Thursday, January 12, 2017

Tall Tall Trees

(New York) To say that Mike Savino is an innovator would be an understatement. Touring under the moniker Tall Tall Trees, the banjo-wielding board has reshaped the landscape of what is possible with the instrument. On stage and in the studio, Savino breaks down the banjo into its most basic iteration, reminding audiences that the banjo is, at root, a drum. Coupled with his mastery of electronic effects, loops, toy ray guns, and heaps of spontaneous creativity, Tall Tall Trees has been encapsulating audience members worldwide with his mystifying solo shows, as well as playing alongside fellow innovator Kishi Bashi.

His latest album ‘Freedays’ is, in a way, his debut album. Having recorded two previous albums in a traditional collaborative band setting, ‘Freedays’ is the first album Savino wrote and recorded as a solo project. Beginning in 2015, Savino took a much-needed respite from New York City, where he had spent a decade and a half honing his craft, and assumed the role of sole caretaker at an abandoned health retreat nestled in the green mountains of northern Georgia. The Bird’s Nest, as it was called, completely surrounded by national forest, provided the freedom and space to work without time constraints or interruption.

Composed and recorded over a period of eight months, ‘Freedays’ tells the story of a man in transition and documents an artist alone at the crossroads of the life he has and the one he wants. The album begins with “Backroads”, which drops the listener into a darkened forest amidst a chorus of wailing coyotes and quickly takes off on a midnight drive. Tracks like “Being There”, “A Place to Call Your Own”, and “CLC” provide an honest look into the author’s thought process and decision making. Although it’s often hard to imagine, most of the sounds on the album are experiments with the banjo, and they all reflect the innovative musings of one of the freshest sounds to come out of the Appalachians in decades.

His upcoming album 'Freedays' out 2/17.

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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Tobin Sprout

(New York) How do you bring a child’s curiosity to life? For Tobin Sprout, formerly of indie rock icons Guided by Voices, the answer is to revisit it with the wounded tenor of an aging piano man; someone searching, desperately, for his place in the cosmos. The Universe and Me is Sprout’s sixth solo album; hatched during a seven-year gestation period that included unearthing lost recordings (the single, “Future Boy Today/Man of Tomorrow” for one, was being saved for GBV), and digging through a treasure chest of memories in his home studio in Michigan, where Sprout composed behind his shambling grand piano and trembling, boyish voice. Each home recording was captured live with Sprout’s new band — which led to marvelous imperfections.

The Universe and Me takes a deliberately primitive approach that focuses on feeling, as opposed to production. The result is a vague bridge between the ballads of psych-era Beatles,  and the haunting vulnerability of Daniel Johnston’s Hi, How Are You?. It’s no surprise, then, that Sprout-penned and illustrated his own magical children’s books as The Universe and Me play like a deceptively dense reimagining of simple subjects like comic books, finding your purpose in life, and growing old.

Many of the 14 tracks act like a diorama of a boy’s imagination, like “Future Boy/Man of Tomorrow,” which was inspired by Sprout's fascination with superheroes from his childhood. The wistful "When I Was A Boy" is a short, stunning ballad relating childhood grounding to adulthood. “Walk Across the Human Bridge” is a heavy-hitting rocker driven by shredding and lyrics describing the decline of humanity. “Tomorrow From Heaven” is about dealing with the sadness that follows death. Posted together as a collage, as opposed to a rigid whole, and we have the soundtrack to Tobin Sprout’s life.
The Universe and Me will be available on Burger Records on January 27th, with a limited pressing of a baby blue vinyl for the first 300 copies. Following the release, Sprout, and his new band will embark on a nationwide tour. This will be his first tour in over a decade, supported by Burger Records, who’ll be reissuing Sprout’s mid-'90s Matador albums — Carnival Boy and Moonflower Plastic — in the months ahead.
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Small Forward

(Los Angeles) Small Forward formally began in Eagle Rock, CA in 2015. While contributing to other projects, songwriters Michael Stevenson and Rounak Maiti developed Small Forward out of a desire to explore their interest in Americana and psych-pop music. The four-piece band released their self-titled debut EP in the winter of 2015. Obscure Sound reviewed this release with much praise: “Small Forward are a fresh lo-fi pysch-pop band based out of L.A….the central hook [for “I’ve been on Track”] is emotionally stirring and melodically gripping” (Obscure Sound). Since their initial release, Small Forward has played numerous shows around Los Angeles, at venues such as Center of the Arts- Eagle Rock, Lot 1 Cafe, and Sofar Sounds. Small Forward released their debut album, “The Moon You Stand On” on October 21, 2016.

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Wizbangs

(New York) Meet Philadelphia-based alternative rock band, The Wizbangs. They're a father-and-sons trio, made up of Jim Feenstra (vocals) and his two sons, Charlie Feenstra (vocals, guitar, keys) and J.P. Feenstra (drums).

The trio jumps out of the gate with their hard-hitting rock track, "Common Enemy", the first single from their debut album, LIVE, LOVE AND OTHER MISHAPS, that they are set to release in early 2017. Penned by Charlie Feenstra, the song is one of the most intense tracks on the 11-track album, expressing anger and frustration with the world. We thought it also might be timely, given what's happening out there.

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Friday, December 16, 2016


(New York) NYC-based recording artist Khodara’s debut EP includes a range of memorable pop songs, each with a uniquely dynamic and soulful sound. The collection pays intelligent homage to classic soul and pop, evoking artists such as Diana Ross, Kylie Minogue, and Donna Summer. The release, co-written in collaboration with producer Billy Pavone, features the title track Where's Your Love?, and debuted in September 2016. TheWhere's Your Love? 4-song EP is out now.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Peter Joly

(Chicago) Originally from Buffalo, New York (where he wrote and gigged while working as a cab driver), singer-songwriter Peter Joly has been performing in and around Chicago since the early 90s and is known for his work with the bands Big Breakfast and For Pilots. His self-titled debut found him working with members of Iron & Wine, The Hoyle Brothers and Ryley Walker contributor Charles Rumback.

The album was produced by Jon Williams and recorded at MINBAL Chicago, Strobe Recording and Electric Lady in NYC. Peter celebrated the release with a packed house at Chicago’s famous Hideout Inn on Nov 26, 2016.

A stunning self-titled solo debut from this veteran troubadour. Beautifully recorded and performed. Original, Americana singer/songwriter puts his best foot forward on this terrific 2016 record release.

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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Gaby Moreno

Gaby Moreno at the Roxy: love and joy with a guitar.

(Hollywood) Any concert with Grammy nominee and Latin Grammy winner Gaby Moreno is an inspiring experience, but to see her in an intimate setting with 400 of her closest friends makes it clear why people loved her so much.  She is stunning, inspiring and completely authentic. With a voice that transcends octaves, a songwriting talent in English and Spanish that opens minds and hearts, and a sense of humor that is as engaging as it is humble, her music says “star” while her presence says “love”.

Her concert at the Roxy – her first time there ever - was both intimate and expansive; her voice filled the room while her smile and her words - and yes, her tears - pulled each person close. Gaby Moreno gave us an unheard of the 19-song set, interlaced with self-deprecating humor and stories, laughs a mention of her theme song and character in the Disney series Elana of Avalor , and then came back for an encore that blew the roof off of the newly remodeled Hollywood music palace.

“This is really my album release show”Gabby joked to her fans, referring to the just released album, ILUSION,  nominated this year for a Grammy for Best Latin Pop Album. The Grammy nomination was a surprise, she told us. She was on a plane when the nominations were announced and when she got off, her phone exploded with so many texts, calls, and emails that it took several minutes for her mother to get through and tell her the news. She wiped her tears away as the audience cheered and shouted congratulations;  then she stood up straight, flashed her million-watt smile and started to sing.

And sing she did, for the next hour and a half, delivering songs from ILUSION, Posada, Postales, Illustrated Songs and even her Christmas album. Talking and singing fluidly in both Spanish and English, Moreno, who admitted to only 2 hours sleep, led the audience through her musical life and judging from the majority of the crowd who seemed to know every song, theirs too.

The fans were more than ready. The Roxy filled up early; it was three-quarters full at 8 pm when Bjorn and the Sun came on stage and energized the room with their country pop songs and world-class guitar riffs. By the time Ilza Rosario, also beloved by the audience, stood onstage with her arms outstretched and her movie star smile lighting up the room, it was packed and happy. Rosario was the perfect introduction to Moreno. Her heartfelt songs delivered with an intensity, clarity and an innocence that belied her skin-tight leotard and plunging neckline, set the tone for the kind of personal, authentic musical encounter that illuminated the night.

Moreno was joined onstage by her full band: Arthur Braitsch on guitar and mandolin, the superbly talented Elizabeth Lea on trombone, Jennifer Condos on bass, Jordan Katz on trumpet and banjo and mandolin, Matt DeMerrit on sax, Patrick Warren on keys and accordion, and  Sebastian Aymanns on drums. The horn section not only added a new depth and variety, it was obvious that Katz, Lea, and DeMerrit were really enjoying themselves – and we enjoyed watching them.

After opening with her new single, “Se Apago”, in Spanish, she moved to “Pale Bright Lights” in English, both from the new album. Before turning to “Ave Que Emigra” she laughingly said that like the bird in the song, the song itself had migrated from one album to another. “O Me”, was followed by her Spanish revision of Sam Phillip's song “Herman Rosetta”  which paved the way for the song the audience had been waiting for, “Fronteras”.

The largely Latino audience, wondering about their future lives in a Trump America, sang along with Moreno.  But she learned the intensity of “Fronteras” with the fun of “Solemncholy”, and then moved to her beloved blues with ‘Mess a Good Thing” from her Illustrated Song album, and the deep and dirty blues “Down in Reverie” and “Nobody to Love”.  She traded her guitar for a tambourine and, with just a drum backing her, quieted the room with the powerful “Salvese Quien Pueda”.

But the most powerful moments of the night were her solo of "ILUSION”. Standing alone with her guitar, her voice showing no signs of the travel and lack of sleep, she held notes longer and higher and clearer than seemed humanly possible. If you closed your eyes, you could imagine the stars and galaxies singing directly to you, life’s a despairing illusion until he comes back to me.

As the last notes of "ILUSION” hung in the air, Gaby held onto the mood with “Estare”, stretching notes impossibly long.  But then she moved into the stretch, keeping up the pace and moving effortlessly between albums while bringing back the horns in “El Sombreron” and “Blues de Mar” from Postales, “Maldicion/Bendicion” from Illusion and “Peces En El Rio” from Posada. She had fun with “Hacia Belen Va Una Burra Rin In”, laughing with the Latinos in the audience about singing it every Christmas as children.

Gaby reached back to her 2011 Illustrated Songs album for the climax of the evening, “Sing Me Life” delivered as an anthem that could have filled the Hollywood Bowl, before she wound down with cheers, thank yous and  Elizabeth Lea’s final trombone notes.  And of course, the cries of “otra” from the fans brought her back on stage for an encore, “La Maleguena”, ending with what is likely the longest, highest, clearest note ever hear in the Roxy.

Guatemalan-born, American raised, world traveled, Gaby Moreno is the leading edge of the second wave of the American Latino Music revolution boiling in Los Angeles. Following the trail blazed by Ozomatli, Los Lobos and hundreds of mariachi and ranchero bands that have entertained in and adapted to what is now the second largest Spanish-speaking city in the world, Moreno brings a level of talent, an inner radiance, an ease with bi-cultures and an authenticity that makes her both unique and a leader in the love and joy that music can bring to the world. She certainly brought it to the Roxy.

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LA Correspondent
Patrick O'Heffernan
@Music FridayLive!