employed the musical talents of a vast array of musicians, including Jed Feder, Matt Deitchman, Andriana Pachella, Jamie Cooper, Xavian Valladay, Jennifer Gramm Lowe and Tommi Zender.

Early in 2013, just as she was beginning pre-production on her debut album, on "a shoestring and a prayer budget" a private Investor came on board as a backer for the project. As a result, Filip again turned to Davis, this time as her official Producer. Filip and Davis are now in the studio, working on the full-length, debut album, then planned to be titled Feathers & Glass.

Filip's music continues to evolve but consistently and clearly conveys Filip's Rural-Urban hybrid upbringing. Influences include artists of her early memories, (James Taylor, Fleetwood Mac, Peter Gabriel, Billy Joel, Elton John, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Rickie Lee Jones, Loggins and Messina), but just as strongly, her rotating, current favorite artists, (The Head and the Heart, Mumford and Sons, Abigail Washburn, Brandi Carlile, The Lumineers, Sara Bareilles, The Civil Wars, Of Monsters and Men, The Weepies and many others).

Get social with Lara Filip 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Kate Fagan

(Chicago) Kate Fagan’s 1980 cult single “I Don’t Wanna Be Too Cool” b/w “Waiting for the Crisis” has been re-released as an expanded 7”/digital E.P. with previously unreleased tracks by Manufactured Recordings, the reissue arm of Omnian Music Group (OMG), the new label group from Captured Tracks founder/owner Mike Sniper.

The early new wave cut was the first release by Fagan, who would later find wider fame as the founder/front woman of long-running Chicago ska trailblazers Heavy Manners. But before she was opening shows for bands like The Clash and The English Beat, Fagan was a fresh Chicago transplant from NYC, who like many in the city’s late-70s burgeoning punk/new wave scene had in energy and pluck what she lacked in musical experience.

“I pretty much came to visit Chicago and fell in love with the scene and never left,” remembers Fagan. “At the time I’d been working at New York magazine and was getting dismayed watching the CBGB scene give way to the whole Studio 54/velvet rope thing. So I spontaneously moved to Chicago, which was much more inclusive and everyone wasn’t standing around peering at each other from behind their shades. But eventually, I saw that same kind of divisive hipster culture start to creep in. ‘Too Cool’ was my reaction to that.”

Fagan bought a cheap bass guitar and started writing songs intuitively, recording them at Chicago’s Acme Studios. There, she’d meet the fellow artists with whom she’d form the Disturbing Records label, which released the “I Don’t Wanna Be Too Cool” single as well as early singles by Heavy Manners.

Upon its early-1980 release, the pogo-ready “Too Cool” single was immediately embraced by local club DJs, influential radio stations WNUR and WXRT, and taste-making record stores like Chicago’s legendary Wax Trax, where it became the best-selling release by a local artist to date. The flipside, “Waiting for the Crisis,” also gained notice for its politically-charged Reagan-era lyrics and unabashedly raw musical style.

Decades later, the single would become recognized as a seminal U.S. new wave/post-punk record and a prized vinyl collectible that fetched hundreds of dollars on eBay. All of which were unbeknownst to Fagan until Manufactured Recordings reps contacted her through Heavy Manners’ Facebook page to propose a reissue as part of its DIY Archives collection, devoted to re-releasing super-rare 7” singles.

“I thought it was a prank,” says Fagan. “I didn’t fully believe it until I flew to New York to meet them in person. It’s particularly gratifying because after the original single sold out in 1980 I did a second run of 1,000 copies out of my own pocket, and they were all lost in a house fire that destroyed literally everything that I owned at the time. So this is like unfinished business, and I think the songs are as relevant today as they were then.”

Get social with Kate Fagan 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Blake Morgan & Janita

Blake Morgan and Janita tour the west: two diamonds sparkling in the stage lights
(Los Angeles) If you live in any of the cities where Blake Morgan and Janita are performing on the remainder of their West Coast tour you should cancel what you are doing and see them live.  If not, buy their albums and play them in headphones with your eyes closed.  Either way, the experience is transformative, as it was Saturday night on the Second Stage of Hollywood’s renowned Hotel Café. Blake’s bell-pure voice, stunning guitar chops, and poetry-in-music lyrics made the outside world disappear.  When teamed with Janita, the effect was far more than the sum of its parts – it was magic;  it took both your breath and your cares away.

Both Morgan and Janita are stunning singer-songwriters and experienced at-ease performers who kept an almost full house mesmerized for two hours, with Morgan opening and delivering nine songs, some new and some from his albums, and Janita doing the same in the second set, accompanied by Morgan on the guitar and vocals. The songwriting was inspired and the passion that drove the singing, especially by Janita, was palpable.  

But despite the musical fireworks, both performers were utterly unself-conscious and happily connected with the room at both a music emotional level and a friendly get-to-know-us level. Morgan introduced “Forgetting to Remember You” from his Diamonds in the Dark album with the story of how he co-wrote and produced it with his rock and roll godmother, Lesley Gore and how the success of the song impacted both of their careers. He introduced another song, “Suspicious Bliss” with a story about his ex-girlfriend leaving a note on his chair saying that maybe if she talked in her sleep she could tell him how much she loved him  and his wondering why she had to be unconscious to express her love.

Both artists bring not only unique talent, but unique experience to a stage and to the studio.  New York native Morgan is a recording artist, record producer, and the founder and owner of ECR Music Group, a global music company.  That he is touring with one of his artists is unusual in itself, although not for him.  He operates ECR under the under the unprecedented principle that all of its artists and labels own one-hundred percent of their master recordings. This aligns with his moral and political stance that artists deserve to be paid.  This ethic powered his founding of the #RespectMusic movement that has gathered nationwide support and resulted in, among other things, the introduction of legislation to achieve that goal.

His touring partner – who noted that the sign on the venue listing her as Janita Morgan” was in error and that they are not married -- is a Finish-American singer-songwriter who has released nine albums in Finland and three in the US, the most recent, Didn’t you My Dear, through the ECR Music Group. The Daily Telegraph called her “Finland’s biggest pop star” while she was still a teenager.  Now based in Brooklyn she records and performs to rave revues and joins Morgan in the #RespectMusic campaign lobbying in Congress for legislation to force broadcast companies to pay fairly for music.

Refreshingly formally dressed in dark jeans, dark tie and jacket, Morgan exuded the confidence of an artist thoroughly comfortable with each song and delighted to be giving them to an enthusiastic audience. The feeling was mutual. From the urgent melodies of “This One Wins” to the up-tempo  “My Love is Waiting”, each of Morgan’s songs was delivered with precision and power – a cathartic hypodermic mainlining emotion into your heart. And then Janita got onstage and upped the dosage, first backing Morgan in the dreamy “Don’t Want to Let you go” and then in nine songs in her set, most from her new album, Didn’t You, My Dear?

Opening with the high altitude “Beautiful You Are” Janita instantly alerted us to her wide-ranging voice and superb guitar talent, carrying us along like a zephyr wind over white caps.  Giving us a breather from “Beautiful You are” she brought a chuckle  with the introduction to the melodious but introspective “Easing into Sanity” and another as she moved into “No Excuses”.  But she quickly elevated the power and emotional demand and the set unfurled. The guitar tapestry she and Blake wove – she on a Fender and he on a beautiful silver Gretsch – scaffolded  her soaring voice and highlighted the urgency of the lyrics.  A tidal wave of notes and love and grief and history washed over the very, very quiet room.

After the haunting “Traces Upon Your Face”, illustrated in a disturbing but fascinating video, she let her inner blueswoman out with Tom Waits’ “Clap Your Hands”, and then moved back into the deepest part of her  heart with “The Meaning of My Silence”.  A bolt of electricity shot through the room as she launched into the hard driving Who’s Gonna Tell the Wolf She’s Not a Dog” . She then closed the evening with “Start From Scratch” to a cheering, whistling ovation.

The pairing of the producer/executive/artist Morgan with the produced artist Janita clicked beautifully.  The contrast in their songs is apparent, but so are the similarities.  They both imbue their music with a sense of urgency – the style is different, but the emotional response they created are similar. They both conjure a feeling of inner space, but it’s our space, not just theirs. It is deeply  personal but not private.  And while it is personal, their music both separately and together is universal and welcoming - open like the arms of the spiral nebula, and irresistible like the black hole at its core.

Either could tour on their own and have. Blake is a master of guitar, story-telling and urgent, passionate song. Janita is mesmerizing, powerful, edgy and addictive. Together they weave a performance worthy of the Hollywood Bowl or Carnegie Hall. Maybe next tour.  I’ll be there.

Get social with Blake Morgan & Janita

LA. Correspondent
Patrick O'Heffernan
@Music FridayLive!

Saturday, August 27, 2016


(Nashville) AWAS, the new electronic future-pop duo from Nashville is led by songwriter/vocalist Ariel Hill & producer/composer Aaron Howard AKA Danny Melonz. In 2011 they met for the first time in a small overcrowded Nashville bar. Hill had just finished an intimate acoustic performance and Howard had just brought to attention that she had lipstick all over her face. Vague introductions and small talk were the only things exchanged between the pair as they went their separate ways not to speak again for the next 3 years. As fate revealed itself, Hill ended up at Howard's house in November of 2014, having been invited by his roommate to sit in on a session. It was there that she discovered an impressive, lengthy, and semi-secret catalogue of unreleased instrumentals idly sitting on his out of date desktop. Shortly after, AWAS was born.

AWAS is a mixture of swirling synths, flipped vinyl samples, live instrumentation, and vastly versatile but powerful vocals. Their live performances also stand to be as dynamic as the pair themselves. The nearly theatrical performance aspect of Hill and the contagiously high energy of Howard create an unlikely fascinating combination. After dropping two well-received singles AWAS have released their debut album!

Get social with AWAS

Sunday, August 14, 2016


Essence releases Black Wings, an album that reminds us why we are human

(Los Angeles) I often say that poetry is not dead, it is all around us but we just call it lyrics now. That applies in spades to Black Wings, the new album released this week by essence, the San Francisco-based Americana/folk/blues/rock/pop singer who goes only by her first (and given) name.  Back Wings is a deeply poetic and musically addictive quarry of the dissolution of essence’s decade-long marriage.  Listening to it is like orbiting the dark side of the moon:  you are joyfully lost in the eternity of the universe, but you are tethered to the shadows of the reality below. Either way, the experience is mystical and forever memorable.  It is no wonder that essence won the grand prize in the Lilith Talent Search and came in second, ahead of 20,000 other entrants, in the international Contest.

Black Wings is a dozen song that quarries the intimate agonies and lingering fossils of essence’s divorce. The songs are not in chronological order – they don’t proceed from discovering  her man’s unfaithfulness and the stages of pain to its finality.  Rather it mines her heart, following first this vein of pain and then that of determination and then the other of shock.  It is not a story as much as it is an epic poem told in folk, blues, rock and an echoing voice that ranges from belt to melancholy.
It is this quality of Black Wings that makes it so powerful – the music separates us from the logic of a narrative so we can live the journey of a devastated, but a resilient woman. “There goes the last piece of my heart” she sings in the first song, “1000 Pieces” warning us as we start this journey, “don’t ask me how/it’s all gonna end/the only thing/I’ve ever been sure of/ is closure’s just/another Hollywood trend”.

The title song, “Black Wings” opens the gateway to her – and many others’ – downfall: “I’m falling down hard for you…you are fucked up enough for me”, letting us know that she, like so many other women, are attracted to men who “are like cactus” but fulfill a need. She repeats the plea in “Camels and Diesel”, pleading “I’ll walk across the coals to you/but you won’t do the same/give me some fire”.

She delivers these pieces of her heart in a feast of musical styles. “1000 Pieces” is perfectly pitched folk pop carried with a brush drum beat, laced with organ flourishes and colored with echo. “Black Wings’ injects its emotional payload with a simple high-end plucked string that frames her voice like Carolyn Cardoza’s electrified ukulele does with  the vocals of jazz singer Irene Diaz. Clean and powerful.

The essence dives into deep blues-rock with “Camels and Diesel” led by a metal body resonator guitar, howling electrics and full drums pounding out a heartbeat, all scaffolding her urgent voice.

Later in “Fossils”, partially written with her four-year-old son, the big guitar comes out to drive home determination as essence proclaims she will love her husband  “when you’re dust/ and when your fossils turn to gasoline…but I will love you most when that car runs out of gasoline”, a point she emphasized earlier in “Camels and Diesel”:  “I think it’s time/you done give/back what you/stole”.

For me the musical high point of the album is “Headed North”, her escape maybe into heaven, maybe into hell, but it is what women all over the world do when the relationship they are in becomes unbearable. Blues rock of the highest order, “Headed North” pierces you with urgent, desperate guitar riffs as essence’s voice soars and she cries,  “heading north/don’t try to find me…sky hangs low overland/ smoking like a gun”. You pound your knee, snap your fingers and understand.

But as powerful as “Heading North” is musically - and emotionally, it is “Over My Head” that stops you in its tracks and makes you hit “repeat”. Bracketed almost whimsically with rhythm guitar and light, sophisticated percussion, essence sings from inside her memory of the time she encountered the woman that caused her the pain. “I walk the same steps as you/faded velvet corridor/I steal the smile from her face/the one meant for you….I don’t want to know/what happens next…who’s been lying in my bed”.

As you absorb that, essence takes you back to her childhood in “Roots”,  a history with divorced flower child parents who moved her so much she was in 14 schools by the 4th grade.  But somewhere in that childhood, she got the advice of her life and she tells us in the hard blues rock song “She Said” that spools out the words of a wise old woman and why she is strong enough to leave when she has to.

The album closes with the down and dirty piano-pounding folk blues rock “So Much Hell” which could be pulled from today’s headlines. “So much hell/in the world… now all I want is/one decent heart/to lie beside/while I fall/apart”. Don’t we all.

Back Wings is essence’s fifth album, including the children’s album A Dog Named Moo and His Friend Poo which features the delightful song “Everybody’s Gotta Butt”. Each one mines her heart and quarries the emotional fossils built up since the Summer of Love of her parents meeting. Becoming a single mother of two, still dealing with her children’s father, and succeeding in a music business so tough that many fail, is a testament to her determination, her resourcefulness and above all, her gift of poetic lyrics and music skill to convey them,  nurtured through darks days and light.

The product of this determination, resourcefulness and gift is one of the outstanding talents of our time, not just in folk and Americana, not just in rock and blues, not just in pop and children’s songs, but in the words that make us human. That is what Black Wings does: it reminds us why we are human.

Get social with Essence

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Allison Iraheta & Halo Circus

Bunny by Halo Circus: a warrior’s anthem with a poet’s heart, and all American.

(Los Angeles) Bunny by Halo Circus may be the most important record of the year,  and perhaps the decade.

I don’t say that easily. I say it because Bunny by Halo Circus is not only a musical triumph, but it uniquely exemplifies and transcends the demographic and cultural change overtaking the United States, the emergence of a new American Latino generation. This change is a revolution of Millennia's and Allison Iraheta and her band Halo Circus is both the spear tip of that revolution and its future, present before us. Halo Circus sings in the key of the second largest Spanish-speaking nation in the world, the USA.

Allison Iraheta’s Latin blood has been hidden under the beats of American pop. Born to immigrants from El Salvador, she was raised on the mean streets of Compton, the creative cauldron of South LA, where she sang, took voice lessons and  performed at the local Latin electronics store, La Curaçao. She entered and won the reality contest show Quinceañera: Mama Quiero Ser Artista” on Telemundo, singing in English and Spanish.That took her to American Idol where she was refashioned into a pop star, went all the way to the finals, and exited with a record contract that produced two Billboard charted pop albums.

Iraheta’s music sold but her power and heart were muffled, pushing against a pop straightjacket, trying to get out while all around her the American Latino Music revolution was moving forward.  Pioneer bands like Los Lobos and Ozomotli were joined by newcomers La Santa Cecelia, Chicano Batman, Pitbull and Gabby Moreno. Mashups & blends were on the radio, YouTube, iTunes and in the parks and plazas and venues of LA. The timing was right when she met double-platinum producer Matthew Hager,  who had worked with Duran Duran.  They formed the band Halo Circus and the  straightjacket came off, releasing the  cathartic, bilingual urgency that is the album Bunny by Halo Circus.

The eruption has been slow building, like a volcano ejecting steam while lava rises from its core.  Carefully road testing songs on stages  and online before releasing singles, Hager monitored Iraheta’s rising lava to free its power only when ready. The result, dropped June 24, 2016, is an album of 13 songs that blow the top off of the volcano.  With Bunny, Iraheta’s vocal lava joins and superheats the boiling rivers of cultural and political revolution rushing through cities, barrios, farms and the ballot boxes throughout America.  

In Bunny, Allison and her Grammy level band – Matthew Hager on bass, the atomic-powered former Jeff Beck drummer Veronica Bellino and master guitarist Brian Stead -- collect the hope and pain of the Mexican corrido, slams it into the terrifying power of  Halo Circus’s precisely calibrated  rock and injects into your ears with a howling, sighing, vocal hypodermic. You are intoxicated, addicted and energized in ways no mere chemical can accomplish.

The key to this wicked cocktail is Iraheta’s voice, a finely tuned instrument that seduces you with world-weariness in the brief “He promises the Moon”, sends you screaming toward the sun in “Nothing At All” and then pulls you back gently into an orbit around the dark side of the moon in the mysterious “Far From Eden”.  Hager – who both produced the album and plays bass on it  - strips down the music in  “Yo Me Voy” while the Allison wrings your heart out  and then builds it back up to a volcanic climax, obliterating octave lines as she rises and soars.

But Iraheta comes back down to earth hard in “All I Have”, co-written with Hager. “She had the car, the condo, the kids/until it all came crashing down….she’s on the street fighting for tomorrow…I know that hope isn’t a plan” Iraheta sings, wondering “where we go for tomorrow”.

Where she goes is to “Verdad”, with its martial like music evoking the marching armies of many women on the street fighting for tomorrow.  Reinforced by a Mexican accordion and reveling in Bellino’s sophisticated and deceptively simple drumming, it halts to allow the howling Iraheta to downshift for a moment of calm before the pace accelerates.  For many, the metaphorical pinnacle of Halo Circus may be the English-language “Guns In His Hands”, where Iraheta directly confronts the barriers to personal life and social change.  Augmented masterfully by Victory Mori on classical guitar and Janeen Rae Heller on the musical saw, the song bluntly faces the reality: “I can barely hold you in/You come at me with guns in your hands/and tell me to dance….And I’m getting tired of this”.

The gloves come fully off in “Band Aid” written by Iraheta, Hager and their long-time friend and inspiration Paul Williams. “We want a revolution/a short cut to solution/no we really need a cure…we’re human after all/we are taught the awful art of being small.” She proclaims denouncing the band aid of her pop past and raising the flag of revolt. “Band Aid” is the anthem of  a warrior and a leader of change that reflects back to the early days of the Chicana Movement.

This is music for the Pan-American generation.  This is music to fight to , music to love to, to dance the dance of national evolution and walk the picket lines of social change. But it is also music from a deep heart that orders you to strip yourself naked of fear, cloth yourself with love and hope and put an Immigrant banner across your chest.  It both stakes out the new territory of metallic alt pop rock in the expanding genre of American Latino Music and moves it to a new level of demand and emotion. Where La Santa Cecilia's “ICE” lays bare the injustice of deportation, Bunny provides the angry power to fight it.

In this Bunny does not bridge  the lines of language and culture; it shows us that they have been erased.  It says we are young, we are music, we rock together, we love together, we hurt together, we are one together regardless of where our parents came from, regardless of where we came from. And it says we must fight together for our future . This is a warrior’s anthem, but one with a poet’s heart,  a combination that is uniquely Latin and All-American.

Get social with Allison Iraheta & Halo Circus 

Patrick O'Heffernan
@Music FridayLive!